Year: 2009

Communion breakdown

Posted by – September 20, 2009

Holy shit, someone just explained to me what radical Islam is all about:

The history of religions sometimes resembles the history of viruses. Judaism and Islam were both highly virulent when they first broke out, driving the first generations of their people to conquer (Islam) or just slaughter (Judaism) everyone around them for the sin of not being them. They both grew more sedate over time. […]

I have a theory that “radical Islam” is not native Islam, but Westernized Islam. Over half of 75 Muslim terrorists studied by Bergen & Pandey 2005 in the New York Times had gone to a Western college. (Only 9% had attended madrassas.) A very small percentage of all Muslims have received a Western college education. When someone lives all their life in a Muslim country, they’re not likely to be hit with the urge to travel abroad and blow something up. But when someone from an Islamic nation goes to Europe for college, and comes back with Enlightenment ideas about reason and seeking logical closure over beliefs, and applies them to the Koran, then you have troubles. They have lost their cultural immunity.

(emphasis mine)

It seems so obvious now, as always.

The interesting thing is that most people’s response to this isn’t “beliefs which lead to immorality/absurdity when consistency and logic are applied to them are immoral/absurd” but “you shouldn’t apply too much consistency and logic to your beliefs”. Go figure!

This also happens with other things than religion. The other night I was talking about politics with someone and was reminded of how different our respective attitudes are (in caricature):

  1. one should formulate a consistent set of principles to decide everything with
  2. one should try not to break anything and to gradually improve things that seem particularly broken

I suspect 2 contains the idea that you shouldn’t be “too” principled because society is too complicated to be consistently improved by your preferences. To me that sounds like giving up. (Maybe giving up is the correct move here, but I’m not convinced yet.)

OP continued:

The reason I bring this up is that intelligent people sometimes do things more stupid than stupid people are capable of. There are a variety of reasons for this; but one has to do with the fact that all cultures have dangerous memes circulating in them, and cultural antibodies to those memes. The trouble is that these antibodies are not logical. On the contrary; these antibodies are often highly illogical. They are the blind spots that let us live with a dangerous meme without being impelled to action by it. The dangerous effects of these memes are most obvious with religion; but I think there is an element of this in many social norms. We have a powerful cultural norm in America that says that all people are equal (whatever that means); originally, this powerful and ambiguous belief was counterbalanced by a set of blind spots so large that this belief did not even impel us to free slaves or let women or non-property-owners vote. We have another cultural norm that says that hard work reliably and exclusively leads to success; and another set of blind spots that prevent this belief from turning us all into Objectivists.

A little reason can be a dangerous thing. The landscape of rationality is not smooth; there is no guarantee that removing one false belief will improve your reasoning instead of degrading it.

Sad but true.

Sketches of self

Posted by – September 7, 2009

There’s a subreddit (subsection of reddit.com) called DoesAnybodyElse where people ask each other whether someone else does a particular thing the same way. It turns out that people share a lot of quirks, which means that people aren’t as quirky as they think. For example, the following DAEs pretty much sum me up:

  • DAE listen to a song or watch a movie with a friend that you have highly recommended, only to keep looking over at them and hoping beyond hope they like it as much as you do?
  • DAE isolate one section of food when eating, so they can have one final, perfect bite?
  • DAE randomly remember embarrassing things and then physically, involuntarily wince?

Hell, world!

Posted by – September 3, 2009

I am supposed to learn enough libtool and autotools to package our current library and utilities in a “do it right” way. Some of my favourite things about this task so far:

  • From the libtool manual:

    But of course, that would be too simple, so many systems require that you run the ranlib command on the resulting library (to give it better karma, or something)

  • There’s a libtool demo of a trivial Hello World program & library packaged with autotools. configure.ac and Makefile.am are about 250 lines put together.
  • The program part of the demo is called “hello”, but the library is called “hell”

Hobo antics

Posted by – August 31, 2009

Someone told the following story on reddit:

After an extended morning sex session with my girlfriend it was decided that I was the one who would be going to the store for food. As I’m walking down the street this black homeless guy smiles and asks if he can have a drag off my cigarette, I just give him the whole thing. He takes a puff, smiles real big and yells really loud: “This man right here has just been eatin some fine pussy!”

