Mar 22

All the Tropes That Are My Life

Sometimes art imitates life. Sometimes life imitates art. So, for your dubious biographical pleasure, here is my life in tropes. Warning: the TV Tropes site is addictive; beware of chasing links lest it eat the rest of your day. Or several days.

First, a trope disclaimer: I am not the Eric Raymond from Jem. As any fule kno, I am not a power-hungry Corrupt Corporate Executive; if I were going to be evil, it would definitely be as a power-hungry Mad Scientist. Learn the difference; know the difference!

I am, or I like to think of myself as, a Smart Guy who Minored in Badass. I show some tendency towards Boisterous Bruiser, having slightly too physical a presence to fit Badass Bookworm perfectly. And yes, I’m a Playful Hacker who is Proud To Be A Geek.

I like swords, but I’m actually a Musketeer who cheerfully uses firearms. (I have also been known to wield the dreaded Epic Flail).

It is certainly the case that I married the required Fiery Redhead. I own a Badass Longcoat but don’t wear it often, as it’s heavy and not very comfortable.

Some people think I’m a Glory Seeker, but in fact I don’t much like being famous; one of the few things I genuinely fear is Becoming the Mask.

Mar 13

Country-music hell and fake accents

A few months back I had to do a two-hour road trip with A&D regular Susan Sons, aka HedgeMage, who is an interesting and estimable person in almost all ways except that she actually … likes … country music.

I tried to be stoic when stupid syrupy goo began pouring out of the car radio, but I didn’t do a good enough job of hiding my discomfort to prevent her from noticing within three minutes flat. “If I leave this on,” she observed accurately to the 11-year-old in the back seat, “Eric is going to go insane.”

Since said 11-year more or less required music to prevent him from becoming hideously bored and restive, all three of us were caught between two fires. Susan, ever the pragmatist, went looking through her repertoire for pieces I would find relatively inoffensive.

After a while this turned into a sort of calibration exercise – she’d put something on, assay my reaction to see where in the range it fell between mere spasmodic twitching and piteous pleas to make it stop, and try to figure what the actual drive-Eric-insane factors in the piece were.

After a while a curious and interesting pattern emerged…

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Mar 08

Which way is north on your new planet?

So, here you are in your starship, happily settling into orbit around an Earthlike world you intend to survey for colonization. You start mapping, and are immediately presented with a small but vexing question: which rotational pole should you designate as ‘North’?

There are a surprisingly large number of ways one could answer this question. I shall wander through them in this essay, which is really about the linguistic and emotive significance of compass-direction words as humans use them. Then I shall suggest a pragmatic resolution.

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Mar 06

Causes and implications of the pause

That is the title of a paper attempting to explain (away) the 17-year nothing that happened while CAGW models were predicting warming driven by increasing CO2. CO2 increased. Measured GAT did not.

Here’s the money quote: “The most recent climate model simulations used in the AR5 indicate that the warming stagnation since 1998 is no longer consistent with model projections even at the 2% confidence level.”

That is an establishment climatologist’s cautious scientist-speak for “The IPCC’s anthropogenic-global-warming models are fatally broken. Kaput. Busted.”

I told you so. I told you so. I told you so!

I even predicted it would happen this year, yesterday on my Ask Me Anything on Slashdot. This wasn’t actually brave of me: the Economist noticed that the GAT trend was about to fall to worse than 5% fit to the IPCC models six months ago.

Here is my next prediction – and remember, I have been consistently right about these. The next phase of the comedy will feature increasingly frantic attempts to bolt epicycles onto the models. These epicycles will have names like “ENSO”, “standing wave” and “Atlantic Oscillation”.

All these attempts will fail, both predictively and retrodictively. It’s junk science all the way down.

Mar 03

Sharecroppers, nomads, and early open source

The responses to my previous post, on the myth of the fall, brought out a lot of half-forgotten lore about pre-open-source cultures of software sharing.

Some of these remain historically interesting, but hackers talking about them display the same tendency to back-project present-day conditions I was talking about in that post. As an example, one of my regular commenters inferred (correctly, I think) the existence of a software-sharing community around ESPOL on the B5000 in the mid-1960s, but then described it as “proto-open-source”

I think that’s an easy but very misleading description to land on. In the rest of this post I will explain why, and propose terminology that I think makes a more useful set of distinctions. This isn’t just a historical inquiry, but relevant to some large issues of the present and future.

