Archive for the ‘Essay’ Category.

LHC

Is anyone familiar with the LHC? The Large Hadron Collider is one of the most monumental undertakings of mankind. Vast both in physical size and in ambition, it’s purpose is accelerate sub-atomic particles faster and faster, to ludicrous speeds, around and around, until BANG! … quarks and muons and bits of atoms all over the kitchen floor. Or… hopefully some sensitive detectors where astute scientists can better understand the way our world actually works.

Fellow toastmasters, honored guests. I have made something of a discovery of my own. Perhaps I can pass it on to you in less time than it took me to understand it myself.

Everyone comes to toastmasters for their own reasons. I came looking for a user group for presentations, and I learned ways to improve my speaking and communication skills. However, the way in which we approach something can also act as a bias. Coming at toastmasters as a group for presentations, I saw only what I wanted to see.

Fast forward four-odd years, to a few weeks ago. I was driving home from the Toastmaster Leadership Institute, or TLI. The excitement of the morning was over, the brain is starting to relax a bit and try to make sense of the day’s events. In particular I was thinking of two women I had seen at TLI.

D.M. ran the TLI event, and with with great bravery and did so without pretense about the fact that the people running these events are often “learning on the job”. TLI itself is a major undertaking – a large number of people need to be brought together, checked-in, session leaders need to be ready, schedules created and kept, and refreshments provided. Even though toastmasters elects officers once a year, it for some reason goes to all this trouble to schedule officer training twice a year. One thought, spinning around in my head.

The other person I saw is the sister of our own P.R., herself an enthusiastic toastmaster. One of the things J. said is that when she first sits down with a mentee, she asks “What are your goals?”; “Why are you coming to toastmasters?” Based on this, she decides whether to start with the communication manual or the leadership manual. What? The leadership manual? that thing we sometimes check off and throw back in our papers? I thought everybody started with the icebreaker. There is another thought, spinning around in my head.

I’ve got all these thought spinning around in my head, and then…. BANG!

Learning. By. Doing.

Toastmasters is not only a speech club with an unusually large bureaucracy. Toastmasters is also an environment where people can practice running an organization at all levels. The apparent activities of that organization happen to be speaking and evaluation, both useful skills for leaders. Toastmasters not only runs speech contests for competition and spectacle. Toastmasters also provides people the opportunity to practice planning and running events, from a few people to hundreds of people.

And yet, that weak evidence of memory attests that, if in my four-odd years in toastmasters, anyone has attempted to communicate this idea to me, then it has fallen on deaf ears. I came to toastmasters seeking a user group for presentations. To a large extent, I heard only what I wanted to hear. That is on me. Still, I think that at least in this club, if the leadership manual were to give a speech, the evaluator might suggest “you need to speak more loudly”. Some of us are a little hard of hearing.

At a practical level, if you are here to improve your public speaking – that is fantastic. Keep at it. The apparent activity of speaking and evaluation is the axis about which the implicit activity of the leadership program turns. Without speakers, there is nothing for the organizers to organize.

If I have been at all successful in communicating this idea to you, then you can now go out into the world and share with others. If you encounter people who want to improve their confidence or gain practical experience in leading an organization, then toastmasters is waiting for them. If your primary interest is in public speaking, those people will have an interest in taking club officer roles, freeing you to focus on your speaking without the distractions of officer duties.

LHC might mean “Large Hadron Collider”; or perhaps it means “Leaders Honing Communication”. Certainly if you get people working on communication, going faster and faster, and people working on leadership going faster and faster…..

Imagine what could happen.

Attend Every Meeting

(This is being written some time after the event, and was a last minute speech to begin with)

Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests. We come to toastmasters to learn the art of public speaking. While actually getting up and speaking is important, listening to others to others speak is also a powerful tool to pick up techniques and ideas you can use yourself. Of course, you have to be present to hear the speeches. If you find yourself needing that extra bit of motivation to attend every meeting, perhaps you should consider the officer role Sergeant at Arms.

Officially, the Sergeant at Arms reserves and manages the meeting location, keeps the club equipment, and has primary responsibility for setting up the room before each meeting and for cleaning up afterwards. In this club the relationship with the city hall is nearly on autopilot; they requested a single contact rather than a new officer every year, so it mainly comes down to ensuring the reservations are extended for the next year.

Setting up the room is not hard, and will quickly become routine. Often other toastmasters, arriving early, will help move and position equipment, so you don’t even have to do most of the work. If you are unable to attend some evenings, just let us know. There are several former Sergeant at Arms, including myself and several others present, who could be available to help out. You simply have primary responsibility for ensuring the room is set up – you don’t always have to do it yourself.

