Aug 20

Quiddity has a qualia all its own

I changed my mind about a significant philosophical issue today, and in the process parted ways with a thinker I’ve been a serious fan of for a couple of decades now. The issue is raised by a thought experiment, of which I was previously unaware, called Mary’s Room. The simplest way of getting involved the dispute is to ask “How can I know that my experience of (say) the color ‘red’ is the same as yours? Is it even possible to have such knowledge?”

Continue reading

Aug 13

Dr. William Short’s “Viking Weapons and Combat”: A Review

I expected to enjoy Dr. William Short’s Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques (Westholme Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-1-59416-076-9), and I was not disappointed. I am a historical fencer and martial artist who has spent many hours sparring with weapons very similar to those Dr. Short describes, and I have long had an active interest in the Viking era. I had previously read many of the primary saga sources (such as Njal’s Saga Egil’s Saga, and the Saga of Grettir the Strong) that Dr. Short mines for information on Viking weaponscraft, but I had not realized how informative they can be when the many descriptions of fights in them are set beside each other and correlated with the archeological evidence.

Continue reading

Jul 30

GPSD-NG: A Case Study in Application Protocol Evolution

I’ve been doing some serious redesign work on GPSD recently. I had planned to do a blog posting about lessons learned, but the result grew enough length and structure to turn into an actual technical paper. You can read it here; comments and criticism will be welcomed.

Note, everything described in the paper has already been implemented in gpsd. There’s work still to be done; for those of you familiar with the software, I still need to do equivalents of the old–protocol commands B C J N R Z $. I do not expect these to pose any significant difficulties.

Jul 28

A Midsummer’s Light Posting

I’ve not been blogging much lately for two reasons. One: vacation. I went to sword camp (formally, “Polaris Summer Weapons Retreat”) again this year, had great time with friends, learned how to fight using a glaive (a form of bladed polearm). Two: heavy technical work. I’ve been designing and implementing a new protocol for GPSD; my next major post may be about some interesting issues that have come up during this process.

It-increases-my-paranoia news: Massive protests continue in Iran, some news about them leaking out through the news blockade, more reaching me through my NedaNet contacts. My Pennsylvania CCW arrived, so I now carry concealed legally – I had had plans to carry concealed illegally and make a Constitutional issue of it, but I’ve decided I don’t need to be in trouble with both the U.S. legal system and potential Iranian assassins at the same time.

I’m looking into upgrading my pistol competence level via IDPA tactical shooting; there’s a match at a gun club not far from here August 22nd and I’ll probably be at it. I did IPSC, which is similar, once back in 1998: you can read about it here. Then I got busy and famous and stuff, dangit.

Light blogging may continue for a while: World Boardgaming Championships is next week, and I’m playing a lot of on-line games in training for that; my goal is to at least make the finals in the Commands & Colors Ancients tournament.

Jul 10

In which I am thankful for Barack Obama’s election

I’ve been trying to buy a gun recently, a better carry weapon (and by “better” I mean more concealable than what I have now and in my favorite caliber). My friends, I am here to tell you that this is an awful time to be in the market for a firearm; they are scarce and teeth-jarringly expensive because demand for them has gone through the roof. On reflection, though this is deucedly inconvenient for me at the moment, I think it implies some excellent news for the longer term and is one of a very few reasons I can think of to be grateful that Barack Obama is in the White House today.

Continue reading

Jul 07

Political Economics 101: A Dialog

Attached is a slightly cleaned-up transcript of an IRC conversation I had last night during which I tried to teach political economics 101 to a well-intentioned person I know who describes himself as a “socialist” (though, from the way he reacted, perhaps not for much longer). It went better than one might have expected.

I think this transcript is interesting on at least two levels. First, it was very constructive, with lessons about how intelligent people who don’t know economics perceive the issues around it as well as a short course in public-choice theory embedded in it. But also…there’s tradition running from Plato’s Dialogues to the Renaissance of teaching philosophy through dialog. It’s interesting, I think, to see how this modulates into the key of IRC.

Continue reading

Jul 01

The Hand-Reared Cat

In a recent comment, I wrote:

Oddly enough, our cat often does come when called, and is rather good at figuring out what humans want and doing it. A few days ago a photographer came out here to take snaps of me for an AP story on NedaNet and was quite startled when I asked the cat to turn around so her head would face the camera, and she did it.

Our cat’s behavior is not doglike servility, though. She pays careful attention to human hands because she associates them with being petted, and she’s a total friction slut. As a result, you can often fetch her, or get her to move, with hand gestures. I made one that directed her attention towards the photographer.

