Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2022 May 26 -- Web3

The cover story on the current (June) issue of WIRED breathlessly extols "New Internet! 100% less evil" while the not-very-fine print is filled with the usual disclaimers. The title splash page gives a longer title, "Paradise at the Crypto Arcade" with much smaller print subtitle, "The Web3 movement seeks to liberate us from BIG TECH and EXPLOITATIVE CAPITALISM -- and to do it using only the blockchain, game theory, and code." Like Fulghum's Everything I Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten, which you don't need to read because the title says it all, everything you need to know about Web3 is right there. Turning the page to read the beginning text proved as useless as I already knew.

You didn't? You have not be watching (see frex "UnSecure" last week). The purpose of blockchain is obfuscation, and the goal of obfuscation is the same as it has always been since the first scam in recorded history was perpetrated on Adam in the Garden. The perp wants to sell you something that you wouldn't buy if you knew what he does. The pull-quotes scattered over the next dozen pages seem to support this conclusion.

The text tells us that the reason has little or nothing to do with blockchain, nor even the decentralization Web3 is supposed to cure. He does not say so clearly, but corporations become big and abusive by selling products and services that people are willing to pay for, and obviously whatever perceived abuse there may be in that arrangement, nobody else -- and especially not decentralization -- offers a better solution at a better price. If you don't like what they do, you are free to take your business elsewhere, and some people will do that: me, for example: I'm not on FaceBook, I refuse to use an iPhone, and buying on Amazon is more hassle than I'm willing to put up with (most of the time). But I'm a minority. Author Edelman points out that blockchain is even more of a hassle (besides being computer-intensive and eco-unfriendly). But the real reason is that people don't want to manage their own stuff when the data giants do it better.

And obviously, they do. "Web3" is a lost cause, because the data giants are very good at what makes them wealthy. That's why they are wealthy. It isn't priviledge -- these are self-made oligarchs -- it's hard work and hiring the best people who know how to do it. Oh, and by the way, the people who feel disenfranchised, it's their own choice: all they need to do is figure out what makes wealth in this world, and do that. If they/you don't want to do that, stop whining. There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. The data giants won't give it to you (they want your money), and neither blockchain nor the government can.
 

2022 May 24 -- Keepers of the Garden

Nobody gives people books any more, but I got one a week or two ago, The Men We Need by Brant Hansen. It's not a tough read like Isaac Newton (see my December 19 blog post two years ago, and then "Newton, Part 2" a month later after I finished), and I agree wholeheartedly with his main point, but I have two problems. First, a bit like Fulghum's Everything I Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten, which you don't need to read because the title says it all, in Hansen's book you need to read the first chapter (and then stop) because it says it all.

But mostly, he urges his readers to be rather more pro-active than I find myself in a position to be. Some things I already do -- like bringing computer education to rural high schools, and like being strongly Complementarian (see "1st-Century Women" six years ago and "The Story About Stories" a year earlier), but a lot more of his thesis rests on being married, and I'm just not there.

Depressingly so: the next flick up over supper today has a predator stalking the heroine, and I got so angry at him for his anti-social behavior, and at her for failing to cry out so the guy in her life could come rescue her, I just turned it off. And the book does not get read. The flick is based on a book by a female author, so you know things will come out in her favor... Maybe I'll go back and finish it tomorrow after I'm rested. Oh wait, that's when I work, the flicks are supposed to be low energy passivity when I'm too tired to work. Sigh.

Postscript. Bolstered by the assumption that the social contract between the producer of media and the audience is inviolate -- you don't kill women and children, you leave the audience feeling good, stuff like that, which if the author or screenwriters violate it, people hate your "art" and they won't pay you for it -- I finished the flick. Most of the movies on Archive.org are B&W flicks from the 30s and 40s because their copyrights expired (so uploading them is legal). The occasional color flick from after the movies started coming out in color, they are sooo bad, the producer didn't bother to renew the copyright (or sometimes didn't even bother to register it in the first place). This was one of them. "Woman runs, woman falls down" is a stereotype that I've only ever seen one violation, but not in this flick: She fell down and died. End of movie. A very misanthropic author, like the dystopias of the 60s and 70s. I should have known, it was in color.

The lesson from Hansen: Guys should be protecting women, not abusing them. The one guy in this flick trying to do that was a wimpy preacher with neither the cojones nor the skills to pull it off. That's often my problem, but usually God doesn't put me in a place that demonstrates my inadequacy. And when He does (see "It's a Fork"), I fail, then I get on with life. Slowly (see also "It Doesn't Matter" a couple weeks ago). Sigh.
 

2022 May 20 -- UnSecure

I have always held that anything on the internet is public information. Encryption makes it harder for the other guys to get at it, but not impossible. Case in point: BitCoin as reported in the current issue of WIRED. It's the cover story, fully one third of the total page count, more than twice the size of the next largest feature, and three times the total paid advertizing -- I can remember when half or more of the page count was paid ads, but no longer. And it was a page-turner. I spent more time in the Reading Room this week than I needed to.

The bottom line is that so-called "crypto-currency" doesn't hide anything at all, least of all who you are. There are zillions of copies out there in public with a complete record of everywhere your e-money has been, who you got it from and who you paid with it. It's encrypted and thought to be secure, but there is now a whole team of forensic experts in the Federal government specializing in cracking that information. By tracking that payment history in the blockchain itself, they eventually got to the site where it became real money and got the account holders by subpoena. They took down the largest child-abuse website in the world, and arrested 337 users, including several in the Federal agency conducting the sting, all of them people who paid for it in BitCoin. You can run, but you can't hide.