The Sergeant at Arms is responsible for the club equipment. Fortunately the club has use of closet space in the city hall, so it only needs to be moved short distances. The necessary equipment is already well understood and provided for, you merely need to keep an eye on supplies like ribbons and new member folders, and provide notice when they need to be restocked. If you have a talent for organizing things, the club supplies, while sufficient, could no doubt benefit from some additional sorting and straightening.

Finally, the Sergeant at Arms is one of the club officers. If you have an interest in getting a gentle introduction to the management of the club, this is a great way to start. The Sergeant at Arms is one of easiest roles to get into – it’s duties primarily occur during meetings you already attend. At the same time, you will be part of club officer meetings, gaining experience in how the club operates, and some perspective on the duties of the other officers.

If you like organizing things, want to get a gentle introduction to the club officers, or just need that extra nudge to hear more speeches, the Sergeant at Arms may be for you.

Password Problems (and Solutions)

2014-08-14 Fox Valley Toastmasters

Today I’d like to talk to you about one of the most pervasive and pernicious plaguing the world today. You may have received one (or several) emails in the past year from internet sites sayings “OOPS! We lost your password. You might want to reset it before something bad happens.” If it hasn’t happened to you personally, you’ve heard the stories in the news – database after database compromised, each exposing millions of user’s accounts and passwords to criminal attacks.

These sites were relying on passwords for account security. As shared secrets, passwords make it possible for either you or an internet site to loose or compromise your account. Passwords in particular suffer from a number of issues.

With the profusion of site today, passwords are commonly reused. This, however, is a bad practice. Reusing passwords turns a compromise of one account into a compromise in several accounts. This problem is magnified significantly by the occasional database loss, giving internet criminals access to a large quantities of passwords that are likely used on many other sites. There are ways for internet applications limit the damage of a database, but these means are not always implemented well, if at all. I recommend that you always use a unique password for every site you visit. If you really can’t bear to manage that many passwords, at least do it for your important accounts – banks, online email, or any e-commerce site that has your payment information.

Weak passwords are another major issues; reused passwords are often weak, but the temptation is doubly strong if you need to keep track of several. Here is a selection of the most common passwords (hint: all of them are weak)

  • 123456
  • password
  • 12345678
  • qwerty
  • abc123
  • 123456789

… and so on. I recommend that you use long and complicated passwords. Long in this context means twelve characters, at a minimum. Complex means using arbitrary combinations of different character types – upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols.

People also have trouble remembering passwords – especially if you are tying to use unique, long, and complicated passwords for every site. This often leads to writing passwords down somewhere, such as a notebook. Unfortunately, this exposes you to the risk of someone peeking at your notebook and getting access to all your accounts. I recommend using a password manager. I use LastPass, and there are number of others, such as 1Password, KeePass, and many more. A password manager will keep all of your passwords – much like a notebook – but a good one will keep them encrypted while no in use. You use one good long, complex password to unlock your manager. Once unlocked, the password manager can assist with generating good passwords, and many can automatically fill in web forms, saving you from even having to copy and paste.

The ultimate solution is to get rid of shared secrets. The gold standard right now is public/private key cryptography. A private key, which is never shared, allows you to make assertions. Those assertions can be verified by the matching public key, which can be freely shared. The major caveat to this system is that the user has to take full responsibility for their private key – there is no more “password reset” button. I’m investigating a system called SQRL (squirrel) that makes public/private key cryptography as simple as scanning a QR code with your phone, yet secure enough to log into an untrusted public terminal.

SQRL is the future. In the meantime, I encourage you to use a password manger. A password manager will help you generate long, complicated passwords, and keep track of unique passwords for each site you visit.

How I Perform Evaluations in Toastmasters

This was speech #3, Get to the Point, for Fox Valley Toastmasters on 2013-06-27.

Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, today I’d like to describe to you how I perform evaluations here in our toastmaster’s club. I view evaluations has having two main parts. The first part is where I listen to the speech and observe how it’s presented. The second part where is I think and organize to prepare a speech of my own. For me, these two parts take the form of two sheets of notes.

The first part covers listening and observing, so I divide my notes into two parts along those lines. The first aspect is listening to the content or text of the speech itself. This is where I’ll take not of major elements I want to comment on, interesting turns of phrase, and the overall structure in case I want to comment on the use of introduction, body, conclusion, and so on.