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Mar 02

The myth of the fall

I was a historian before I was an activist, and I’ve been reminded recently that a lot of younger hackers have a simplified and somewhat mythologized view of how our culture evolved, one which tends to back-project today’s conditions onto the past.

In particular, many of us never knew – or are in the process of forgetting – how dependent we used to be on proprietary software. I think by failing to remember that past we are risking that we will misunderstand the present and mispredict the future, so I’m going to do what I can to set the record straight.

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Feb 19

Premises of the Dark Enlightenment

The Dark Enlightenment is, as I have previously noted, a large and messy phenomenon. It appears to me in part to be a granfalloon invented by Nick Land and certain others to make their own piece of it (the neoreactionaries) look larger and more influential than it actually is. The most detailed critiques of the DE so far (notably Scott Alexander’s Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell and Anti-Reactionary FAQ nod in the direction of other cliques on the map I reproduced but focus pretty strongly on the neoreactionaries.

Nevertheless, after we peel away clear outliers like the Techno-Commercial Futurists and the Christian Traditionalists, there remains a “core” Dark Enlightenment which shares a discernibly common set of complaints and concerns. In this post I’m going to enumerate these rather than dive deep into any of them. Development of and commentary on individual premises will be deferred to later blog posts.

(I will note the possibility that I may in summarizing the DE premises be inadvertently doing what Scott Alexander marvelously labels “steelmanning” – that is, reverse-strawmanning by representing them as more logical and coherent than they actually are. Readers should be cautious and check primary sources if in doubt.)

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Feb 17

Come train with me

This is a shout-out to all martial artists and would-be martial artists in the western Philadelphia exurbs, especially: Phoenixville, Spring City, Collegeville, Mont Clare, Upper Providence, Lower Schuylkill, Valley Forge, Charlestown/Malvern, Kimberton, Audubon, and Lower Perkiomen.

I train under Sifu Dale Yeager at the Kuntao Martial Arts Club in Phoenxville, and my school has a weird problem. It’s having trouble keeping students, and near as I can figure the trouble is that the school is too good!

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Feb 15

Namedropping “ESR”

For at least fifteen years my name and its tri-letterization has been something with which you could conjure up a lot of attention among hackers and other sorts of geek. This fact presented the more clueful of my personal friends with a delicate problem: under what circumstances would it be proper for them to invoke this instrument?

I have actually been asked for guidance about this more than once. I developed some guidelines more than a decade ago. To the best my knowledge my friends have been pretty good about applying them. I present them here for your amusement.

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Feb 10

Operator rules

Everybody knows, or should know, the basic rules of firearms safety. (a) Always treat the weapon as if loaded, (b) Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy, (c) keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, (d) be sure of your target and what is beyond it. (These are sometimes called “Cooper’s Rules” after legendary instructor Col. Jeff Cooper. There are several minor variants of the wording.)

If you follow these rules, you will never unintentionally injure anyone with a firearm. They are easy to learn and very safe. They are appropriate for civilians.

Some elite military units have different rules, with a different tradeoff between safety and combat effectiveness. I learned them from an instructor who was ex-SOCOM. The way I learned them is sufficiently amusing that the story deserves retelling.

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Feb 09

Storm Nika crisis is over

I’m back home with the power on. Normal hacking and blogging will resume.

There’s four days I don’t want to have to do over again. Cold, stress, constant fatigue, consequent inability to concentrate…being a disaster-displaced person, it turns out, is psychologically difficult even if you have money and a good support network and a hotel in a First World country to fall back on.

The difference between voluntarily breaking your routine and having it forcibly ruptured for you really matters. I’m a pretty adventurous sort, normally utterly unfazed by travel and novelty and cheerfully willing to go on extended away missions, but this time I got barely a lick of work done on my laptop – I found myself aching for my desk and my computer and my routine.

Not just me, either. Cathy was working hard on not complaining but she was looking rather pinched and drawn by day two. I think of the three of us our cat coped best; by the time we relocated her from the frigid shell of Chez Raymond to my mother’s house on Day Three her attitude was clearly “as long as beloved humans are nearby, I’m OK”.