By an odd coincidence, my wife Cathy insisted less than an hour later that I should watch a video of the Moscow Cats Theater (I’d post a link, but I haven’t found that exact one from here). And we both noticed something; as the cats are walking tightropes and so forth, the human trainers are using encouraging, guiding gestures that seem…familiar to us. And, in fact, the cats often seem visually fixated on the trainers’ hands.

Continue reading

Jun 30

RFI on 1911-pattern carry guns

This is a bleg for information on 1911-pattern handguns optimized for concealed carry.

Since receiving my most recent death threat, I’ve been carrying a Glock .40 pretty continuously. The .40 is an excellent weapon, but has two drawbacks from my point of view. One is that it has a 5-inch barrel and a relatively wide frame, it’s really designed for external holster carry rather than concealment, and while it can be hidden on a person my size it’s not really comfortable for continuous wear.

The other problem is that it’s not a 1911-pattern .45. Yes, I know, there are arguments for double-action and smaller calibers, but 1911 is what I like and thoroughly understand. That feeling of comfort and confidence is a valuable asset and could make a life-or-death difference in a clutch situation.

Therefore I’m soliciting information on 1911-pattern carry guns. The search specification is this: 1911-pattern .45 with a three-inch barrel, optimized for concealed carry with as few projecting parts to snag clothing as possible. I know of one weapon fitting this spec, the Kimber Ultra II Carry. I’m interested in pointers to functionally similar weapons, reviews, personal experiences, and recommendations. I will entertain offers of sale and would not turn up my nose at used guns in good condition.

Attacks on gun ownership and other philosophical/political diatribes will be considered off-topic for this comment thread and deleted. Yes, I have notified the FBI (which is taking the threat seriously) and the police have my house on elevated watch, but “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away”. If you have nothing concrete to contribute to helping me keep myself alive, keep your lip zipped.

UPDATE: Thanks to all who responded. I found a used, excellent-condition Kimber Ultra Carry II on for $740, which is a steal considering that all the quotes I’ve heard locally are for $1299 and up. This is the exact thing I decided I wanted, so I am happy.

Jun 29

Misconstruing Mussolini

I’ve been reviewing the history of fascism recently, because the Republic of Iran has many structural features in common with fascism and I think the history of fascism in Europe holds lessons about its future. And recently I ran across a quote beloved of American leftists in an email signature:

From Benito Mussolini: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

This quote is often misconstrued nowadays by leftists who view profit-making corporations under capitalism (especially multinational corporations) as instruments of the devil. They love the implied image of capitalist fat-cats and fascist dictators conspiring in gilded opulence. Alas for them that this quote actually doesn’t imply anything like that; the terminological ground under it has shifted.

Continue reading

Jun 25

“This is massacre…this is genocide…this is Hitler!”

Listen to this CNN interview with an eyewitness to the Baharestan Square Massacre. If it does not freeze your blood, you are no longer part of any community of human feeling I can recognize.

I am, as of now, DONE with people who say we shouldn’t “impose American values” or “promote democracy” in the Middle East. They are morally bankrupt. As of 24 June 2009 they have slip-slid into the category of apologists for genocide.

That woman is shattered. She has witnessed atrocities no human being should even have to imagine, let alone watch being wreaked on their friends and neighbors and countrymen. She is pleading with us, screaming for the world to intervene.

Will we flagellate ourselves over our imagined sins, or act? This is cause for war – not on behalf of the U.S.’s particular
interests, but on behalf of all humanity against a cabal of tyrants and butchers unequaled in evil since Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.

To know of this degree of radical evil, and have the power to act against it but fail to do so, is to become accomplice to the evil. The time for the overthrow of the Iranian regime, by any feasible means up to and including full-scale war, has come.

Free Iran!

Jun 22

Dispatches from the Iranian cyberfront

I’ve spent the last seventeen hours living inside a cyberpunk novel. A libertarian cyberpunk novel. It’s been a weird and awesome experience.

Within an hour after I received a plea for help from Iran, a regular commenter on this blog recruited me into a hacker network that has been forming to support the democratic Iranian revolutionaries by providing them with proxy servers, Tor anonymizers, and any other technologies needed
for them to communicate over channels the Iranian regime cannot censor or control.

I know this network has contacts on the ground among the revolutionaries. I don’t know who they
are, and don’t want to know. Most of the other network members are just names on an IRC channel. But we’re putting together a stealth network at amazing speed. Nothing matters as much as the courage and determination of the Iranians on the ground, but we aim to make a difference in our own way and we have the tools to do it.