The second aspect, or half of my notes, is observing how the speaker presents the speech. This is everything outside of the content itself, which you know from your Competent Communicator manuals:

  • Did the speaker use notes? Where they distracting?
  • Did the speaker use gestures? Did they add to the speech?
  • Did the speaker use vocal variety? Did it add to the speech?

Through trial and error, I’ve learned that it’s important to maintain balance in note taking. One trap I got into early was taking too many notes – I was looking at my paper, writing instead of paying attention to the speaker. Another trap I’ve fallen into was spending too much time on the content side, reproducing the outline of the speech. However, I’ve found that I tend to spend far more time in evaluation on the presentation than on the content, and the way I was taking notes wasn’t supporting the way I performed evaluations.

Once the speech is over and you’ve got your notes, it’s time for the second sheet of paper. This is where you think and plan out how you are going to deliver in your own evaluation. For me this takes the form of a kind of timeline. An evaluation is two to three minutes, so I make room for all three just in case, and divide the paper into three parts. Through experience I’ve found that make approximately four points per minute, so I divide up each minute in to four sections, giving me a kind of skeleton to hang the meat of my evaluation on.

That gives me 8-12 points. That may be daunting, but remember that a bit of it is ritual. Most evaluations start with “Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, and especially our wonderful speaker…”. I usually continue with the title of the speech, the purpose if I know it. This can make a nice lead in to commenting on how well the speech fulfilled it’s purpose. And of course, the speech needs a conclusion, where I thank the speaker, perhaps reinforce a strong point, and turn the stage back over to the general evaluator. In total that’s three points – you’ve at least a quarter done, and you haven’t really had to say anything yet.

For the body, I aim for around four strong points, and three areas that might do with a little improvement. The wonderful thing about these number is how well they interleave, a technique often called sandwiching, so that I don’t dwell on either side two long. It also allows me to both start and end on a high point.

I view evaluations as two parts, which for me are two sheets of paper. In the first part, I listen to the speech and observe the speaker. In the second part, I think and plan out a timeline for my own evaluation.

A Martial Artist is Not a Number

When you meet someone who does martial arts, it’s easy to ask what rank the person has. I won’t be so daring as to say the information is useless, but it certainly treats the issue in it’s broadest sense.

For the uninitiated, most martial arts rank their students by a two part system, most visibly represented by the belt a person wears. A ‘black belt’ is someone who has a good grasp of a system. Below black, there are a series of kyus or gups (they name varies by martial art) which are graded in the number of ranks until black belt. Often these are the ‘colored belts’. Our systems have ten ranks, where any beginner is 10th gup/kyu and his first test is to receive 9th. Our styles once again have ten ranks, or dans, of black belt. Ranks above black belt take linearly longer to achieve, and there might (might) be one 10th dan, the founder. (It doesn’t quite form a number line, since there is no ‘zero’.) Other systems have different numbers above and below. Don’t get me started on martial arts titles.

The assignment of rank varies by style and school. In other words, two people might look at the same student and label that skill level with two different ranks. And don’t even get me started on the colored belt system – our own school uses two different color systems and has changed one of them in my memory. I tend to try and refer to ranks by gups or kyus, because it at least transcends arts and color assignments. Assuming, of course arts that have the same number of grades, which I’m doubt all do. Beyond that, the assignment of a grade to a particular skill level is essentially arbitrary. I won’t even get into the rumors of people buying belts and certificates outright, with no skill basis.

Of course the real problem is the idea that you can quantify a person with a single number. At times I’ve toyed with a system of basing the single number on a series of subgrades – kicking, joint locking, teaching, spirit, and on and on. It was an attempt to come to grips with the fact that different people might have a particular rank for different reasons, and somehow rationalize using the same scale for both. Of course, it just postpones the problem to different level – you are still trying to squeeze a person into a limited set of limited-precision numbers.

“I’m not capable of imagining you in all your complexity and… perfection.” – Inception

Faced with a messy reality, we get the ranking system. Many martial arts derive from rigid oriental societies – people have to line up in a certain order. Teachers have to keep track of an ever changing body of students. Assigning a rank is ‘good enough’, a convenient kludge to contain the complexity of real people. There are nominal rules, but in reality they bend to try and bring the raking system in line with what we intuitively feel – one person has a high rank because he has an affinity for physical activity and executes technique well, while another is a loyal supporter and servant of the school that keep thing running smoothly. The cost is this: given only the rank, you can’t say if either of those (or both, or any other quality) applies.

My Strengths

This was my “icebreaker” speech at Fox Valley Toastmasters. Since I don’t have the same time constraints, I’ve put back in a few asides that got cut out of early drafts.

