Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Post

Jess and I love to go to the Seattle Public Library's book spiral and browse her favorite parts of the Dewey spectrum. We've found some weird books (a book on gay reincarnation, a leadership manual based on the principles of our first President with an MBA). We've paged through big books with lots of big pictures (a chronicle of couples, a polemic against public-land ranching and cattle subsidies in the West). We've even checked out a few. Here are some things I've been reading and skimming:

Beyond Red and Blue by Peter S. Wenz. It covers 12 political philosophies that contribute to major American political debates. It's a survey and thus doesn't go too deeply into any of the philosophies and glosses over some things. And he makes some assumptions about what “everyone” believes that I find to be begging the question. But his way of explaining how people come to their political positions make more sense than the explanation of, say, the Political Compass, which I've thought about a bit. The compass is just a spectrum in two dimensions. People can fall in the middle of political spectra without consciously moderating their views, and explaining people's positions as the result of impulses rather than as positions on spectra makes a lot more sense. This book has given me some ideas about future reading, both on philosophies I sympathize with and those I don't, and that's certainly an important function of any survey.

War and Peace, Tolstoy. I just finished this last week. Tolstoy certainly has lots of opinions. His big interest in War and Peace is the telling of history, and its tendency to ascribe greatness to leaders. In particular he lampoons the idea of Napoleon's genius, portraying the rise and fall of the French Empire and especially the invasion of Russia, as being the product of... well, I won't spoil it. He spins a nice set of stories around all these ideas, too — through almost 1400 pages I never felt like giving it up. Nationalism and sexism abound, and he seems to find great glory in the scorched-earth warfare performed by the Russians. Of course, Tolstoy himself argued against judging historical events by the standards of later ideas. Sort of a temporal relativism.

The Transition Handbook, Rob Hopkins. I haven't got far into this one, but I've caught bits of it. Maybe the most important idea is that if we are going to have a positive future we have to make it positive.

Exogamy and dating ideals

This, on the Islamic scarf controversy in France. In the US we have more libertarian impulses than they do in France, including the impulse to give people the liberty to follow their minority communitarian values. So, from the American perspective, a European sense of shared, national community values winds up working against the community values of Muslims. But that's a bit of a tangent.

Jess and I were talking about mainstream dating culture last night and we made the connection to exogamy. There's an ideal of finding people to date outside our social circles, of finding a woman, nabbing a man, fitting this person into our picture of our future lives. As we no longer live in the time of the crusades, we find people out on the town. Whenever we're out alone it's like a performance — You never know when you'll meet the man you'll marry.

We both find mainstream dating ideals pretty weird, and our story doesn't follow them at all. We met in the Allen Hall cafeteria through mutual friends and built a close friendship for almost a year before considering ourselves an “item”. As we grew closer our friends giggled behind our backs (and sometimes in front of our faces), gave us advice we ignored. When we broke up we didn't hate eachother, didn't lose our friends. Our story is more in the endogamous mold than the standard ideal, although it sprung from a circle of friends we built while out at college, a place we'd all necessarily leave.

Not everyone is like us, to be sure. But how much of who we are is the result of how we've shaped each other? How the circumstances of our lives, the communities we've been in, the people we've known, have made us who we are? The self is not so unitary. There's no shame in changing your self around your friends, and less so around lovers, and the idea that there is seems so ingrained in our dating ideals.

So I guess this post is in support of the endogamous model. To whatever degree possible in our conquistador world.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I trust...

When I get an idea for a blog post at work I email my personal address from my work address so I can remember it for later and stay focused on work instead of thinking about it more just then. I hope (or, I guess, I trust) that nobody's reading those emails. Sometimes they're kind of weird. Anyway, I sent a few today. How about this...

1. I wonder whether (or, perhaps, I trust that) somehow we programmers can make something better than MS Outlook's meeting reminders. Every time I get one I'm thrown into a fit of frankly terrifying rage. I wonder how much of it is the crummy implementation (for the record, my office is still using Office 2003 and I don't know if they've improved since then) and how much of it is inherent in being reminded that one has to go to a meeting.

2 (and finally to the point I guess). We (as people) really tend to trust people, especially those in apparent positions of power or authority. I was trying to think of a way to generalize something I was thinking about earlier, about how most people don't really do the work to verify that their employers, landlords, businesses we frequent, etc., aren't out to scam/kill them, and I guess it comes down to something that we all know already. But would we all be better off if we trusted no one? Is our trust in people with some power/authority related to the fact that our society generally does an OK job of rewarding people that deal fairly (in "deal fairly" I'm not counting externalities — basically we do a good job of rewarding people that enter into exchanges beneficial to all their parties)? Is it different in places where that's not the case (Russia, with its large base of educated people and limited opportunities for them in “legitimate” enterprise, and thus its mythical abundance of computer hackers, might be an example)?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Accelerated Web?

Knowing that graphics drivers and libraries are complicated programs written in “unsafe” languages, and in light of the fact that the Web is dead, it seems to me that the main effect of adding hardware graphics acceleration to web browsers will be more security problems. It also seems likely that, in my typical use cases, I'm more likely to see meaningful performance degradation than enhancement from the addition of graphics acceleration (in the form of slower loading times, rendering bugs, etc).

(The Wired article, of course, is typical Wired bluster. The web isn't dead to anyone that doesn't equate life with world domination.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

LEDs update

The color-cycling LEDs have stopped. The blue ones are still going strong. I'm impressed. Though I'm not sure where my calculations went so wrong. Maybe the current rating for the LEDs specifies how much current you can put through before they're likely to explode, not how much they draw from a cell.