Thursday, April 21, 2011

Some Games...

...that the nerdier among you might appreciate, as I'm not up to writing anything today:

Dwarf Fortress:
An ASCII-based sandbox game I've mentioned before (you can get graphic packs that will make it -slightly- more intuitive) with an unparalleled level of internal complexity, the main game has you running a pack of perpetually drunken dwarves. You make up your own goals, but in general the idea is to lose in as interesting a way as possible; players frequently write (or draw) major events in their fortress as a story, culminating in its eventual (and some might argue inevitable) fall.

You can do quite a lot in this game; you can dig into a volcano, create a magma aquifer to fill up a tank, and then use the tank to dump magma on uninvited guests (read: goblins, elves, humans, or just unwanted dwarven immigrants).  Or you can divert a river and drown them.  Or build a copper drowning chamber that fills and empties on its own when "guests" walk through it.  You can even build a water-based computer; players have figured out how to create logic gates and timing mechanisms.  (And I don't know if anyone has coded Life in it, yet!  An accomplishment yet to be claimed!)

The complexity I mentioned is nontrivial, incidentally - you will lose, and lose badly, the first dozen or so fortresses you create.  (If you don't realize you missed an important concept and start them over before even reaching the "Losing" point.)  There is no learning curve, there's just a cliff.  Here's your pick.

A transport simulator, is the short of it.  It started off with a strong emphasis on trains, and played more like a digital model train game than a transportation game, but this has gradually subsided over time, driven at least in part by more realistic cost considerations; it could now be regarded as a primitive city simulator with an advanced transportation simulation.  There's a lot I think could be done with it to make it better, but even as it is, it is a truly awesome game.  I recommend playing to it while listening to Taco.

A high-fantasy hexagonal turn-based strategy game which I have not actually played, but which comes highly recommended from some of the nerdier people out there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

This is Cauliflower

In case you wanted to see what stir-fried cauliflower looks like.  I cheated; this used some vegetable oil to fry it better.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why I am Libertarian

While I was in college, John Stossel came to my city and gave a presentation.  I didn't attend, but my parents did, and they bought one of his books, which I read.

And it made -sense-.  It wasn't perfect, but there weren't any gaping holes in the ideas presented within it.  It wasn't full of hatred for the opposition, it wasn't full of justifications for why we should take control of people's lives for their own good.  It was defined by a good-natured respect for other people, by a subtle recognition of and acceptance of human failures, and more, a recognition that those failures cannot be regulated away by those who think themselves wiser, any more than a parent can teach their children to avoid their own mistakes.

This is the abiding wisdom of the grandparent - the recognition that we make mistakes to learn from them, a wisdom learned making first their own mistakes, and learning through their children that those mistakes must be made anew.  And it is the fundamental wisdom of libertarianism - the recognition that mistakes are a necessary part of our lives, that people must be free to make them - free in a nontrivial sense, for a mistake without consequence is not a mistake at all, but a meaningless act.

And this was a wisdom I could relate to.

Over the next five years I investigated further.

In contrary to my abandoned political beliefs, libertarianism is founded on respect; respect for people's capacity to do good, respect for their ability to refrain from evil, respect for their right to choose between the two when no harm is concerned save their own.

Even as these ideas settled, there were a number of issues I was ambivalent on; things like the death penalty, gun control, and later, abortion.

The death penalty I remain divided upon; I regard it as being a similar moral question to whether or not we have the right to imprison people, however, and cannot find a solid moral distinction between the two; an hour stolen, a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand, life is limited, and I cannot find that the death penalty, merely on the basis that some part of the penalty cannot be taken back, to be fundamentally less moral than imprisonment.

Gun control was settled quite firmly by The Munchkin Wrangler, in the post I've linked on the right.  Before I read his Why The Gun Is Civilization, I regard gun rights as silly.  After that post, I regard them as critically important - perhaps the most important single right we possess.  Because of that post, I own a gun today - because of that post, all of my siblings now own guns, where all of us would have been ambivalent about the matter previously.