Hello, I am Justin Love. This talk will be about me, and about a book called Now, Discover Your Strengths. The premise of the book is that for maximum success and happiness, we should focus on our strengths rather than trying to remediate our weaknesses. It includes a code for an online survey, that will attempt give you your five biggest strengths that one should focus on. For me, those five strengths were Input, Restorative, Intellection, Ideation, and Analytical.

Input is learning. I am always learning – I don’t read as many books as I might like to, but I have audiobooks, podcasts, internet news feeds, and I am constantly learning new programming languages and technologies. So, it might not be too surprising that when I started to think “You know, I really ought to get out of the house and get a little exercise”, I signed up for a martial arts class. Martial arts is something I’ve always been curious about, and it gives me the opportunity to be constantly learning new forms and techniques. Input is always learning.

Restorative is fixing and improving things. When I see something that was working and now isn’t, I get a little bothered. When I see something and think “I know how to make it better”, there is a note of dissonance in the world. Which might explain how I ended up on my condominium board. You see, the board is supposed to have five members. If it has less than five members, it could be considered a little bit broken. I’ve found, and I believe, that there often is no point in whining about something, when you can just do it yourself. Never mind that I wasn’t even in the state when I was first put on the board, but that is a story in and of itself. Restorative is fixing and improving things.

Intellection is thinking about things. Sitting and noodeling on them – what are the implications? the contingencies? Where doe it lead, and what does it all mean? So, it might not be too surprising that one of my favorite childhood toys were Lego bricks, which can be constantly combined and recombined, trying out theories of form or function, and just taking it apart if things didn’t work out. Unfortunately, sitting and thinking does tend towards sitting alone, so I have to force myself to get out now and then with things like Toastmasters, martial arts, conferences and user groups. Intellection is thinking about things.

Ideation means thinking about big ideas – or small clear concepts that take a bunch of messy stuff and distill it down to something you can easily grasp. It is looking for the best explanation for the most events. This might explain my attraction to things like Now, Discover Your Strengths, which distills a bunch of messy human aptitude down to a couple dozen strengths. Ideation is big ideas and powerful concepts.

Analytical literally means dividing into parts. Looking for the joints of nature where one take two things and set them apart, mostly disregarding their interactions. This is something I use a lot in software. You are probably familiar with software – either it’s not doing something you want, or it is doing something you don’t want, and I’m the kind of person who gets called in to make it behave. Often times I find that I am actually more comfortable dealing with software and computers because you can analyze it – form a theory about what should happen, see what did happen and use that to narrow the cause down and down and down, until you get to a bit – true or false, yes or no – facts and data. People and politics are not always so accommodating. Analytical is dividing things down to facts and data.

Everybody has their particular strengths. The things that they do well and enjoy doing. For me some of those things are constantly learning so that I can fix and improve things, really thinking about big ideas and powerful concepts in order to break things down to real facts and data.

I feel like there is more I should think about, but it hasn’t gone anywhere for the last week, and I’m quite preoccupied at present. I don’t want to wait a few years this time ;^)

Blair Reynold’s response

Yes, I did send it to you in response to your online material. Great to hear back from you. It has been a while. I always enjoy getting a blast from the past, which sometimes does happen in my e-mails. And I’m glad you found my material interesting. You seemed to do a pretty good job of picking up in the main points.

I am a process theologian, and process theology is a very technical branch of theology. I’ve been going online, trying to make it as easy as I can for laity. If you have any questions, please let me know.

You raised a point about emotion. As you are probably aware, in the West, we generally take a dim view of emotion, seeing it as something wholly subjective, just floating around in our own heads, irrational, etc. I take a more favorable view. I view emotion as our most basic experience. At rock bottom, all experience is basically unconscious affective flux. It’s emotion that bridges the gap between the “out there” and the “in here.” Our experience of connectedness with the rest of reality, our experience of causality, is primarily an affective one. We do not see the puff of air make the eye blink, but we do feel it do so. So, if principles are to have any real meaning, they must be rooted in some more primal, affective level of experience.

I think that principles have meaning because they point to a consistency in the universe. Everything is a synthesis of both consistency and change. That means principles can reflect reality, but, of course, only in very abstract way. If you describe me as a lifelong train buff, which I am, you have pointed to something unchanging or absolute about me. However, that isn’t the whole story. You need to say more, to fully describe me. Now that I and can operate a steam locomotive, I’m not the same trainbuff I was 20 years ago. See what I mean?