This brought to mind a time I was on the metro on a weekend morning and a drunk started talking to me, opening the conversation with “Näytät siltä että oot saanu PILLUA!” I wonder is this some kind of standard homeless guy opener to put people in a disconcerted but jolly mood?

The other degrees of drunkedness freedom

Posted by – August 31, 2009

Sometimes when I’ve had enough to drink and lie on my back I get the sensation of drifting down (or everything else drifting up) and gently rotating around an axis that goes through my belly. It’s like being in a deep pit that’s swirling around – according to my dad it’s known as the “swirling pits”. I wonder is this a particular experience alcohol brings on; I’ve never felt a rotation any other way when drunk. It would be nice to rotate around the axis that goes through the hip, or the one that goes through the top of the head.

From browsing catalogues of psychedelics I know that it’s possible to have surprisingly precise sensations with the right chemicals (“this one makes you lose the ability tell different-pitched sounds apart”), so if alcohol only provides this one rotation, I’m sure someone’s found a way to get the other degrees of freedom too.

edit: now that I think about it, I’m not sure is the swirling pits sensation so much rotation about the belly as rotation about the head. I’ll find out next time I have the opportunity. For science!

Only an expert

Posted by – August 31, 2009

Went to see Laurie Anderson & Lou Reed tonight. Everything was very tight and thought out, pretty much the opposite of what I’d worried might happen. Laurie Anderson in particular is such a master of effects and synthetic sounds, using them to put together an entire real-time soundscape at one moment and dropping back to normal-land the next. Lou Reed was constantly clacking away at guitar pedals; they sounded like a faint gun-cocking sound effect to his Clint Eastwood New York aging badass demeanour. All in all it was great, especially for Laurie Anderson’s stories (especially especially the monologue she delivered in the character and voice of a huge black man) . And as for Lou Reed – maybe he’s an old fart, but he sure doesn’t stand still. Artistically he’s somewhere between Neil Young and William Burroughs: not afraid even of being boring. It was kind of sweet to see how impressed he was by Laurie’s stuff.

A couple nights previous was Iiro Rantala (“this one was going to be on a film soundtrack… the first Swedish cowboy movie, actually… they were going to call it Brokeback Malmö…”) and Paquito D’Rivera. Iiro was brilliant but brief, Paquito was groovy but don’t have much else to say about it.

Pushers

Posted by – August 16, 2009

When I was a kid, school dining halls had big posters telling you to drink milk. They were paid for by Valio, a company that processes almost all of the milk in Finland. The posters said that you have to drink milk for healthy bones, hair and nails – if you didn’t you’d grow up bald and broken-boned (no, seriously, they had illustrations of this).

At the time I believed the posters because I believed pretty much everything I was told in school. I didn’t drink milk though (don’t like the taste), but felt vaguely dodgy for it. I did slightly wonder how people get by in the parts of the world where they don’t drink milk (or what humans did before they domesticated milkable animals), but I never made the connection that the posters advertising milk were advertisments. In retrospect, it seems almost unbelievable that even the name of the milk company on the posters didn’t clue me in – and I thought I was a smart kid!

Some of the other useless advice I got was to avoid drugs and unprotected sex, warnings that seemed more like a cruel joke than anything else.

You make your own Big Brother

Posted by – August 15, 2009

One of the quotes that randomly appear near the top of the sidebar of this blog is “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Whatever side of yourself you most want to present to the world is what your future self will be more like. I can feel that happening to myself right now, and I’m not sure I like it.

Blogging feels very different than it did when I first started on Livejournal. Back then it was a very personal, expressive, “teenage” thing. The vast majority of those entries underwent a Stalinist purge when importing material here. It was not very far from a true reflection of myself – not that it was purely a description of my personal life, but a form of self-broadcasting nonetheless (like self-reflection but outwards). Now I feel uncomfortably restricted, very aware that everyone I come into meaningful contact with will google me and make a quick judgement based on the first things they see.

The safest things from that perspective are technicality, glibness and distant commentary on something someone else thinks. The worst things are bubbly emotionality, being uninformed, honesty and being boring. As a result, I don’t suppose this blog is terribly representative of me as a person. In real life, I often am pretty expansive, impulsive and eager to sound out on things way beyond my expertise.