Abortion I have grown more ambivalent over time about, as a result of the growing recognition that the disagreement is fundamentally philosophic; the argument has nothing to do with women's rights, and everything to do with the definition of human life.  I disagree with the fundamentalists on their definition, but I cannot regard it as the affront upon women's rights that the left makes it out to be, any more than forbidding mothers from abandoning infants is an affront upon their rights.

And so I've grown further and further libertarian.  My next post in this vein will address why I am an Objectivist, but not tonight.

Why I'm Not a Liberal

It started relatively early in the blogging days, soon after Bush was elected for the first time, and blogs were fewer, further between, and only sometimes actually called blogs.

There was a blog I was following by a guy named 8Ball, which I'll use for illustrative purposes; it demonstrates things I was seeing more broadly.  Anyway, his posts were infrequent, but frequently hilarious; he figured out the size necessary for Noah's ark, for example, and calculated that the great flood actually happened, and happened because Noah shoved this giant-ass boat into a sea and the displacement caused said massive flood.

His version was more hilarious, involving the extinction of gopherwood trees and other such things.  I'd link it but I can't find the blog anymore; it has likely been taken down in the intervening years.

In those days, I still leaned liberal; I wasn't a hardcore liberal, I just shared many of their views, including the idea that, to put it bluntly, conservatives were fanatical Christians and/or poor white trash.  The world needed saving from their brutish, outdated ideals, based in religious fervor rather than reason.

Now, 8Ball was, in an interesting twist, both black and stereotypically liberal, which included (although I doubt he, like most liberals, would ever actually admit to this) a deep-set racism against black people, which he apparently felt, being black, wasn't really racism.  This made the reading more entertaining, both also more uncomfortable, particularly when he started talking about Africa, a subject with which he had some obsession.  (He went on about some length about witch hunts and the like.)

The racism, combined with a curious kind of contempt I've later come to understand is "cultural relativism" (which in liberal circles is a way of saying "They just don't know any better" without saying who "they" are), put me off, and I started to regard the liberals with some skepticism; too much of their "good will," too much of "doing good for others" was wrapped up in a contempt I didn't recognize until years later - reading the justifications of slavery and imperialism, that the natives/black people just didn't know any better, and were better off under the rule of more civilized people who would take care of them.

So the blog was off-again uncomfortable, on-again hilarious.  Up until a few months after 9/11, when he, along with most of the liberals I had until then respected, went absolutely batshit insane.

Now the conservatives also went insane, but it was a different kind of insane; they decided we were now At War, and many aspects of morality suddenly became optional, and the flying of flags suddenly became mandatory.  I had contempt for them - and still do, such reactionary patriotism is not patriotism at all but fear, and I have little use for patriotism to begin with.

So the conservatives went insane.  But the liberals - there was a variety of kinds of insane there, but it was also neurotic; they weren't fearful people reacting to a tragedy, they nearly universally turned to the kind of vitriolic hatred that they so desperately want to accuse conservatives of.  You had atheists like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher who went flat-out fuckin' antitheist.  You had socialists who suddenly decided we were doomed to fascism under a Bush Regime, and were constantly looking for proof of a grand conspiracy to seize power in this country.  You had communists who decided capitalism was to blame and America deserved what it had gotten.

And everybody I had been patiently following until then, including 8Ball, were all of a sudden total fucking lunatics.

And as time went on things got -worse-, not better.  I was disillusioned by the people who claimed so loudly to be scientific and rational, helped along by no small degree by a significant number among them supporting global warming nonsense which just plain smelled wrong to me.  Now I seriously -believed- in science - I still do.  And what they called science wasn't.

And I just stopped believing in them.  Not then, and not since then, have I seen anything to suggest to me that liberalism is not in fact founded on contempt.  Whether the green contempt of humans as humans, or the communist's contempt of human beings as rational creatures, or the socialist's contempt of people's ability to run their own lives, the uniting factor of the modern liberal is a deep-set contempt.

It came unmasked after 9/11.  And I've seen it unmasked on more than one occasion since then; liberals outright admitting to their contempt for their fellow human beings, whether by declaring that the only way charity can function is by taking it by force from others, others who cannot be relied upon to behave the way the liberal wants, or by declaring that a policeman's gun is the only thing keeping people from robbing everybody else, or a thousand other minor contempts.