It is true that I did not introduce any “proofs” for the existence of God, and was largely pointing to a God who would fulfill our quest for meaningfulness. However, in a way, that is a proof. We all seek and need meaning, and from what I see in reality, the system that generates the need generally satisfies it, so there must be a God. And this brings me to the knowability of God. A totally unknowable God would not be fulfilling, hardly beautiful. At the same time, a totally knowable God would be boring, too much like us to be interesting. If we are going to have a beautiful relationship with God, and I don’t see the point of having a God if we cannot do that, then God must be alike and yet different from us, knowable and also unknowable, mysterious.

Getting back to the issue of whether God is beyond all perception: I believe God is a concrete item in all experience. By virtue of the mutual sensitivity of all things, every entity is present, incarnate in every other, and this also includes God. Hence, God is a concrete item in any and all experience. We subconsciously experience a very direct, immediate flow of God’s feelings into ourselves. It is precisely because of this experience, that people came up with the notion of God. All our concepts, however imaginative they may be, always go back to some actual encounter with reality.
You are correct. I am viewing God as a personal being, a single, individual personality which is a synthesis of al personalities in the universe. To me, anything less than that, viewing God as, say, just as impersonal principle, depersonalizes and dehumanizes us.

My immediate response
> I am a process theologian, and process theology is a very technical branch

That’s interesting. A friend of mine who attended seminary said my viewpoint would be classified as process theology and pantheist. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given there was some degree of agreement between us.

>laity. If you have any questions, please let me know.

The main point I gathered from the wikipedia article was that god was not completely omnipotent, but did exert a continuous action (process) on the world toward a better state.

> You raised a point about emotion. As you are probably aware, in the West, we generally take a dim view of emotion, seeing it as something wholly

One of my reservations in responding was a certainty that I’d get caught out on one or more points, and I was right. I dismissed emotion on stereotype, without any further reflection on what it was and how that might apply.

> that bridges the gap between the “out there” and the “in here.” Our experience

If I follow you, emotion is the first level of mental processing, one step beyond raw sensory perception. Would you then hold that god has some immediate reaction to the changing state of the world, which would be his changing affective states?

>but we do feel it do so. So, if principles are to have any real meaning, they must be rooted in some more primal, affective level of experience.

A principle, in so far as we understand it, is a human invention which arises from human experience. Sort of what happens when the higher mental processes get ahold of things and try to make sense of them. If emotion is the shape of experience, this makes sense.

> I think that principles have meaning because they point to a consistency in

Meaning that while emotions may have an uncertainty about them, repeatability over time and space points to something ‘real’?

> the universe. Everything is a synthesis of both consistency and change.

So there is a sort of momentum or gravity that pulls on some changing position or state, which is also moved by other forces.

> meaningfulness. However, in a way, that is a proof. We all seek and need

Is this at all close to your philosophy?: “Humanity, through experience, comes to recognize certain principles of the world: gravity, solid/liquid/gas, life, etc. We generally consider these things to be ‘real’ because they accord with our experience. Humanity also tends to create god(s), and by the same reasoning, this points to something ‘real’”

> God must be alike and yet different from us, knowable and also unknowable, mysterious.

This seems to be an argument for why we describe god the way we do. It only takes on the force of reality in combination with the previous argument, that what we create must be a glimpse of deeper reality.

> God’s feelings into ourselves. It is precisely because of this experience,

Would you consider god the source of the subjectivity that humanity perceives in emotions?

> You are correct. I am viewing God as a personal being, a single, individual personality which is a synthesis of al personalities in the universe. To me, anything less than that, viewing God as, say, just as impersonal principle, depersonalizes and dehumanizes us.

Would it be at all accurate to say “If god is the sum of the whole universe, he cannot be less than any of the component parts. Therefore, if we are personal beings, god is (at least) a personal being.”?

Billing and paying the bills.

I’m just a little conflicted about money. Perhaps a sheltered life has left me without clear guidance. I’ve always had ‘enough’, and often more. Less since I started working four days a week; still enough that I can set aside some savings, but little enough that the eventual demise of my car threatens that savings. Meanwhile, other people, many of them surely more dedicated and hard working then myself, starve or struggle to get to a place of equal safety and comfort.

There was a particular incident that triggered this latest reflection. Recently one of my fellows in the martial arts school asked what I would charge to upgrade her reality shows web site, and I wasn’t comfortable naming a price.

Some of it I’m sure stems from a weak self confidence. I’ve heard a number of high consulting rates thrown around. At work we price engineering projects based on $75 per hour, although we don’t then track hours. That’s pretty low compared to others I’ve heard. Even on the condo board, we can’t get much of anything done for less than $40-50 per hour.