All of this without cracking the encryption itself. I often remind myself: "Man cannot build so strong that God cannot destroy." In this case it was just other people breaking in, a half-dozen agents with the power of subpoena. In another story, another issue -- I can't seem to lay my hands on it right now -- a single private citizen took out the internet for a whole country. OK, that was a rinky-dink third-world Bad Guy country, but still. A few years ago (another reference I can't locate: I blame my hair color ;-) some Bad Guy stole all the secret passwords from the company that invented the encryption now used everywhere on the internet. Their patent ran out a couple decades ago, so they aren't the only company holding secret passwords for customers, but the point is, even the encryption is no more secure than the electronic vaults of the companies holding them. You can run, but you can't hide.
 

2022 May 13 -- It Doesn't Matter

I have on several occasions heard of some Christian leader saying "Let my heart be broken by what breaks the heart of God." I can't find the original quote, Google is instead filled with variant offshoots, but now that I think about it, it's not Biblical. Four Psalms [34:18, 51:17, 69:20, 147:3] pronounce God's mercy on brokenhearted people, and again in the Prophet Isaiah (61:1, which Jesus quoted [Luke 4:18], referring to himself), but nothing anywhere about God's heart being broken. Brokenhearted is the opposite of happy, when Bad Things HAPPen (same root word, happenstance), and things don't happen to God, He controls what is going on. Even when Bad Things Happen to us, when we are brokenhearted, God accepts us and makes it better. He can do that.

In another place Jesus announces that God cares about sparrows, and even "knows the number of hairs on your head." In contrast to the Pharisees, who carefully tithe the individual spices in their kitchen, we are told to focus on the weightier matters -- "Justice, Truth, and Mercy" -- but not neglect the other. From 2Tm.3:16 I even infer that ALL Scripture is important. Nothing is unimportant to God, and as influenced by that Christian leader whose name I cannot remember, nor Google can find, I had supposed that nothing should be unimportant to me.

I was wrong. Well, a little bit. The Disciples wanted to know when the End of Time would happen, and Jesus told them it was none of their business, that he himself didn't even know that. So now I'm a "Pan-Millennialist: It will all pan out in the end." Not my problem. On another occasion Jesus is giving Peter his Life Work, and Pete points to John and asks "What about him?" In no uncertain terms, Jesus told him "None of your business [you have your own work to do]."

Things were ramping up at work, it looks like we will have five new schools to teach this Fall, with a lot of work to do to get ready to handle the load, and I am the tech lead responsible for all that. An employee blew up and stormed off the job, blaming me. The boss's advice: I am not responsible for that employee's work. We use what they can do, and what doesn't get done, it probably doesn't matter anyway. Focus on the mission-critical stuff and don't sweat the piddly little spices in the kitchen. The guy isn't a Christian, but Jesus himself could have said the same thing. If I'd had that mind-set in the past, a lot of Bad Things would not have happened.

More important: God does care about the small stuff, but God can do anything He wants to, so if He wants it done, if it matters, it will get done. That doesn't give me permission to slack off, but I am responsible for me, not the other guys. It's liberating.
 

2022 May 9 -- Non-Music in 1960

It was a forgetable anti-war flick made during the Cold War, when the left-wing political parties everywhere were spreading (fake news) fear of nuclear war (read: global disaster) -- except of course the Christians who believed God: we read the last chapter in the Book, and things don't end that way -- but this flick was made in (I think it was Zagreb) a city on the far side of the Iron Curtain, perhaps because that whole region has been populated by war mongers since the beginning of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire more than 2000 years ago, so they had lots of unrebuilt rubble as backdrop to illustrate the consequences of their fear in the flick. I saw the same thing in East Germany when I visited a decade later: the Marxists seem to be more into tearing things down than building them up. Maybe that's why the Marxists are now gone from those countries (they are currently attacking other countries, places where there is no local memory of the destruction they bring). Whatever.

The Cold War is a fading distant memory, replaced now with a different imagined global catastrophe, promoted by the same fear-mongers, but believed and feared by far fewer victims of their oppression. But they control the media, so we hear about it. It too will go away, because it's also not in the Last Chapter.

It was a President in the other political party who brought an end to the Cold War with his famous "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Well, actually it was his proposed "Star Wars" defense system that did it -- it terrified the left-wing bigots on both sides of the Wall -- but that's another story.

Anyway, there's this scene in the flick where all the men are conscripted for armed service, and the officers can't think of anything better to do, so the men are told to sing the national anthem. I guess this was a hypothetical country, because this "anthem" was a meaningless jumble of words sung in a very low register to the same tuneless style of music that dominates what I hear in church on Sundays: each line, the tone goes up, then it comes down, no melody, no harmony, nothing musically memorable at all, not even good words. Just non-music. Whatever. I guess that's why this movie is already in the public domain. What an odd idea to take away from a movie.
 

2022 April 30 -- "Nothing Else Matters"

Easter was a couple weeks ago, but I'm still working through the April issue of ChristianityToday, which of course has a focus on Easter this month. One of their book reviews quotes Jaroslav Pelikan,
If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen -- nothing else matters.
I thought it a pretty cool insight -- for a while, and certainly the back half. If there is no Resurrection, then the whole Bible is a Lie, and suicide is (as Vox Dei pointed out, see my review 12 years ago) the only logical outcome. Fortunately, most atheists are not that logical (an insight first recorded some 3000 years ago).