Modern liberalism -is- contempt.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another response...

To another of QP's (NSFW site) posts:

(I put them here where I think my comments are controversial enough among her other readers to invite a flame war, incidentally, which is why they show up here rather than in her comments.)

I'd omit religion and political affiliation from that list, for the simple reason that religion and political affiliation are more philosophy than not, and philosophy is a legitimate domain for prejudice.  (For example, you express a philosophic prejudice against prejudiced philosophies here, something I think you will agree is legitimate.)

Even when religion and political affiliation aren't directly philosophic they are indirectly, because the decision not to analyze your belief system is a philosophic one.

Religion and political beliefs are to a great extent the odd man out in prejudice, partly because they are a matter of choice (unlike most targets of prejudice), partly because they've been the source of so much prejudice, and partly because they've been the domain of more violent and invalid prejudice than anything else - so we have very good reason to be wary of prejudice against these two things even as they're the two things which most lend themselves to valid prejudices.

It's possible for a religion or political group to be totally irredeemable, after all, in any self-consistent moral code which forbids prejudice.  (As they might include prejudice as tenants.)

Which is not to say an individual belonging to such a religion or political belief system can't buck the system and be a good and moral person, but as with slavery and kind slave owners, these individuals may be the worst moral offenders by lending their support and credibility to a morally corrupt system.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chopped Cauliflower and Salmon

Two experiments in utilizing chopped cauliflower with salmon; in the first case, tried forming the salmon into patties (eggs, onions, mustard, canned drained salmon, cauliflower, all chopped and mixed together, then pressed into chopped cauliflower to make a breading); worked okay, tasted decently, but the cauliflower was both too wet (the normal ingredient there is crushed cracker crumbs) and too easily burnt.

So added some more cauliflower to the mix, along with finely chopped carrots and more onion, put it in a casserole dish, and tried baking it (after sprinkling some low-fat cheese on it - why yes I'm on a diet, I have a business conference coming up soon and the clothes I wear every year have gotten just a little bit tight) - baking worked better, although it was a bit light on flavor and needed something extra.  (Ketchup would have worked best IMO, but used mustard instead as it's better for me.)

The wetness of chopped cauliflower is here a disadvantage, as it is when stir-frying it (particularly "dry", which is to say, without oil), but it occurs to me that it could be an advantage making something like sushi.  So I'm very tempted to try making sushi rolls with it now, but I'm debating what to add to make it sticky.  Gelatin powder seems both the obvious choice and disgusting, in addition to needing to set to work properly.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Zen Card Gaming and Computer Holy Wars, or How I've Come to Love the Mac

(In the interest of full disclosure, I've never read/watched either Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or Dr Strangelove.  There's probably an etiquette rule against that.)

I just started playing Magic the Gathering.  (Yes, yes, I know.)

I have to give it credit: It has introduced me to a completely new way of thinking.

When designing a deck, size matters.  It's not just that it's harder to shuffle - which is true - it's also that every card you put in reduces your odds of pulling that card you really want to pull.

So when I put a card in my deck, the question is not - is this card any good?  All cards are good, on that basis I'd have a million-card deck.

I could ask myself if this card, taken in the context of my deck, at least as good as every other card?  But that question, similarly, leads to a bloated deck.

And I could ask myself "Does the value of drawing this card offset the chance of not drawing another card?"  And I could probably get somewhere close to a reasonable deck on that question.

But those are all questions I'm used to asking myself, and even with the last one, my decks would get unwieldy very quickly.

So I added a question.

Does taking this card out of the deck harm the deck's purpose?  Is my deck any worse at what it seeks to do without this card?

This question represents a fundamental divergence from my usual "Add something else" strategy of solving problems.  My ideal weapon in any RPG has maximum attack power, and causes sleep, silence, poison, slow, vorpal, or, more broadly speaking, relies on the strategy of "Throwing the book at it".  Before I could ever have come to peace with Magic, I actually had to come to peace with the idea that losing is a part of the game; Dwarf Fortress helped me along considerably on this front, and indeed taught me that losing can, indeed, be quite fun - because any deck which seeks to do something -particular- is going to lose, and lose badly, against a deck designed to counter that something particular.