One might ask why I would want to “be myself” here – after all, the market for persons is very much a buyer’s market – but ultimately, I don’t have any reason to do do this but self-expression. Besides, the really fun things to read, even when they’re strictly business, always have a powerful personal flavour. I want to (learn to) write that way.

The weird thing is that when I meet people in real life, even the new acquaintances whose googling I dread, I don’t particularly restrain myself – and nothing bad happens! People like me fine, and the ones who don’t I usually don’t feel bad about. I haven’t had the experience of missing out on a job opportunity because of my personality or what I think, whereas the opposite probably has happened.

Still, when I’m alone, thinking about how to seem, the sterile, defensive self-projection comes through and is even gaining ground inside my mind. It’s like I’m being persuaded by what I think a person should appear to be like. Propriety is taking me over! On the whole, this conflict has made me less eager to blog or to really think about what sort of a person I am. I don’t know how to solve this yet.

Partly this is due to the widespread tendency to be somewhat ashamed of oneself deep down, something that for me goes away when I’m caught in the moment, socialising and trying to get everybody to like me. But another part is the clear message some other expressive people have gotten (and is also one of the quotes in the sidebar): You’re WRONG and you’re a GROTESQUELY UGLY FREAK. I’m not a truly ugly freak, but I have my ugly sides. Socially, I am almost proud of them, but they somehow become scary when written down in pixels.

As for the really ugly freaks – well, I have some reading habits I am wary of admitting to; widely excoriated things on the Internet I’m drawn to for whatever reason. I guess it’s often a simple curiosity of “dangerous things”, plus the fearlessness and force of personality of their authors. In Finland the writings in question have led to legal prosecution and conviction in some cases (most famously Jussi Halla-aho will soon be on trial for his opinions). In one fascinating case in Canada it led to public self-flagellation, humiliation and removal of the blog in question, one which I had happily (often disagreeing) read for years unaware of what a heinous thing it would turn out to be in a Canadian university.

Such things sometimes make me catch myself – it seems perfectly possible that I’m one of these sick, terrible people who deserve to be run out of civilized society. And then there’s the reality where I feel like I’m acting normally and get along with people. I don’t know which reality is more accurate, and it’s making be a boring coward and I want to break out of it.

Anon v. Trad

Posted by – August 13, 2009

Which is better, Anonymous or Traditional?

Anonymous:

  • Beowulf
  • House of the Rising Sun
  • The Federalist Papers
  • Distilling alcohol

Traditional:

  • Gilgamesh
  • Whiskey in the Jar
  • The Bible
  • Brewing alcohol

Unknown is pretty good too…

New pgp key

Posted by – August 12, 2009

In my foolish youth I generated a personal pgp key with no expiration date, uploaded it to a keyserver and promptly forgot about it. I’ve lost the key, which means I can’t prove I don’t want to use it anymore (“revoke” it). It will therefore live on forever on keyservers around the world. But I’ve generated a new key and hereby declare the old one abandoned.

Don’t let this happen to you, kids! Generate a revocation certificate ahead of time and store it somewhere safe but difficult to lose. Some say you should print it out on paper.

By the way, anything encrypted with the old key will be unreadable by anyone, so if you want to get something off your chest, here’s your chance.

keyID 87D944A6 is dead, long live keyID C713D021! If you want to communicate with me in privacy, look me up on any keyserver and choose the newer key. Or just encrypt with the following:

-----BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----
Version: GnuPG v1.4.9 (GNU/Linux)

mQGiBEqC6qgRBACNgNVCzhv3hY+eIv+JqY25UJ4Ji9LBakwVBGaP7kbzkKFRVTKn
x8axV+dS4vRNFm35GcYKZ4+rq8PYohUWpyyCR5/7vamNpHcOnHsrQn+bh9n+agEh
J5ojvjBjK6xQtJXtMRaERVLsslBHVqAo23E14ORPqLEa+q/G6CN1b8QXGwCguAqX
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ps4fdwJLuMUlgWPCjE7XVDd+28U=
=207I
-----END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----