But if Christ is risen, then God has work for us, and what God commands matters. Its importance is secondary, after the Resurrection, but not zero.
 

2022 April 22 -- Malevolence vs the Golden Rule

I woke up at "Oh-Dark-Thirty" this morning thinking about Malbolge, which (I suppose) is what programmers think about when they want to demonstrate their prowess and not their virtue. It's a programming language+virtual machine designed (and named) for the bottom (9th or 8th, depending on who you're asking) level of Dante's Hell. The malevolence of its creator(s) is demonstrated not only in the language design, but also in its presentation, which is intended to obfuscate the already incredible complexity: The usual presentation of the first working program is as an unintelligible jumble of meaningless letters and characters. The source code for the interpreter is available online, but not in any format that can be examined by a normal browser, but only in the (increasingly popular) modern format that only the most expensive ("Let them eat cake") and hard-to-use computers can access.

When I was young and foolish, I too enjoyed solving computational puzzles, so when I first heard of Malbolge and how many years it took anybody to write (and debug) a simple "Hello World" program, I was tempted to take some time to prove it could be done more simply. The temptation became more easily resisted when I learned how hard it is to access the source code. I finally broke through the barrier today, the same day I happened to be reading the Tribute Question in Matt.22, which explicitly flowed from the same malevolence as led to the creation of the Malbolge programming language. The Creator of the Universe brushed their foolish question aside, while still affirming the right of secular governments to do what God established them to do.

Before I waste a lot of time on this puzzle, I need to convince myself that solving it makes the world a better place (that is, it satisfies the Golden Rule). Browsing the Malbolge documents leads me to suspect not. I mean, besides being an utterly useless computational puzzle. Well, for one thing, I might succeed in demonstrating how a Design mentality is better suited to solving thorny problems than a Darwinistic approach. I did that with Richard Dawkins' Blind Watchmaker. I see in the Malbolge documents that other people have used intelligent software to aid in programming this machine, so the impact would be less than in 1988. I still think that using code generation techniques as described in my Compiler book would enable a programming language (compiler) that would make the Malbolge computer no harder to program than any other. But I have useful things to do with my time before I could in good conscience waste time on such a useless task.
 

2022 April 4 -- Courage for Free

I sometimes send donations to the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) so they send me their monthly promo rag. Sometimes they publish some good science showing how the Darwinist Lie cannot be true by the Darwinist's own standards, but recently they tend to do articles that gush all over what a wonderful Creator God is, no science needed (or at least nothing that the Darwinists couldn't use to defend their own Religion = believing what we know ain't so). They send this rag mostly to donors, so it makes sense to "preach to the choir," and I don't begrudge them that, but it's not what I read it for. Anyway, last month they had a couple of Good-Science pieces following a longer editorial on having the courage to speak out for Creation. The editorial was OK (no bad theology) but it did not address my situation. Again, it's not what I read it for.

In my case, despite my parents' best efforts to protect me from it, I got (and bought into) the usual Darwinist fiction in high-school biology. Twenty years later I must have said something to that effect to my major professor in grad school, and he suggested I "look at the evidence." Your major professor in grad school can make or break you, so you do what he says. When I was in his position a few years later, I used to say "The 13th Amendment does not apply to grad students." It was a joke, but not by much. Anyway, I started asking around, and was astounded that nobody cited their own research. Even the supposed age of the universe is mostly based on the alleged distance of the farthest stars, which (I asked an astronomy PhD student) is based on "brightness." Somebody mentioned to me Richard Lenski's work on E.coli, and I got to see the damning evidence against the Darwinian hypothesis before the Darwinist priests took it down.

I can be courageous against the Darwinists because they have no scientific evidence (see my essay on Evolution). God seems to approve of that kind of courage, He invited Gideon to adopt it when he was somewhat dubious about the chances of his 300 unarmed men against (I think it was) 120,000 Midianites. The ICR editorial didn't mention that, but it seems to me a lot easier to be courageous when your opponent cannot possibly win, not even by their own calculation.
 

2022 March 18 -- True vs Fake

WIRED is mostly not worth reading when it first arrives, it tends to sit in the Reading Room until higher priority materials are exhausted. The December issue focus was some new Matrix movie. I saw one of the original flicks (see my review), and it was so fake that I came away feeling disgust rather than the rapture exhibited in this issue.

One of the articles imagines itself "An Adventure in Fake News," where the author discloses his own book that was intended to be a spoof on fake news but was accepted as true. He quotes himself:

"How do we know what's true," the book's opening essay asks. "I realized that truth is something that we create." -- p.80
Before I saw the following 2-page spread, which was identical to what I was looking at, but with commentary in red identifying the fakery, I reacted to this quote and wrote in the margin, "Not! If so, you would not ask the question." My BS detector had kicked in. The next page hilighted the same quote in red and explained that it was generated by the GPT-2 (neural net) algorithm trained on stories about fake news. I have often pointed out that neural nets don't actually think, they don't even understand the meaning of what they work on, they just reproduce jumbles of words likely to occur together in the training materials (see for example the fake CCM "gospel song" earlier this week, and "Deep-Speare" a couple years ago).

I then looked more closely at the faked images. The easy way to detect faked photos is the shadows. Photoshop makes soft shadows such as result from a diffuse light source because hard shadows are very hard to get right, whereas most environments have a point-source of light (the sun in daylight, or the ceiling light in the room), which makes hard shadows. The first picture in the page in question had a hard shadow under the equipment stack, and no shadow at all for the woman standing next to it. The next picture had a hard shadow on a shelf structure against the back wall, and a very soft shadow on the framed picture between it and the glass door. The woman in the image was apparently backlighted from that door (and apparently not from the ceiling light), but the picture frame behind her had no shadow at all on the opposide side from the door (the author admitted to planting bears in the images, and this picture had a bear). Stuff like that. I normally don't look at pictures that closely, so I didn't notice these anomalies when I first read the page (before I learned it was all fake). The fakery can be detected, but it takes more effort than most people -- including myself -- are willing to invest on casual reading.

