Saturday, August 25, 2007

Things That Have Annoyed Me Recently

I have added a wonderful new permanent box to my page - Things That Have Annoyed Me Recently. This, as you may have guessed, will be a list of the many things that have Annoyed Me Recently.

In a wonderfully self-referential accident, the thing that has annoyed me most recently is the fact that, despite my efforts to edit the raw HTML, the boxes down the side of my page apparently refuse to display a bullet-point list. Which means when it word-wraps a line, it doesn't format it very nicely. More puzzling, when I did it with an actual built-in "list" type box, it still didn't bullet-point anything.

As for the other things, driving in Vancouver is an adventure. I recently had someone come up behind me fast as we exited the highway, even though I was probably going at least the posted limit. Then they pulled back out of the (very short) exit lane, pull around me, cut across the painted island, and nearly cut me off, and then they were gone. I passed them less than 30 seconds later, as they were stuck behind several cars at a red light. I waved, but I doubt they saw me, unfortunately. For futile impatience and endangerment of others, I would like to award a "Please Die in a Disemboweling or, if unavailable, Decapitating Collision Award" to this person.

As far as merging, the basic theory is this: You need to be going the same speed as the lane you are merging into. The other important thing to note is that "merge" and "yield" do not mean the same thing. More to the point, they mean practically the opposite of each other. Further, if you attempt to yield when you are supposed to merge in Vancouver, you may never get moving again until most of the city has gone to bed. I award a moderate rear-ending to anyone stopped in the merging lane. I also award a "tango with a semi" to the bastards who won't make a hole big enough for us to merge into, which often precipitates said stoppage.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Sleep. I could probably use more. I've been on vacation for about seven weeks now, and somehow I'm only barely rested. I'm not sure if going back to work next week is going to be good or bad for that. A regular schedule is actually kind of good for me, because I only actually feel like working around the house when the sun is up. Interestingly, I can work on the computer any time of the day or night, so my choice of occupation was probably a good one.

The problem is not that I can't sleep. I almost always fall asleep very quickly, and once I'm out it's hard to wake me up. Even if I do wake up, I can generally go back to sleep fairly easily.

No, the problem is, as I've long known, that I hate change of state. I hate going to bed. I think it's a form of laziness - it's significantly less work to keep playing on the computer than it is to go to bed. By the same token, it's significantly easier to stay in bed than it is to get up. The difference is, I go to bed when I want, but I have to get up for school or work, which is outside of my control. I'm fairly sure it's a form of laziness, because the more tired I get, the less inclined I am to go to bed. That there is an unlimited amount of stuff to read on the web doesn't exactly help the situation either - there will always be "one more" interesting thing to read.

I also know from experience that if I do let my sleep schedule drift, it tends to drift until I'm going to bed around noon and/or getting up around midnight. Somehow that seems to be the point where things stabilize, which seems a bit odd. Since I can stay up long past any usual "bedtime," and work on something longer than a 24 hour day, I'm not sure why it stabilizes at the most awkward possible schedule.

So, while my vacation has been relaxing, it hasn't necessarily been restful.

Possible courses of correction:
*Brush teeth two hours before bed, when I might still have the energy
*Take the laptop to bed so I can do stuff, but not expend much more energy than closing it when it's time to sleep
*Convince myself to go to bed on time like a responsible adult (ha!)

I think it's good that I stay away from drugs and alcohol entirely. It's much too easy for me to do things before I go to bed and regret them in the morning.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

September 11, 2001

I have a thing for conspiracy theories. At first it was kind of humorous, not unlike driving by a traffic accident - uncomfortable with your interest, but unable to avoid taking a quick peek. There are a lot of strange theories out there, particularly theories that the plane that crashed into the Pentagon was not a plane at all, but a missile. Also that the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center were remotely piloted.

One of the sites I came across was, where at one time or another I read both of those theories. Something interesting happened a while ago though. They essentially decided that some of these crazier theories were being set up as straw-man theories to discredit people with valid questions about 9/11 by lumping them together with the crazies. Whether this sort of meta-paranoia has any validity or not is hard to determine, although I have noticed a bit more restraint and sensibility from people the mass-media would paint with the "crackpot" brush. Sites such as at least seem to be interested in providing evidence.

All of this stuff is fairly hard to discuss rationally, because six years on this is still a highly emotionally charged event. I'm convinced there are troubling unresolved questions, but a lot of people are still just weird about the whole thing. I suppose it had its intended effect, whether you're a terrorist or part of a conspiracy to gain power.