All rather more than minimum wage. Is the difference skilled versus unskilled labor? The woman who cuts my hair charges rather less than $50. She told me a while ago about the tough parts of beauty school – cataloging individual muscles, sufficient grounding in chemistry to avoid nasty or even dangerous combinations of chemicals, and enough knowledge of ethnic backgrounds to predict how hair and so on is likely to respond to various treatments. Perhaps the price is set by the typically brief male haircut and widespread competition.

The different cases don’t offer much guidance. Even skilled gets called into question – while I have a long history taming troublesome pieces of software, I had no experience with the Xoops package in question. At an hourly rate, figuring out the thing would undoubtedly be a expensive process, but I don’t feel comfortable changing people for my own incompetence.

In the end I picked a rate closer to the landscapers, but capped the bill at four hours, which seemed more than adequate for someone who knew what they were doing. I spent rather quite a bit more than that setting up a test environment and getting a handle on things. I actually came to the conclusion that the originally requested version upgrade was completely orthogonal to the features she was hoping to achieve with it. We set up only those changes, and now it’s back to ambiguity: if she chooses to upgrade for future proofing, technically I haven’t finished was I was asked to do, but I have spent considerably more time than originally allotted. I also found out during the course of the work that my bill was considerably more than the trickle of ad income the site generates.

Of course it’s complicated further by knowing the person. I’ve passed over requests for web site help from less familiar people before. When it comes to a closer associate, there is question hanging out there of whether it should even be a favor. A lot of things in the world run by volunteer effort alone, and a world without community driven organizations might very well be worse off. One of the reasons that I often feel rushed is because I’m involved in a couple of volunteer organizations.

Condo board members may not be paid by law. Yet someone has to watch over the common interests of the association, and volunteers are perhaps predictably scarce. If it’s not me, then it might be no one, leaving things undone.

Then there is martial arts, where I spend one or two nights a week in unpaid instruction. The martial arts is immersed in a tradition of mutual obligations – as you were taught, so teach. But it’s still out there when I start counting up where my time went. I’ve actually been pulling back lately. I cut out one class, and I’ve been going to the board game design group again, which intersects one night every other week.

I confront valuation again in software. My lifetime earnings from personal software projects is $5. Not a single solitary soul has seen fit to make use of the Disk Clock donate button. I’m considering marking the next version shareware, while still avoiding nagware.

Software is a nasty problem. A program has a duplication cost which rapidly approaches zero. Copying is free and easy, unless extra non-feature-related effort is spent to put artificial restrictions in place. Even then, what software does software can undo, and we have the DRM arms race – more and more effort being poured into making thing harder for the customer, instead of adding value for the customer.

The costs of software aren’t in duplication, they are development. The only way to match price with cost is pay for the developers time and attention. Yet the only thing most people will buy is a proven working program, which we only know how to sell through the old physical-item model. The only reason this works at all is the legal fiction of software licenses.

So I’m sitting in the frying pan of being paid for things I wouldn’t be doing left to my own devices, staring uncertainly out at the fire of scraping by through intentionally crippled software.

I had a thought experiment, which I’m not bold enough to put practice. For a period, such a year, neither give anything for free, or take anything without paying for it.

Response to Blair Reynolds, The Doctrine of God

(Quite) a while back, I received a response of sorts to my personal interpretation of the word god I believe I actually fished this response out of the abandoned mail in my copy of windows eudora, which I found I could import into gmail. Back during my fit of writing ideas (2008-02), I pulled it out of the archives and put it in the queue. The actual writing of my response has been during the last week.

Looking over the message again, I realized it might be a published article rather than a personal response. Indeed this seems to be the case, as a search turns up several copies, such as this one.

I suppose I was reluctant to respond because the essay is thick with technical theological terms, implying a corpus of knowledge with which I have no familiarity. The copy I linked above includes a short biography, which indicates that Blair Reynolds does in fact have a doctorate in theology. I can still agree or disagree however, regardless of what the academics think of it.

On the whole, the essay has a number of interesting points, and seems to agree about as well with my philosophy as a it can in a theistic context (used only to mean “in contrast to atheistic” – I don’t know if it may carry other meanings as a technical term).

First part:

‘Unbiblical’ isn’t a very strong argument for me. Given translation, editing, and other effects of time, it’s hard to trust that the bible of today is the same as it was when first written. And even then, how it differs substantially from anything written today. Not useless of course – deep reflection on many works will produce insight, and the world’s holy books carry a long history of recommendation as sources of inspiration. But I’m not going to spend too much time splitting hairs on the description of a being beyond perception.