Virginia Heffernan's regular column on page 12 quotes a book on pain, "To have great pain is to have certainty; to hear about pain is to have doubt." It's an interesting insight in the light of my recent musings on the Golden Rule (GR). We live in a land of liars, and pretty much everybody projects their own dissimulation onto everybody else, so they disbelieve any claims that might be seen as self-serving (a GR failure on the part of the speaker) and simultaneously fail the GR standard in imagining themselves in pain such as reported. My sister told me on several occasions that "People don't want to hear about your sickness," so she did not talk about her own ailments. I think that's a fine implementation of the GR, but it doesn't do much for the people who genuinely want to help (few though they be). See how much better things work when everybody applies the GR?
 

2022 March 15 -- Ethics and the Golden Rule

I bungled it again -- actually it was the first of two times in the last month -- but this one could have consequences, so I hope you'll forgive me if I use some cryptic subterfuge. This is about ethics, and the essence of ethics is the Golden Rule (GR), specifically including the refusal to seek personal (or in this case, corporate) profit at the unwilling expense of other people. Most of my professional life I was self-employed (sometimes with my own employees) and I learned a lot about running a business during that time. One of those things is the existence of "clipping services" which for a regular fee would scour the newspapers for references to your business name, and send you the clippings. It's a way to track public opinion. I'm sure such services still exist, but now they have robots (not people) scrape the internet. Google does the same thing to build their database from which they answer your search requests, and Google probably spends more on so-called "Artificial Intelligence" than anybody else. Their algorithms know about synonyms, not because they are intelligent, but only because they can recognize which words occur in similar search requests, yet they are totally unable to parse out the true meaning of the English language requests the way a person does, so their search engine is still nothing more than looking for particular words in a particular context. In other words, cryptic subterfuge works, and probably will for a long time.

Four years ago (no link for robots to follow, but you can look for the word "ethical" in the blog index) I blogged about a particular business that bragged about their own ethics. The only people who feel it necesary to make such a brag obviously do not believe they are doing anything ethical that people will recognize without such help. Jesus said it clearly: "A good tree does not bear bad fruit." If you are doing good stuff, people will see it. I subsequently had two experiences with this business that can only be described as unethical on their part. The sign is still on their wall. Duh.

Jesus also said "Do not resist an evil [read: unethical, same thing] person." This is practical advice. Maybe it looks more virtuous when you give your shirt to the thief taking your coat (rather than clinging to the coat), but the practical side of it is that God owns everything, so there's more where that came from, and the jerk is less likely to take more (like your life). Nobody wants to be told how wicked their employer is (even if it's true), so it was a violation of the GR to tell the guy that they should take the sign down. Besides, they trained him well: threaten castrophe (more unethical = anti-GR behavior) to the unhappy customer. It doesn't make him happy, but it does get rid of him. I should not have been in that situation. Now I know. Jesus was right. Again. Obviously.

Maybe some other day -- so the robots can't connect the context -- I'll explain the technical issues.
 

2022 March 14 -- Notable in CT

Last month's ChristianityToday was their annual book awards issue, and they usually feature excerpts from some of their winners and near misses, one of which deserves comment in the light of my improved understanding of The Second Great Commandment ("2C" aka Golden Rule). Book excerpts are like movie trailers and vaccines: you get a small dose to protect you from spending time or life on the real thing. These did that. Also-Ran in its category was a treatise on how the modern sexual revolution was invented two centuries ago by poets Shelley and Blake, proverbial "Dead White Males" who were too selfish to notice that their hostility to Christianity was also misogynistic. The excerpt did not say that, but it did say enough for discerning Believers aware of both the Christian teaching of 2C and the Biblical and scientific differences between men and women, to see why neither of them made it into The Great Books of the Western World, and why I don't regret having read no more of them than this 3-page summary. Here I believe is the root of the problem:
...at the very heart of Shelley's political program of liberation lies the matter of sexual love, for it is love that equates to happiness and freedom. As happiness is the foundation of morality...
Author Carl Trueman's only commentary in this excerpt is to tie these poets to modern sexual views. Perhaps he elsewhere shows the difference between Shelley's "sexual love" (which is essentially selfish; Blake uses different words, but clearly means the same thing) and the Christian concept mistakenly translated in virtually all English Bibles as "love" but is the very opposite of what the English word means to everybody who uses it (except pastors, and often confusingly them too), but we are given no hint of any such redeeming social value in Trueman's book.

A couple other book excerpts provoked in me a reaction, but in retrospect not one I can explain clearly.

Later in the same issue is an interview with the author of a book giving Christians permission to be finite. It's a good premise, but the presentation is muddy and parochial:

But we're missing key ideas, like the reality that God made us as creatures. And the good part about being a creature is we are made to be dependent upon God and, by our very design, also dependent on other people and the earth.... Dependence goes against a lot of our instincts [emphasis his].
Independence is in the American DNA; other cultures around the world are much more communal, except as they have imported American values. He then adds, "our needs open avenues of love. How do you love when you are not dependent on someone else?" The guy is a professor of theology in what appears to be a conservative Christian school, but he has utterly confused the English language version of selfish "love" which is gratified by dependence, with the Christian notion which is the exact opposite.