This disorganization has only been forming for a very short time. It doesn’t really have leaders. It didn’t have even a name when I joined it, though I’ve given it one that looks like it might stick. Until and unless somebody else steps up to the job, I’m our public contact.

This role carries a non-zero risk that I will be targeted for assassination, or interrogation followed by execution, by agents of the Iranian regime – we’ve had more than one death threat against core members already. I take this risk with eyes open because we need somebody to be public, and I know I’ve already been a jihadi target since 2006; at least I can keep some other poor bastard out of the line of fire. I now expect to remain continuously armed for the duration of the Iranian crisis.

Rostam, this is how I’m answering your plea. We’ll do what we can for your people. For freedom.

To learn more about NedaNet and how you can help, go here.

UPDATE: Actual death threat received. I have taken appropriate precautions.

Jun 21

A plea from Iran

I received an email that deeply moved me a few moments ago. I’m going to reproduce it here exactly, except that (as requested) I am omitting the name of the sender. Because I think I’m going to need a term of reference for him, I am substituting the name of a legendary Persian hero.

My name is [Rostam] , an open source fan and your blog regular commenter …

Regarding to security consideration, PLEASE KEEP MY IDENTITY SECRET !!

I wanted to inform you about what’s happening in Iran , but the the wildness circle of Iran’s religious and dictatorship regime is so that I can just invite you to check this two link in youtube :

Eric, I know that I will maybe face the deadly threats by sending this email. But, I do this because I do believe in freedom.

Inasmuch as, you are one of the most influent persons in one of the most talented community (Hackers) in the world, I humbly ask you write about Iran and what’s going on there.

Please tell the world that Persian people are fight for freedom . Our fight is “weapon less” against a full armored enemy . Our weapon is our great civilization , is our will of freedom and is our prior experience over the history.

PLEASE tell the world that there is no doubt at all that we will see freedom as you saw it after destroying Hitler’s nightmare …

Sincerely Yours , [Rostam]

Rostam, I will indeed blog about this. I begin by publishing your plea, which despite its somewhat broken English is probably as eloquent as anything I could write on the matter. You have my promise of secrecy. I will have more to say in coming days.

And, an interesting contrast with my last email from Iran

Jun 19

Responding to Eliezer Yudkowsky’s “Overcoming Bias”

This was originally email to Eliezer Yudkowsky about his excellent and thought-provoking blog Overcoming Bias (actually, the links here are to the older newer Less Wrong, which has been re-indexed at Overcoming Bias). Eliezer encouraged me to publish this commentary; I have provided HTML markup and fixed some typos. Warning: the following may be heavy sledding if you are not philosophically literate.

Continue reading

Jun 17

Reinventing Homosexuality

I’ve recently been reviewing what I know about the historical evidence for how homosexuality has been viewed in other times and places, and doing a bit of additional research into the area. This, which is partly a response to comments by my regulars on some recent essays here, has led me to an interesting perspective on modern debates about homosexuality and sexual liberty.

Continue reading

Jun 12

How to Type with a Foreign Accent

I spend a lot of time on IRC channels and discussion forums where many of the users are not native speakers of English. Recently one of these expressed surprise when I observed: “You type with a foreign accent. What is your birth language?” He knew, of course, about speaking English with an accent, but he hadn’t encountered before the possibility that the same cues could be observable in written English.

Herewith , some instructions on how to type with an accent. All the examples I will give are utterances I have observed in the wild.

Continue reading

Jun 04

We are not sheep

I had a breakthrough moment last night. It was on the IRC channel for one of my projects. The developers, and the IRC’s regulars, are a small and tight-knit group. By a coincidence completely unrelated to the nature of the project, we’re all firearms fanciers who take a firm line on Second Amendment rights. Occasionally the IRC chat will turn from project-related technical matters to topics like the relative merits of various pistol calibers.

Occasionally people will show up on the channel looking for project-related help. Some of them become semi-regulars on the channel because they’re often working technical problems for which the project is part of the solution. One of these guys hopped on the channel last night while we happened to be in the middle of a firearms digression, listened for a bit, and then started to spout.

Continue reading

Jun 01

Extreme punctuation pedantry

Most people don’t know that there are two different philosophical camps that differ about how to do correct punctuation in English. This has been on my mind lately because of some questions I have been asked by non-native speakers on the Battle for Wesnoth development list, where I am the resident English pedant.

The rules we’re taught in school are the syntactic ones; in these, punctuation is a part of the grammar of written English and the rules for where you put it are derived from grammatical phrase structure and pretty strict. Lynne Truss of Eats, Shoots & Leaves fame is an exponent of this school. But there is another…

Continue reading