There is one question I would really like to have answered: Why did WTC7 collapse? A 47-story building collapses, although it only sustained secondary damage and fire. The appropriate response would be to give full access to an independent panel of structural engineers to determine exactly what happened and how to prevent it from happening again, or determine better methods for building such structures in the future. What actually appears to have happened is that any independent engineers were given a dog and pony show / tour and all evidence was sold and shipped to China as quickly as possible. Even in the best light, that is massively incompetent. I would expect it is criminal.

I once heard these issues being discussed on a local, respected radio station (CKNW) while interviewing a "conspiracy theorist" on a call-in show. I don't recall too many specifics, but I did notice this: Every single person who believed the events of September 11, 2001 were either planned or permitted by elements of the US government provided strong evidence and reasons for their position. Every single person who took the official government position provided no evidence whatsoever and responded to all questions with nothing more than name-calling and personal attacks. This isn't an isolated incident, I see it every single time this is brought up in traditional media. It hardly seems surprising though - as I just mentioned, all evidence that might support the official story was quickly and deliberately destroyed.

I try to remain skeptical of both sides of the discussion, but there is one fact that seems hard to explain: Sibel Edmonds is the most gagged person in US history, for attempting to expose criminal activity within the US government related to 9/11. I really would like to hear what she has to say.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Logic of Religion

They say that logic and religion don't mix. This usually seems to be stated at roughly the same time any meaningful religious debate has entered the, "you're right, but I'm not going to change what I believe anyway," stage. I love playing with metaphorical fire, so here we go.

If we start with the assumption that some omnipotent, omniscient god exists, we can go all sorts of interesting places. But first a little formal logic.

If a sentence is of the form "If A, then B" we get a truth table as demonstrated here. The interesting thing here is that, if your premise is false, your statement as a whole is always true. This may also explain a great deal of political debate, but that's not really the point.

If god exists, then god created the earth. If god exists, then god creates the rain. If god exists, then god ordered the locusts to destroy your crops.

The interesting bit is, these statements are always 100% absolutely certainly true as long as god doesn't exist. Once you starting assuming that god exists, you can pretty much stop thinking about the "if god exists" part and believe any old thing you like. It pretty much sounds like this:

  • If god exists, then god created the Earth.
  • If god created the Earth, then god created people.
  • If god created people, then there must be some unusual reason that bad things happen.
  • If there is some unusual reason bad things happen, then god must have a plan to fix it.

Western religion can just magically spring into a relatively logically consistent existence as long as you are simply willing to assume that god exists. If you create a religion with that assumption, you can simplify the whole thing down to:

  • God created the Earth.
  • God created people.
  • There must be some unusual reason that bad things happen.
  • God must have a plan to fix it.

The problem is, any of these statements could be either true or false - they are all atomic, not implications. I hardly think it a stretch to say that early humans, just barely learning to communicate with each other and figure out the complicated world we live in, would have made this accidental little logical oops.

  • If god exists, then you are being punished for your sins.

If god doesn't exist, this statement is always true. If god does exist, well, you maybe have a 50% of being right or wrong.

From this perspective, religion may be true, but it's more likely to be true if god doesn't exist. That doesn't tell us much, I just thought it was funny. :-)

So, why "inverse?"

One upon a time, back before normal humans were allowed on the Internet, or practically anyone else for that matter, I used to dial up BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems) on my exceptionally slow modem, over the phone lines. That would be like having to dial a different phone number every time you wanted to go to a different web page. The isolated nature of each of these boards made each of them feel a bit more like a community than most things you get on the Internet today.

I visited some of the real-time chat boards regularly. Chats like this are weird, you don't see them a lot now days. The weird thing is that you can be in the same room as a couple dozen other people, and you can all be talking together, or you can all be talking at the same time. Trying to parse out a single conversation line from all of the noise is really strange at first, but with a little practice, it becomes pretty easy. The human brain is very cool.

Anyway, every user had a "handle," which is your user name. I'm not sure where the term "handle" disappeared to, but it was a good term.

My handle was Matrix. I'm not sure exactly why, mostly I thought the word sounded cool, but also suggested my math-nerdiness. I had recently been learning about them in university. They are a mathematical table of numbers that one can do interesting things with. It's very important to note that this was before The Matrix the movie came out. The original obscure nerdiness is gone, and replaced by nerdiness-in-black-leather. I really like the movie, but now it would just seem too fanboyish to use it as an alias, when that's not what it was about.