He ends with the remark that "Only in prayer will we discover how compassionately God views us." I don't think so. The love of God is in Scripture, but prayer is communication going the other way, and most of us -- including some Biblical heroes -- have discovered from its one-sidedness sometimes only the opposite notion.

But I have been considering my own finiteness in some depth these last few weeks, and concluding (quite opposite to author Kelly Kapic) that because God is both Sovereign and Good, it's OK for me not to have a red "S" on my blue tights. I should do what I can in good conscience do, and not regret the undone parts.

The following issue (March) cover story is about "deconstruction" and I'd seen the term but did not know what it meant. After reading this article, I still don't. It didn't take me long muddling through this non-communicative morass to wonder who the author was. Perhaps the fact that she's female explains it. At least she used masculine pronouns on all of the named persons (including God), but all other third-person pronouns are female. Obviously this is by a woman, about women, to women, guys like me not invited. This is expressed most clearly in the second page,

I had been praying for years to a God who I had pictured as being just like me, only larger.
Most people imagine that everybody is just like themselves. I did too, but early in life I discovered that the differences were far too profound to sustain this fiction. God made people different, get used to it. She gives three categories of usage of the word "deconstruction" then follows with four of her own senses for the same word, all different. Maybe I'll settle for her first definition, = "falling away." It's obviously not how she views her own usage, which is closer to the discovery that God is not at all like us -- but she does not seem to have gone the second step to realize that we (especially men vs women) are also different from each other.

She leads off with her first impression of Aquinas, and seems to have adopted the Thomistic notion that some things cannot be known (which is obviously true) and that we can know which things cannot be known, which is nonsense. It goes downhill from there.

I guess one problem is that she has adopted the Catholic notion that the "church" is the essence of Christianity, so all of her deconstructionist theories start with disaffection from the church. Me, I grew up in the Protestant tradition where the Bible is the final source of authority (not the church), so problems with church management -- which I have experienced several times in my life -- do not require "deconstruction" to fix. Isaiah said it: "All we like sheep have gone astray..." It's the human condition, cut your losses and move on. Or if you are even only partly at fault, repent (don't do that again).

The news section of the current (same) issue reports somebody who used a generative neural net to create a "gospel song" basically by taking the average of popular CCM songs and generating something like it. The song title is "Biblical Love" but the method they used to create it suggests it is neither Biblical nor love. I was unable to find the lyrics online, and YouTube videos no longer play on my computer, I had to bring it up on a slower (newer) computer. I was going to pause it while I transcribed the lyrics, but it's meaningless drivel, not worth the trouble. Am I surprised? No, neural nets are not intelligent, artificial nor otherwise, so making sense is not in their repertory.
 
 

2022 March 11 -- Claude Shannon

One of the regular columnists in February IEEESpectrum (March has not arrived yet) did a focus on Claude Shannon. I knew he did seminal work in information theory, in essence provided for the theory that explains how the Laws of Thermodynamics apply also in the information domain -- but nobody ever says so, because one outcome is that Darwinistic evolution is impossible in the same way (and for the same reason) that perpetual motion generating more energy than it consumes is impossible -- but Rodney Brooks tells us Shannon also invented the logic gates that all modern computers are made from, and he invented subroutines as part of a chess-playing program in 1949, back when there were fewer than 10 computers in the whole world (and he did not have access to any of them, so it was all theoretical).

It was Shannon, not Alan Turing, who conceived of the possibility of computers actually thinking, Turing only explained how we might know if it happened.
 

2022 March 8 -- Fun vs Teaching

I guess this "fun" business is still nagging me (see "Fun vs the Golden Rule" last week and "Tom, you are crazy!" yesterday). Living and/or working around people whose personal value systems are hostile to the Golden Rule (GR) is definitely not fun. I cannot imagine it being fun for anybody, but I'm not inside their heads and I never held this conversation with anybody, so I can only guess.

Computers have no values at all, but the software that runs on them tends to reflect the values of the respective programmers, which is why Unix is so horrible: the system is designed for the convenience of its own programmers, which is the antithesis of GR thinking. That mentality poisons everybody who adopts the unix mentality -- and all their software -- which effect I noticed decades ago, long before I discovered the centrality of the GR in Christian teaching (Relationshipism, which is essentially selfish, obviously excepted). Anyway, the consequence of this is that when programming a non-unix computer (like the original Mac, not OSX), the computer itself is not a drag on whatever "fun" there might be in programming it, although the software tools I use carry their own imprint of their respective programmers' values. The Mac team wanted to "make the world a better place" (I believe that was their line, but it's essentially GR) but that ebbed away when Steve Jobs replaced them with unixies. So programming on what's left of the original Mac, using my own tools, is far more fun than using anything currently on the market.

What about teaching? My own assessment, based purely on my selfish personal feelings after my first year teaching college, was "While I like seeing the students' eyes light up when they get it, programming is more fun." Those exact words, 36 years ago, long before I understood the primacy of GR in my own value system. Teaching college students (who want to be there learning) is not as much fun as programming a computer that does my every bidding exactly. That was also before the destructive effects of removing moral absolutes (including the GR) from public school walls trickled into the American workforce and (specifically) into management positions of American industry and educational systems.