So I reached this point, and suddenly I'm tearing my old decks apart, deciding on a particular goal for those decks - "I want to control what the enemy does each turn"/"I want to have a massive army by the fifth turn" - blatantly disregarding previous notions that the best way to play a game is to spent five times as long in the game building up an unstoppable force and seeing if anything can stop it.  I was looking to build -smaller- decks, because what they didn't include was, in fact, just as important as what they did.

A few weeks later, somebody on my blogroll recently linked to this article (I don't remember who, my apologies) on Steve Jobs' design strategies, and in one of those curious coincidences, I had just started upon the same concepts myself, and so it made an immediate and intuitive sense to me, where Apple never had before.

I'm not an Apple fan, in fact I despise the company and its products, but they do at least make sense to me now.  I understand where they are coming from, and more, I suddenly see where the computer holy wars come from.

I think there are actually four philosophies here, not two.

You have the Everything-to-Everybody crowd, who are always going to prefer Windows; these are people who think every piece of software should do everything in its domain possible.  "Feature Creep" is the domain of this philosophy, and products like Apple - which just don't provide the features - or Linux - which expect you to provide your own features - are in fundamental opposition to how they move and think.  If you were to buy a house built on this philosophy, it would come with so much furniture you have trouble walking around, and you'll spend days just dragging crap out to the curb.

Then you have the minimalist ma of Jobs, who designs products not only for what they are, but for what they aren't.  His products will -never- appeal to everybody, because they don't do what everyone wants.  On the flip side, his minimal designs actually -create new markets-, because they simplify products to a particular purpose for which multifunctional products simply aren't as well suited.  (And then rapidly loses marketshare to those willing to turn the new product into a multifunctional product.)  For those whose needs are met by his products, his products are among the best.  (And among the worst if you want a single additional feature, the Windows fanboy in me must point out.)  A house built on this philosophy has doors too narrow to admit furniture, and is naught but a single room; everything is built into the walls and ceilings.  You can flip a switch and a bed descends from a hiding place in the ceiling; flip a different switch and a kitchen slides out of the walls.  It has everything it thinks you need.

The third philosophy is another variant of ma, of empty space - it is the philosophy of Linux and many Windows users, and why they are in more frequent alliance than either with Mac.  It provides naught but the absolute essentials, but provides ample space and means to easily put in your own features.  It is epitomized by the plugin.  As a house, it is what we would typically imagine; an empty house with many empty rooms, all white, without any character save that you impart upon it yourself.

The fourth philosophy is that of Google, and simultaneously the most ancient and the most modern of the philosophies (ancient because this is how things have been done anyways, modern because it's making a comeback as a "formal process"); it is the philosophy of "Good enough," and focuses, not on getting a perfectly designed product out the door on the first try, but of rapid subsequent releases, correcting the issues of the previous release.  It doesn't necessarily contradict any of the other three philosophies, but does stand on its own, as it neither depends on them.  As a house, the idea would be a house where walls are easily put up and knocked down; perhaps a studio apartment with folding wooden walls, like an office building with cubicles.

None of these is necessarily -wrong-.  I'm personally partial to the plugin approach; minimal for users who want minimal, feature-bloated for those who want that.  But it's never going to be the -best- at either minimalism or feature density, as it either has useless hooks for components never used, or a management system that just slows down the features installed.  It's simply the most multifunctional for the least developer effort.

So I understand something of where Apple, and Apple products, come from now, and am now at peace with their feature-bare products.

Now I need to wander off and start deciding what I want my Myr/metalcraft deck to actually -do-, as at present, it's a collection of tactics without any strategy.

Surprisingly Delicious: Stir-Fried Cauliflower

Take a head of cauliflower.  Pull everything off what's green.  Toss it in a food processor and blend once or twice for one-second intervals; otherwise, chop finely with a knife.  The goal is to have it have the pieces about the same size as rice, so the food processor option is recommended.

(A drink blender will also do in a pinch.)

Heat up a pan with peanut oil (best flavor), sesame oil (also good and lends a grainy flavor if you prefer it), or low-calorie butter substitute, depending on your goal.