Ah, but all is not lost. Similar to the way the inverse of a real number x=1/y (or x=y^-1) means that xy=1, the inverse of a matrix M^-1 is the matrix such that MM^1=I, where I is the identity matrix (a square matrix with 1's on the diagonal from the top left to the bottom right, and 0's everywhere else). It's a very useful and interesting property. All of this is well explained on the Wikipedia page above, so I will not geek out at this time, enticing as it may be.

So, I have adopted the name inverse, without capitalization for reasons that I'm not really clear on. I'm obsessive about correct capitalization when I'm writing and posting, so perhaps it's simply subversive only to me. It's a nerdy word, it's related to matrices, and it means in some respect "upside down" or "opposite." The page is called "inverse thinking," which literally means "me thinking," but also means "upside down thinking," or maybe "unconventional thinking."

I like it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Recently Watched: Happy Feet

I recently watched Happy Feet, mostly because it was the movie that beat Pixar's Cars at the academy awards, which to me seemed to be a rather significant accomplishment. It may have deserved it, it was very good, although I got the feeling a rather large portion of the movie could have been edited out, still made the same point and tightened up the pacing quite a bit.

I'm not here to critique the movie, though.

One of the main plot lines in the movie is that aliens (humans) are stealing the penguin's food supply (fish) either selfishly or unwittingly. From the penguin's perspective (and these are singing / talking / dancing penguins now), humans are simply beyond comprehension. At the same time, penguins are (to some humans) stupid, worthless birds, so why not take all of their fish?

I've been seeing articles fairly frequently recently about Fermi's Paradox (see here and here) and this got me to thinking about the existence of alien life, and what it would likely do if it encountered us. The problem we face is that, if life is even remotely as probable as suspected, and the odds of a technological space-faring race evolving is at all probable, the aliens should be here and everywhere else already.

One of the posts in the second link above suggested that any race sufficiently advanced to travel between stars must be so advanced that they've solved all energy, food and mortality problems. That seems a bit ridiculous, presumably from the perspective of 600 years ago you could believe the same thing about a civilization that could cross the Atlantic. Or the Pacific. Or circumnavigate the globe. In an aircraft. Well, our fabulous civilization has done all of those things, and so many more, but those problems are more than a little way from being solved.

It seems that our perception of an alien race is some race so advanced that it is impossible for them to make a mistake. Crashing in Roswell would simply be impossible for a race that has traveled the stars, despite zero-g space travel and landing in a rather significant gravity well with an atmosphere being two fairly different problems. I think we have to admit it's at least possible for alien races to make mistakes, for machinery no matter how advanced to fail, and that we have only slightly more insight into how to build an interstellar spacecraft than penguins have about how to build a fishing trawler.

So, it's back to the penguins again. Perhaps we are the penguins. Perhaps the purposes of alien life is so beyond our understanding that humans are of little interest beyond the occasional alien zoologist, who might drop in to catalog us, and then be on their way. It is supreme arrogance to assume that we are so intelligent and advanced that a space-faring species would feel compelled to drop in and start a conversation? Penguins can communicate after a fashion, but it seems it would be scarcely worth the effort to communicate with them. Taking part in their mating ritual hardly seems compelling. Even if they were more intelligent, discussing the consistency of snow and ice and how tasty raw fish is would only be novel for about a week.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems we have is that we have never met another species with even remotely our level of abstract thinking. If other species had arisen that we could interact with (and we could resist wiping them out) perhaps we would understand a thing or two about other intelligent species - and perhaps that once you have done so, meeting others isn't quite as cool as we think it would be. No denying, it would be big for us. Maybe not so much for them if they've done it hundreds, thousands or millions of times with species a lot more advanced than we are.

There are lots of potential reasons why Fermi's Paradox isn't a paradox at all. Maybe they are here, and they're either hiding, or they just don't care. Of course, maybe the chances of a technological society arising are absurdly small. Life has existed on this planet for a very, very, very long time. We are the only species known to have even been able to create fire in all that time. What did happen to our evolutionary path that brought us to that point that every other species seems to have missed, and why did it take so long? Or maybe it was fast, and nobody else really is there yet. It's entirely possible there are billions of worlds exactly like ours, minus us, so the universe is filled with life trapped on their worlds until their stars explode and the whole thing starts all over again. The odds of life arising may be small, so far there has only been one verified case of human-level intelligence ever, despite billions of years of evolution, and that's us. (I might be willing to provide an exception to some of our parent and sibling species, but regardless there is only this one line that has even approached a technological society, and only one that has achieved it.)