Sugar is so amiable that it’s easy not to notice that she’s as tough as old boot leather. She turned 21 during the storm. And no, you wouldn’t have been able to tell she’s the feline equivalent of a centenarian; she investigated my mother’s place as bright-eyed and curiously as a kitten. Did us both good to see it.

Upcoming: More on the Dark Enlightenment, a progress report on the Emacs repository conversion, and maybe a review of the Julia language. But I have to dig myself out from under some backlog first.

Feb 05

From an undisclosed location…

The title was a joke. The rest of this is not.

Cathy Raymond and I evacuated from our home this morning. We’ve never had to do that before.

Storm Nika has totally messed over the five-county area around Philadelphia. I’ve seen more downed power lines today than in my entire life until yesterday. Many roads are blocked by fallen trees. Over 600,000 people are without power; PECO has declared an all-hands emergency but says even so service may not be fully restored until the weekend.

This is much, much worse than Hurricane Sandy was. Regional rail is shut down. Most businesses are closed. So many homes are becoming uninhabitable that the county is setting up emergency shelters in schools.

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Feb 04

Mapping the Dark Enlightenment

The Dark Enlightenment is a group of thinkers and blogs that has aroused a fair amount of controversy in the last several years. Most people who write about them from the outside piously dismiss them as a gang of crypto- and not-so-crypto- fascists, or a sort of grunting neanderthalism dressed up in intellectual clothes. The reality, as usual, is not so simple.

I’ve been meaning to write about them for a while, and the first question I’m going to raise is whether they meaningfully present a single subject at all.

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Feb 03

How…does this even work?

Here is a curious fact.

My wife Cathy is using Duolingo to learn German; she wants to be able to read sources on Iron Age and Viking costume in the original.

Duolingo takes her through a lot of pronunciation drills.

I’ve learned something by listening to her – which is that somehow, somewhere, I have internalized a very precise understanding of German phonology and phonotactics. As in, I not only know right pronunciation from wrong, I give her detailed advice on how to match Duolingo’s model speaker that we can both tell is correct.

What makes this weird is that I don’t speak German. At all. Nor have I ever lived where it’s spoken; I’ve visited Germany once, German-speaking Switzerland once, and that’s it.

This raises questions in my mind:

1. How the fuck? I mean, I suppose it’s related to my knack for generating names in the style of any specified language, and I could handwave about Markov-chain models, but…how the fuck?

2. What dialect of German have I templated on? Could there be any way to tell?

3. What other entire language phonologies have I swallowed … without … me … actually … noticing …

4. Does this happen to other people?

The human brain is a very odd thing.

Feb 01

Down the feminist rabbit hole

I fell down a rabbit hole today. By reading this: An Incomplete Guide to Feminist infighting. Bemused, I chased links and read manifestos and counter-manifestos for a couple of hours until the sources just began to repeat themselves. But in some respects my confusion was just beginning.

As I was falling through all these diatribes like Alice wondering how deep the rabbit hole goes, one of the thoughts uppermost in my mind was Poe’s Law: “Without a blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”

There was no humor down this rabbit hole. I found myself in the land beyond parody. On this evidence, I suspect it would be nigh-impossible to write a literate spoof of modern feminism that even many of its disputants wouldn’t blithely mistake for a real ideological position. And I found myself thinking of the Sokal Hoax.

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Jan 31

FOAD 2014 Party Pre-Announcemrnt

This is a pre-announcement of the second third Friends of Armed & Dangerous party.

FOAD 2014 will be held at Penguicon 2014, in Southfield, MI, almost certainly on the evening of Saturday May 3rd (but we don’t have a confirmed party-floor booking yet).

I believe John Bell is planning to run a Geeks with Guns the Friday before, so come equipped. Yes, personal weapons are considered an article of proper attire for the FOAD party – especially firearms or swords.

More details as they become available.

Jan 16

Dragging Emacs forward

This is a brief heads-up that the reason I’ve been blog silent lately is that I’m concentrating hard on a sprint with what I consider a large payoff: getting the Emacs project fully converted to git. In retrospect, choosing Bazaar as DVCS was a mistake that has presented unnecessary friction costs to a lot of contributors. RMS gets this and we’re moving.

I’m also talking with RMS about the possibility that it’s time to shoot Texinfo through the head and go with a more modern, Web-friendly master format. Oh, and time to abolish info entirely in favor of HTML. He’s not entirely convinced yet of this, but he’s listening.

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