Toss in the pan with peas, finely chopped carrots, finely chopped onion, bits of egg, chopped chicken, whatever you fancy.  Spice with whatever you want; it actually goes well with a large variety of spices, but if you're feeling lazy, curry powder or vegetable seasonings both work well.

Lower-calorie and glycemic index than rice, faster to prepare, and actually surprisingly good.

Chopped cauliflower can substitute in for other cereals too, incidentally.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Modern Liberalism is Idiotic... Maybe

Because it claims a government job and a private sector job are the same thing.

Because it considers taxation as an investment with guaranteed returns, or indeed non-negative returns.

Because it holds employing people digging out holes and filling them in again - or just paying people to stand around doing nothing, or even paying five people to do what one person and a machine could do, or employing people to replace perfectly good infrastructure long before it needs replacing - creates demand and thus expands the economy.

Because it says rich people just get richer through economic osmosis, contributing nothing and spending nothing, just absorbing everything.

Because it claims regulation curbs the excesses of big business, rather than being used as a club by big business to keep smaller competitors down.

Because it claims taxing the rich more will improve the economy, or even simply not damage it.

Because it claims that people with a television, internet service, and air conditioning live in poverty.

Because it refuses to tell the difference between a $90,000 salary struggling family in New York City and a $90,000 salary wealthy businessman in Texas.

Because it suggests lowering the prices solves cost of living problems.

Because it suggests raising wages solves cost of living problems.

Because it represents a failure to understand the concept of currency more broadly.

Because it says government programs achieve what they set out to achieve.

Because it says level of funding is directly correlated with level of success.

Because it says justice involves scrutinizing the wealth and success of individuals to determine what they should get.

Because it would insist Republicans are racist while they push many of the same policies liberals have pushed since the Civil War.

But I'm always suspicious that they're not idiots after all, and the misdirection is deliberate.  I've had one too many arguments with bright people from the left where somebody slipped up.

Is it all an elaborate and clever sham?  Or just plain old idiocy?

-Somehow- the Democratic party, which once ran amuck in the South disenfranchising the poor and the minorities, has come to be seen - at least by people who aren't particularly poor and a few minorities - as the party of the poor and the minorities in the north, where the party which spent more than a century half suddenly came to be seen as the party which had -really- done all those things.  [Ed: Mushmouth much?  Rephrase: The Democrats have coopted the legacy of the civil rights party (The Republicans) while making the civil rights party (again: The Republicans) out to be the racist hillbillies which the Democrats actually once were.]  It's hard to believe THAT was accidental.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Group Reputation

Those names we choose to represent ourselves are ours to defend as we will, but defend them we must.  I am an Objectivist; I have chosen this name for myself, and thus I cannot claim to be above what others who choose to use that same name may say or do.  I have chosen to hinge my reputation on that name; it would be ridiculous of me to disclaim its effects on my reputation.

Thus I regard Muslims as having a duty, insofar as they wish to self-identify as Muslims, to defend the name; they cannot complain that others who share naught but a name with them do horrible things, and their reputations are tarnished, for that is the nature of taking umbrage beneath a name.

In the same fashion, I regard it as duty to take fellow Objecivists, and to a lesser extend libertarians, to task for their statements, and regard it as rightful to take pride when we behave as we should, and shame when we shouldn't.  I am a member of this group by my own will, and contribute to it in my successes, and subtract from it with my failures.

And thus, while I previously regarded the actions of Ayn Rand and her followers in expelling individuals from her group as rather frightful and cultish, in my modern considerations I must conclude their behavior entirely appropriate.

It is wrong to suppose that a group exists independently of its members - a group is defined by its members, and where that group is inclusive, rather than exclusive - as is true of most political parties in most countries, every philosophy, and most religions - you basically have to live with what other people say or do, and if you don't want it to reflect upon you, react to it.

Or divorce yourself from groups.  Those are your options.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

Do we have a tendency to deny most those things closest to truth?

I think yes.  With an emphasis on "closest," rather than "truth."