To finish up, I liked the movie, not only because it was well done, but because it makes me think about all of this stuff, and that's just good nerd fun. It gave me a new perspective on how aliens might perceive us, and gave me a bit of a reality check on some of the exceedingly arrogant perceptions we might have of ourselves as a technological society.

Recently Read: Ender's Game

I recently read Ender's Game for the first time. From what I could gather, this was one of the stock nerd must-read books, but somehow I had managed never to read it. I'm sure there are many discussions of the relative merits of the story and the writing quality (the author makes reference to as much in the introduction), so I won't really go into that much.

The short version is that Ender is a six-year-old genius who is recruited by the military to be the leader in a great interstellar war. He is hated by his peers, as they are jealous of him or have their own weaknesses exposed when compared to his exceptional skills, but he uses his superior intellect to overcome this.

I intentionally skipped the introduction when I read the book to avoid any potential spoilers (although I was already spoiled on the main twist in the book anyway). Reading it after having read the book made me realize something rather interesting. Writing about the fans of the book, the author mentions that the people most fond of the book didn't love Ender, or pity him (which the author states is a common adult response to the book), but they were Ender. The thing that surprised me was not that I felt that I was Ender in some capacity - that was obviously the reason the book is held in such high esteem by people like me - but mostly that I had never considered that other people might react with pity to Ender, and by extension, myself. Apathy, jealousy, dislike perhaps, but not pity.

I never considered myself as pitiful. I'm relatively successful in my career, have a good home and a loving family. I have suffered through some of the bullying and jealousy, but never as extreme as many people suffer, and that is not a reason for pity - that is a reason for disgust at the bullies and those adults too blind to do anything about them. Why pity Ender? I admire him. He overcomes his problems with intelligence and dignity.

I have never been much of a leader. I realized in the last few days that I never considered that intelligence could actually be applied directly to leadership. Leadership either seemed to be something that came naturally without any thought, was derived from the joy of pushing people around (which I generally lack) or just generally came in the form of random fads of techniques, processes and sayings that amounted to nothing. Reading this book made me realize, for the first time, that leadership is the process of using intelligence to both gain mutual trust (different from obedience) and solve a complex resource allocation optimization problem. I now understand much better how to be a good leader, and I understand why I have seen many bad leaders - intelligence can be the key difference.

So, what can I say about this book? I had fun reading it. It made me understand myself better. I feel that I came away from reading it a better person. I can think of no higher praise than that.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Nerd humor

So, my wife walks into the bedroom and screams, "What the fulcrum is going on in here?!" and the young lady with me shouts, "I thought you were gonna lever!"
A little something to alleviate the rather grim tone I began this page with. As far as I know, that was created by me.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I Have Seen Beyond

I have various thoughts come to me "out of the blue." What follows is one of those things. Well, the first line came out of the blue. The rest just naturally seemed to follow.

I have seen beyond the little things
Seen freedom's end on broken wings

I have seen beyond the hate and fear
The terror that colors all we hear

I have seen beyond the lies we're told
That break our will, which we have sold

I have seen beyond the ignorance
The ever louder song and dance

I have seen beyond, and so I tend
To fear our world is at an end

I had intended to make these lyrics. While a competent musician, I doubt I will ever be able to bring myself to release a recording of myself saying them. I really don't like my voice that much. Perhaps some day.

Although I often think of myself as optimistic, you can probably tell from the above that I'm fairly pessimistic about America, its people and its government. Not actually being American makes it worse. There is next to nothing I can do to change the course to destruction that they are on. I despise them, pity them, love them and fear them. I am afraid for them, and I am afraid for us all.


I once asked a friend, "Why would I describe the intimate details of my life in an online public forum, when I wouldn't walk up to a random person on the street and do the same thing?"

That pretty much sums up my early opinion of writing an online diary. The fact that they quickly became known as... erk... "blogs" (there I said it, carefully imprisoned by quotation marks) didn't give me much motivation to actually start one, particularly when any site I would be likely to post one on probably had the word in its name. I hate the word. Really, it's the sound a dog would make while puking up the remains of something that really didn't agree with it. Well, not really, dogs have a bit of trouble pronouncing the letter B, even when losing their breakfast, but reading the word gives me roughly the same feeling as watching such.

So, why write this journal thing? There's a complicated answer to that, which I won't get into now. The simple answer is that I feel it would be a benefit to me to write it, and be a benefit to others to read it. I don't intend to write much about the intricate details of my daily life, but I do want to share my perspective of the world. Then again, perhaps that is the most personal thing I can share.