Perhaps I should step back a bit. My definition puts god as a quality of the universe instead of a being. If we take the bible as the distilled wisdom of the ages, and it’s description of god as describing the property of virtuous order, it might be more interesting. The statement “God is incarnate throughout the entire universe, which functions as his body.” fits reasonably with this view.

The questions raised become fertile ground for further reflection. The main issue here is whether god is changing or unchanging. Ask instead whether the principle of order is changing or unchanging, and it becomes as profound to me as perhaps the question about god is to a theist.

I think the thing that bothers me most about theistic position is _beingness_, especially the “changing affective states”. I don’t see emotion in a principle. Unless, perhaps, you view the order as a human invention (name for a collection of phenomenon) and the mood as a reflection of the collective mood of humanity.

Second part:

Argues that the attributes of god are reflected in his creation, which in turn reveals aspects of the creator (made in his own image?) The middle part of this section seems somewhat hesitant, talking on both sides of many issues and not really picking either.

Surrounding that ambiguity are the interesting ideas “Moment to moment, we are different persons” and “what is beautiful in one context or era may not be in another” This reminds me of the Quecha (Mayan) idea of pacha, or time-place. You can change your scenery by moving, or by waiting, but the one thing you can’t do is hang on to the same thing forever, it will never be quite the same twice. (Aside: it occurs to me that much of computing, and science in general, is composed of efforts to resist this effect.)

If we view the order as a human artifact, this is clearly true. As humanity changes, the definition of a well ordered and beautiful world changes. This raises an interesting question: if the definition of a thing is constantly changing, can we even usefully talk about whether a thing changes, if the name never refers to the same thing twice?

Going back to the first part about seeing the creator in the created, the circularity is dizzying. As a human concept, the idea of god or ultimate order reveals more about the definers than the defined. Yet we see this as a quality of the universe, exactly that which has given rise to ourselves, which itself seems to reveal the pattern.

Third part:

This is a mostly theistic argument. Perhaps I like it so much because it so beautifully attacks another theistic argument. If god is unchanging, life has no meaning, because nothing you can ever do can affect god, the one true and ultimate thing in the universe. The whole concept of free will can be likened to the old adage of a tree falling in the forest.

Of course the argument doesn’t actually prove anything about god – just which view we as humans in search of meaning find more comforting.

There is one qualifier, however. Even if we can’t ‘change’ a thing by talking about it, we can change how we define it (edit our own beliefs) which in turn affects how we interact with that thing. Maybe we can’t change god/reality, but our beliefs about these things can have a profound affect on our daily lives. For more mundane things (or if you believe that the essential is itself changeable) those interactions have ripple effects. Consider the Obama effect, a race performance gap that disappeared all but overnight after Obama won the party nomination.

And how does this affect my worldview? I can’t change the nature of the universe though logical discourse anymore than one can change god through logical discourse. But I do select particular facets of the universe and call them good or bad. If you specify these facets precisely enough, these principals can be considered constant. Whether those principals are ‘important’ or ‘good’ is not necessarily constant.

Once you’ve picked a set of principals, you can say the world express those principals to greater or lesser degrees, and this degree is subject to our influence. The world is also filled with other conscious beings like ourselves who experience joy or suffering in proportion to this agreement.

Perhaps a more biting reflection is that a world with an unchanging god is essentially undistinguishable from a world without god. For me the conclusion is the same in both cases: with no ultimate judge, what matters is the well-being of ourselves and our fellow travelers.

Fourth part:

Treats directly the concept of whether god is a part of the world, or apart from the world. Another thing I’ve never liked about theism – something apart from the world is beyond perception, and beyond knowing. Such an untestable concept is just the kind which would be used by a charlatan seeking to control a mass of people. Since I can’t trust that this isn’t the case, I can’t accept any idea of god that places him beyond question (or rather, beyond answer)

While the offered argument seems reasonable, it doesn’t do any more to assuage my fears – even with god part of the world, he is still beyond knowing.

Fifth part:

The monopolar prejudice, or ascribing one aspect to god and the opposite aspect to the the rest of the world. I agree that if there is any ultimate nature to the world, it must contain all aspects of that world.

Relations with Time, Creation and Iteration

The essay project seems to be somewhat of a failure. This one has been over a year in the making: 2008-02-22, 2008-10-26, 2009-03-10.

Creating your own clock changes your relationship with time a little bit. The process of creating it changes things in yet more ways.