These last six months exposed me to the loss of GR morality in the American public school system as never before, and I don't like what I see. It ain't fun. But that's not what I'm here for. I still have GR values, and so does the guy running the show. He and I have different opinions on the origin of GR values, but it still works. We together can make the world a better place, even if he cannot find other people to join our crusade. There are still fumes in the public gas tank, individual people who hold GR values, and when God is ready to connect us up, nothing can hold us back. That's what makes it worth doing, even if it's not fun (for me: his idea of "fun" is different, but not incompatible).

Besides, I still get to program a fun computer using fun tools in service of this project. The other guy wants to take that away, but he's projecting onto me his own notion of fun. I think I can work out a happy middle ground, a win-win solution where everybody is happy, where I still get to do fun things in service of a GR project, and he has management control of the software. I have done that all my life, so this is not any different.

Teaching students who don't want to be there, or who don't want to apply the GR to their own participation, is part of the job -- so I accept it as such -- but it's not any part of the fun. It's a drag that reduces my own productivity. I used to think of teaching as something like programming a biological computer, not as reliable in doing what I ask of them as the silicon variety, but somewhat in the same direction. We had to give that up. There no longer are any stated outcomes -- except they have fun and want to come back the next day. We hope they will do some of what we give them and learn from it, but there's no motivation, other than their own fun. It's not much of a win, but I guess it's better than zero. Druggies high on the adrenaline of making computers obey are better for their neighbors than druggies high on chemical substances (or even playing video games), neither of which has any redeeming social value. The world is (microscopically) a better place than if I didn't do this. GR is served.

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2022 March 4 -- Fun vs the Golden Rule

I bungled my first attempt at this, you are reading a partial rewrite done a week later. Golden Rule (GR) values are really hard to get right, because you need to imagine how you would react if you were in the other person's situation, and somebody did this to you. Getting another person's take on it is often helpful.

Anyway, I have worked with several self-described atheists in my life, two of them admitting to Jewish heritage. I am continually amazed when they turn out to be such nice personable people, because that is so illogical. Fyodor Dostoyevsky said it most clearly in his  Brothers Karamazov, "if there's no immortality of the soul, then there's no virtue, and everything is lawful." I've had little or no personal contact with atheists who did not grow up in the GR-saturated American ethics prior to the removal of moral absolutes from school walls some forty years ago, but I read about them and Dostoyevsky accurately describes them (see also my blog post "Anarchy As Freedom" six years ago).

I must have said something like this to one of these guys, because he attributed his ethics to "feeling good." I vaguely recall reading about other atheists making the same explanation, but it seems to me that Hitler felt good about conquering the world (at least until the rest of the world fought back and defeated him), so feeling good is no predictor of good values.

The guy I work with -- let's call him "Sam" but maybe I should say "work for" because he pays the bills -- is one of these "feel good" ethicists. So his highest stated value is "having fun" and he wants the people who work with/for him to have fun. It's his interpretation of the GR, and it certainly beats Hitler's (and Karl Marx's) versions.

Me, I got Biblical authority pounded into my very young psyche, so I read the Bible and find the GR. I also find a lot of churches and "Christians" who claim to base their faith on the Bible, actually don't, and the GR is nowhere near the top of their value system. They get really really angry when I say so. But that's another story. Anyway, the GR is very important to who I am, and you will find it plastered all over my website.

So when Sam asks if I'm having fun, what do I say? I'm doing work that (I perceive) "makes the world a better place" (aka GR). I could be wrong, but it's an honest intention. There are innumerable things I might do in service of the GR, so an early and obvious question is, which? Jesus answered that question with the parable of the Good Samaritan: the person in front of you who needs it. OK, I can do that, and I try to. I also ask the question over and over, and I have fine-tuned the answer to give preference to places where God has made me uniquely able to do that particular task. I happen to enjoy ("have fun") programming computers, but only if the programs I write serve the GR (really, that's how important it is to me). I can also teach, and some people -- apparently including Sam -- think I am uniquely qualified for this particular effort I am doing with Sam. That gives it a pretty high priority in my mind. Some parts of it are not programming computers, and especially trying to work with people who lie to me is not fun. But I do those things anyway, because they are part of the total package, which is way higher in my personal priorities than "having fun" programming something that is not GR, which I could do, but I don't. But the not-fun parts -- both not programming, and also dealing with people (and their artifacts, like Unix) when they are not GR-driven -- is far more tiresome than programming. I get run-down much earlier in the day. I see that happening this week, and I saw it a lot in the fall semester. God's grace is sufficient, so I soldier on, but slower. If it weren't a Good thing to be doing, I would quit and find something that is.

This week was interesting. Sam told me he thought he perceived me having fun. I don't know what gave him that idea, but I did not disabuse him. Part of my understanding of the GR includes helping other people to do GR kinds of things, and if Sam only does that when it's "fun" then I should try to make it fun for him, which probably includes letting him believe it's fun for me if he wants to believe that. It gets complicated, but at least not in any self-contradictory way. Doing the GR will always be seen as virtuous, because it is virtuous. I don't think there is any such thing as unseen virtue.