I at least have no compulsion to deny the truth; denying the truth carries a heavy personal penalty to me which is proportional to what I have to gain.  That is, the more I would "get" by denying the truth, the more compulsion I have to tell the truth.  (Ill-gotten gains are a moral burden.  Ten million dollars ill-gotten are ten million times worse than one dollar ill-gotten.  There's never a point where the payoff exceeds the cost to me.  This is also why I dislike participating in contests, no matter the prize; I attach no value to those things I have acquired without effort, and a whole lot of nothing is still nothing.  On a utilitarian level contests bother me because if when I do win, I deprive somebody else of a joy I do not gain in turn, but this has no moral bearing.)

Similarly I feel no compulsion to deny the ridiculous; to what ends?

Those things which compel me most are those things which contain enough truth to be believable, but contain falsehoods which either mar the truth of the statement or which misconstrue truths to construct a falsehood..

Climate change can rile me up; it has just enough truth not to be outright dismissed.  It is, to me, an example of the latter: A little bit of truth being misused to craft a believable falsehood.  It is an unparalleled moral crime in my eyes where intentional, and the evidence is that more than a little of what has been done has been intentional.

On the far side of that token are arguments, particularly those which agree with me, which contain falsehoods, which tarnish not only the immediate argument but the cause which that argument represents.

This broaches a broader topic I have a strong opinion of - that of group reputation, which I will touch upon immediately in a follow-up post.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Argument Against Security

There are a whole host of reasons why you -should-.  But sometimes, implementing security can in fact be counterproductive.  The issue is, as in all issues security, thus: Users.

I am involved in the creation of server software.  In a meeting a few years back, when we were brainstorming in regards to a new product which was meant to run in the same system as an existing product and connect to it, one of our architects got caught up in the idea that we should provide security for the connection.

We argued with him.  At length.  Everybody else in the room was vehemently opposed to securing the connection.

Okay, you say, that makes no sense!  But it did.  These two systems were intended to sit on the same box - while technically possible to connect these systems on different boxes, you'd have to have access to the server box (that is, the original product) to do so.

Even so, you might be thinking, why on earth wouldn't we want to secure the connection?  So it's on the same box, so what?

Because any security credentials we used would be, by definition, accessible to anybody who could access both the client and server application to begin with.

We have a longstanding policy regarding security:  It's the client's job.  We don't encrypt database usernames or passwords, we don't password protect server certificates (although the client can do so), we, quite simply, don't do security.  (That's not in fact true, we have -lots- of security, but only on outward-facing components.)

If your file system is secure, so is our software.  If your file system is compromised, so is our software.

Because there's no way around this.  We can encrypt your username and password - but if our file system isn't secure, you can open up our code, decompile it, reverse-engineer our algorithm, and decrypt that username and password.  It would take me a couple of hours to do exactly that.  Obscurity of encryption algorithm doesn't help here, and where obscurity doesn't help, nothing does.  (Yes, we could encrypt it with a key, but where is the key going to live?)

Any security we implement would be a bandaid, and would only hide real security issues from our users: Namely, that these boxes can only be as secure as their filesystems.  Not only that, by providing security, security becomes a part of our product; if it fails, and somebody does Something Bad, we're (more) liable, because a part of our product was in defect; our security could have Been Better.

So we just don't do security, not in that way.  We -could-, and it could arguably make the product better [Normally I despise the word "arguably" but here I think it's appropriate, as there are other reasons I disagree which aren't relevant to this post], but to do so makes us more liable without adding anything to the table we can sell.  Even if it were free to develop we wouldn't do it.

So this architect lost that argument.  And progress marches on.  Without redundant security measures.


...derived from a comment I received from a fellow traveler on the interblogs who has seen an argument I was engaged in:

If you kick somebody out of your discussion (that was me, incidentally) and tell them not to come back to your blog (I haven't), it's considered to be in poor taste to attack their character in continuing comments.

It's a matter of self-respect.  If you can't respect yourself, respect troll control, people.  Even -I- am tempted to start trolling this person with false accounts, through proxies if necessary.  (I will not; while it would be entertaining to engage somebody so easily tweaked, it would be in poor taste.  Rather like the comments to begin with.)