Once upon a time, I declared the The timeless world. That held for a while, in a sort of partially effective way that didn’t change too much since the first report. Then I invented my own clock. Suddenly it wasn’t dead numbers or confusing interpolation. Reading time was almost fun.

Of course part of being different enough to be fun is being, well, different. I very often don’t know what ‘time’ it is. I know it’s a little past dawn, almost lunch, or a couple hours to bed time. The things I actually use time for, without having to translate it to numbers in between. Occasionally I need to work with the outside world, at which point I do have to go through all that bothersome conversion; usually I find the position on the clock and switch back to visual mode from there on. One of these day’s I’d like to get some kind of event integration so I don’t have to do the conversion myself ;^)

A few months ago, I switched every clock I can to 24-hour time. A comment playing off the ambiguity of a time I had mentioned caught me in a problem solving mood, and I didn’t see any point in having such pointless ambiguity. It probably won’t be quite natural for some time, but at least I’ve started getting more accustomed.

The process of working with representations of time has finally explained something of the traditional system, and given me a little better understanding of what it all means. I suspect the standard 12 hour clock harkens back to the sundials. The top of the clock corresponds nicely to noon, and allowing a little fudge that changes throughout the year, 6-to-6 will cover the track of the sun, and most of the useful day, pretty well. On the other end of the day, 12 midnight is an anti-peak, operating in sort of a nighttime parallel image.

Another interesting feature of Disk Clock’s daylight view is that it has a sort of nice physical correspondence to the earth. One can imagine the clock as the earth, viewed down on the south pole, an image helped, by chance, by the green and blue color schemes in the default view. If you then imagine yourself in an non-copernican world where the sun moves around you, it can make for a somewhat nice intuition for the relation between times and places. I’ve thought about making some provision to mark out other time zones of interest, which would allow for a very nice way of seeing about what time of day it is somewhere else – assuming that somewhere else was at about the same latitude. ;^) There is also the very non trivial problem that timezones, while loosely based on nature, are political fabrications, and can change quite arbitrarily – dealing with only one zone has allowed me to outsource this problem to Apple and other Javascript systems.

The Act Of Creation

There’s something about diving into a problem and forging into new (to you) territory. I often emerge with my own private language, superbly intuitive to me and utterly obtuse to everyone else. As a case in point, Disk Clock’s default 24/4/60/15 arrangement can’t hold a candle to the dominant 12/60/60.

Another interesting case was the dragon form in martial arts. As our school worked through the creation of our own forms, the yet to be created dragon form got remade as a sequencing of certain (large) set of multi-step techniques. During a break, I got stung with an idea for how to do this and put together the last 3/4 or so of the form on my own. During the course of the project. I had to fine tune and re-examine all the involved techniques in order to put them together smoothly. I actually came to the conclusion that the process – in part the act of creation – was as much or more valuable than the resulting form.

My instructor thought that form creation was something for very advanced martial artists, however. Funny thing is, as time went on and we worked with the process of transmitting this large, complicated form to the students, it was decided that it wasn’t working out very well. The replacement? Students design their own unrelated form from scratch, rather than in the semi-structured format I worked with.

Iteration

When I began Disk Clock, I started working on it every chance I got. After a little while, this settled into a pattern of working on the weekends, packing up the two days work and making a release at the end of the weekend. I tried to get all the ‘other stuff’ done during the week. This actually worked out quite well for several months, despite occasional short iterations due to a martial arts seminar or other event.

But I’m actually writing this from a much later time. The martial arts test eventually blotted everything out – it didn’t matter what the schedule was, because I wasn’t working on anything. By the time it settled down again, I was post-1.0 and didn’t have an obvious successor project; certainly nothing amenable to short complete iterations. The result was somewhat wandering attention.

I tried to keep up the weekend schedule for the most part, but a string interruptions often caused me to try and ‘trade time’, programming on into the week. Of course, this cut into the amount of other stuff I got done during the week, and often ended up impacting the next weekend, causing the cycle to start over again.

One nice thing about this pattern is that little programming in the morning was a nice kickstart to the day. It was also nice to do something joyful before going to bed, rather than depressing things until I got so down I went to bed, depressed. So, I’ve swapped. I’m currently experimenting with a little coding every day, and dealing with other stuff during the day.

Ups and downs, of course. I miss being able to really pound on a problem. But I don’t miss getting stuck on a problem for long periods. I’m never stuck for a single long time, and often times the break gives me a new idea, or allows me to get comfortable with the concept of some drastic re-factoring instead of reluctantly staring at the code searching for a better way. Meanwhile, I need to try and maintain focus on other stuff for long periods of time, which isn’t always easy.