The flip side of Gresham's Law ("Bad money drives out good") is "The rising tide lifts all boats." We -- northern Europe and by extension, most of the USA -- have had 500 years of reading Bibles in our own language, so we know about the GR. Closer to home, we in the USA benefit from the "Great Awakening" which for a hundred years persuaded all Americans that Biblical values are A Good Thing, until King SCOTUS put a stop to it by telling school children everywhere that it is now OK to do evil (just don't get caught). During that hundred years (and still in the fifty since it ended, when we are driving on the fumes in the gas tank) we became the richest country in the whole world. Good morals make everybody feel better, so they are more productive. That's over now. Gresham's Law reigns again. There are still a lot of individuals -- not all of them Christians or even theists -- in this country still doing the GR, so the downward slope is more gradual than in Europe, and we have a long way to go before the culture degrades to what it is in China or Africa or the Middle East. I sometimes say "The USA is way ahead of whoever is in second place, and all parties are vigorouysly trying to close the gap." Screaming at the waves won't stop the tide, but at least it puts me on record as opposing the encroaching evil. sigh
 

2022 March 2 -- Spectrum Spectacle

I'm a little behind in my reading, I just finished the January issue of the IEEE house rag Spectrum, which features a cover story on an industrial robot for unloading boxes from trucks. The text claims it can handle up to 50 pounds, and the cover photo shows the edges of staggered rows of what calculates to 50 suckers (that would be one-pound holding weight per sucker), but I suspect that only works for new undamaged boxes that have not experienced the vicissitudes of transit in a bumpy truck ride. I have a personal library mostly boxed up since I left California, and some of those boxes exceed 40 pounds, and attempting to lift them by grabbing the lid flaps tends to tear off those flaps. That would be the same as lifting thewhole box by suction cups applied to the lid. Color me dubious about the claimed "up to 50 pounds."

Page 32 in the same issue reports on a new requirement in the European Union that new cars must have automatic emergency braking. They seem to think it may reduce traffic fatalities by 4000 lives each year. I wonder. Pedestrians and bicyclists are exempt from detection (OK to mow them down), and Europe has a lot of both, far more than in the USA. The first autonomous car fatality was a pedestrian, and that was in the USA. Trees and telephone poles no wider than pedestrians may also be exempt, but I guess air bags protect the driver in those cases, and the broken pole doesn't count as a fatality. The real problem is more likely the unintended consequences of such protections: Drivers will come to depend on the automation and fatalities could go up, not down. Several decades ago I read of a country crossroad in England somewhere, where tall hedges blocked the view of cross traffic. They cut the hedges down for better visibility, and the accident rate went up, not down, because the drivers could see better and therefore did not slow down for the intersection. I suspect we will never know whether automatic emergency braking actually saves lives or kills more than it saves, because if it becomes worse, they will find other scapegoats to blame the rise on, because nobody will want to consider the possibility that the increased technology is counter-productive. It's Religion (believing what you know ain't so) not science.

Page 40 reports efforts to put processors on the same chip with memory, which is alleged to overcome "the von Neumann bottleneck" which author Moore (I hope no relation the fellow Moore's Law is named after) starts off in his first sentence explaining "John von Neumann's original computer architecture, where logic and memory are separate domains..." No, no, NO, von Neumann's innovation, what distinguished it from the Harvard architecture, had logic [instructions] and data in the same memory. The so-called "von Neumann bottleneck" solved by merging the processor on-chip with the memory (PIM = Processor-in-Memory) is the bandwidth limit felt when both code and data need to flow through the same cable from memory to the CPU. The combined PIM chip is still a von Neumann computer, but there is a much higher bandwidth through shorter wires (vias = holes in the substrate) and more of them. The fact is, the von Neumann bottleneck can be eliminated by effectively returning to a Harvard architecture, with code in a separate memory bank than the data -- but on-processor cache already has that effect for code. The on-chip PIM processor still beats it for the data because of the reduced distances (by several orders of magnitude), which means the data can flow faster. This makes a difference in the case of neural net software because a tiny program ("20 lines of C") can be totally resident in the processor cache, thereby completely eliminating the von Neumann bottleneck as such, yet the processing is still held up by millions of data items streaming over the relatively long wires from RAM to CPU and not re-used (so the cache is worthless). That is what the PIM hardware cures. The "von Neumann bottleneck" may be a handy label to demonize the alternative to PIM, but it's not the nature of the problem, nor its cure.

Page 46 discusses fighting alleged Global Warming (GW) by increasing the albedo (reflection) of the stratosphere. Nobody is actually doing it yet, the article only describes some tests to determine if it would even work. A key admission:

The SCoPEx data could help improve computer models, which today rely mainly on assumptions and predictions, not observations.
That seems to be the problem with the whole GW debate: it relies mainly on assumptions and predictions, not observations.
 

2022 February 28 -- So Say You All

Painted Faces had an unusual plot twist. The title refers to the lead character, a circus clown who happens also to be one of twelve jurors. Eleven of them were willing to convict the accused on circumstantial evidence, our hero with a thick Swedish accent knew otherwise and refused to budge.

After five days of the eleven browbeating the poor Swede, I began to think about the function of fiction. More important than entertainment, it should invite us to self-analysis: What would *I* do in that situation. Well, I never was, probably never will be. Most of my life, if there was somebody to vote for, I would register the last day possible before the election, cast my ballot, then unregister immediately (it prevented a lot of harassment by politicians), but mostly there was nobody worth voting for, so I didn't bother. Juries are usually empanelled from voter registration rolls. I think Texas used driver license rolls, but I wasn't there long enough. Oregon had a checkbox if you're over 70, you can ask not to be called up; I checked it. Most of the time I had more important things to do, and I know how to get off if I were ever called up: Judges do not want anybody on a jury who knows what "nullification" is -- the jury has the absolute right to bring any verdict they want, for whatever reason (or no reason), regardless of evidence or law (they can thus "nullify" the law) -- so the way to get off is ask the judge about nullification. Just mention the word and you're out of there.

Anyway, I have a pretty robust "BS Detector," which among other things, if the DA or any prosecution witness ever dissembles about anything, I cannot trust anything they say -- unless I also hear it from an unimpeachable witness, but that's the same as ignoring the liar completely -- and while the witnesses are sworn to truth, the lawyers are not, and a witness cannot give a true answer to a question that is a lie. That sows irrevocable "reasonable doubt" on the whole case, as far as I'm concerned. And I live in a culture that celebrates lies. It wasn't that way when I was born, it changed some forty or sixty years ago after they took the Ten off school walls, thereby giving the kids permission to lie, cheat, steal, and murder (just don't get caught).

So, it won't happen, but if I were to find myself in the same place as this poor Swede, one holdout among eleven eager to convict the bloke so they can get on with their Christmas shopping, I can point out (as our hero did not) that "we can be out of here in ten minutes, all you need to do is vote that ALL THIRTEEN of us (counting the defendant) go free. And then they can't blame me for holding them there. And of course the Swede was vindicated in the end, but I won't spoil it for you, go watch it yourself (it's on Archive.org, but Google can find it).
 

2022 February 24 -- Perils of Political Correctness

Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) has been adrift on the endless sea of Political Correctness since the late founder Hershel Shanks gave up the helm a few years ago. It's really hard to find enough quality articles written by female authors to fill out the 50% equity quota called for by the feminazis. Case in point: the current (Winter 2022) issue lists twelve authors, only four of them female.

Also, the new leadership does not know the difference between "Biblical Archaeology" (archaeology centered on Bible lands, which their majority readers are willing to pay for) and "either archaeology or pseudo-Biblical" (the "pseudo" part being that they mostly feature authors hostile to all things truly Biblical, nevermind again that their majority readers are on the other side of the fence). Shanks attempted to start up a sister magazine Bible Review (centered on things pseudo-Biblical) which died for lack of readership. His successors have not yet got the message. Probably never will, they lack his incisive mind for stuff we want to read about.

Of their four "Feature" articles, the only one actually about archaeology is not written by an archaelolgist reporting his his own findings, but a journalist apparently collecting filler material for a magazine adrift. Two more are about an old scroll long lost, again non-archaeologists arguing over its authenticity. The fourth appears to be a female archaeologist with nothing new to say, so she pontificates over why she does what she does, which is totally unrelated to why we want to read about what she does, not why she does it.

A new (with this editor) section called "Epistles" is about as archeological as WIRED magazine is digital (meaning mostly not). It is in this section that one of the female authors shows us why there are so few female authors when they are selected for quality, not gender.

As a reader of both the Hebrew and Greek original texts and something of an amateur linguist (I spent 15 years working on Bible translation), I would be very interested in her topic "Hebrew Wordplay in Greek" but it is badly flawed by blunders that a good editor should have caught. The article claims to be adapted from her dissertation, and these errors do not look like copying errors, so maybe her dissertation exhibits the same mistakes, which looks bad for the whole academic establishment (PhD dissertations should be reviewed by experts in the field, who should have caught these errors that were so obvious to me -- unless of course they just gave her a pass because of her gender). Very bad.

The only picture with this piece is a fragment from Psalm 88 in the Septuagint (usually abbreviated "LXX"; I checked, the caption is accurate), but her text concentrates on a different part of the Psalter, 101 and 104, both in Book 4 (Ps.90-106, Ps.88 is in Book 3). No big deal, that could have been an editor's decision, not hers. People who do not personally care about the Bible are more likely to make these mistakes.

He or she (the author: see how silly that comes out when we all know that Elizabeth is a "she"?) refers to "the Hebrew poet [explicitly David, but she does not say so] ... emphasize his or her [sic] attitude toward transgressors." What nonsense! Even if the atheists were right about the (supposed lack of) authenticity for the Psalms, there's no way they could have been written by women.

She does not give us the actual Hebrew text for Ps.101:3, nor the actual Greek of the LXX translation. The missing Hebrew contributes to the first glaring error, because anybody seeing this text in the original Hebrew would know that she got it wrong. Anybody who knows Hebrew would recognize the transliterations in her text as inaccurate, because they are different letters in the original Hebrew! The language has evolved substantially over the period during which the Old Testament was written -- even an amateur like myself can see evidence of authenticity in the evolving dialect largely preserved by conscientious copyists unwilling to alter the Word of God -- but most languages of the world (English and modern Hebrew excepted) are spelled according to their pronunciation, so there is no alliteration in the original text. Maybe the Hebrew samech and sin letters were pronounced the same when the LXX was translated (as they are today), maybe not (the spoken Hebrew language had died more than 400 years earlier, as evidenced in Neh.8:8, compare 2Kings 18:26,28) so perhaps the Greek-speaking translators found alliteration where there was none in the original. It's an interesting thesis, but I think she is also rather too eager to find it in the Greek.

In her next paragraph her failure to be working from the original Hebrew text is even more disastrous:

The Hebrew poet's choice of 'esoh for "I hate" is a hapax legomenon, meaning it occurs only this one time in the entire Hebrew Bible.
Except 'esoh neither means "I hate" nor is it a hapax legomenon, and the word that does mean "I hate" (that would be saneti in her transliteration) is also not a hapax legomenon. There is a hapax legomenon in this verse, but it is the other Hebrew word in the phrase, a word I did not recognize in my limited vocabulary, but Davidson's Analytical Lexicon clearly identifies it as such, and goes on to offer a different root (using the sin instead of the actual samech in the text), and there's exactly one instance of the alternate spelling also. Elizabeth Backfish could have said all this, but she did not. Nobody set her straight before this went to print.

More's the pity.
 

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