Stupid things

Propped Up Corpse

In the 2018 horror film The Nun, a young woman meets a kindly old abbess in a convent who keeps her shadowy face veiled in black. Later in the film, when the heroine returns and finds the old woman sitting eerily still, she is shocked to discover why the old lady’s face is kept veiled: the abbess is dead. The heroine’s been talking to the shriveled rotting flesh of a blackened corpse all along.

Maybe that’s not the best metaphor, but the 2020 presidential election does kind of remind me of it. Why is nobody allowed to examine the machines or audit the ballots? Why are profoundly important court cases rejected on trivial technicalities? Because not only was the last election full of fraud, but national elections have been that way for a while. The mask just slipped a bit too far this time. We’ve been living in the shadow of a propped up corpse.

As someone tweeted:

Prob the longest-lasting effect of Trump’s presidency will be that ppl saw the degree to which heretofore kinda hidden power had to reeeeally flex to oppose him. This is true whether one liked/supported Trump or not.

To which someone else replied:

We saw the sausages being made and it’s full of pig a******s and bugs.

Thanks for that lovely image. I’m reminded of the end of Sweeney Todd when Toby discovers what’s in the meat grinder.

So what now? Unfortunately I still have no idea.

Two things seem clear to me, though:

  1. You can’t vote your way to a fair election. There are a lot of politicians who seem to want to have their cake and eat it too; they want Trump out, but they want us to keep faith in elections. They suggest that we’ve just got to let the questionable results of this election slide and prepare for the next one, which will totally be more secure, for sure. Of course, if this election has taught us that it is impossible to investigate apparent election fraud and futile to try, why should the next election be any different? (This also means it’s pointless to listen to political pundits telling you what to be mad about next. What are you gonna do about it, vote?)
  2. The courts will not uphold election laws. So filing and arguing about lawsuits in regards to elections is also a waste of time and energy.

If the puppet masters care about the illusion of fair elections, perhaps investigations will continue and they’ll say, “aha, yep, there definitely was some fraud here, but not enough to change the outcome, and now we fixed it!” Perhaps there will be some “Republican” victories in the 2022 midterms. Perhaps they’ll even grant us another “Republican” president in 2024, after Biden and Harris finish whatever evil plots they’re being installed for.

And I do think they’re being installed for a reason. Four more years of Trump doesn’t seem like it should be too harsh of a price to pay for reinforcing the illusion of a fair election while sliding the slow knife further in, so something must’ve made the allowance of obvious fraud worth the risk. Maybe Trump’s anti-China policies were causing too much strife for the economic overlords. Maybe they want to get the Middle East war machine up and roaring again. Maybe they’re genuinely afraid for our national security for some secret reason.

Regardless, I don’t see the point in voting anymore. The mask slipped too far. You can’t just reposition it and make me think it’s your real face again.

I can’t blame other voters. I can’t say: “Well, you voted for this!” As I wrote in an earlier post, if an election is fraudulent, nobody’s vote counts. Voting differently would not have changed much.

The whole “storming the Capitol” stunt was a sad and evil exploitation of useful idiots1 to serve as news cycle fodder and distraction propaganda so we’d all gawk and share impassioned opinions about that instead and use it to justify preplanned political ends. Do you really think the Capitol of the most powerful nation in the world couldn’t keep out a couple hundred hooligans with flag poles if it thought it absolutely had to? I’m not saying police were in on it or that it was staged, just that there were bad actors who intentionally put the pieces in place for that to happen. The resulting propaganda is reaching North Korean levels of blatant ridiculousness. It should be glaringly obvious to everyone.

Speaking of stupid pills, I think you can abandon the preposterous “QAnon” hopium conspiracy theories, which promise shocking revelations and surprise victories just around the corner and encourage you to just keep holding your breath until you pass out.

As the execution of all power ultimately depends on the strength of the iron hand, those who are granted legal authority to use physical force to enforce the law (military, police) will have to decide from where that authority comes if not from fairly elected officials according to the US Constitution.

As for the rest of us, I’m not sure we peasants can do much at the moment. (Other than keep a level head.)

Although this election fraud is a serious issue, it is also a temporary and worldly one; our souls were made for a different world, so keep any spiritual distress in check by keeping things in perspective. The goal here is to grow in love of God and neighbor; let’s keep that our spiritual focus.

For further reading, here are a few other articles. I do not claim to agree or disagree with all their points, I just thought they were interesting:

By S P Hannifin, ago
Television

Random thoughts on Netlfix’s The Queen’s Gambit

I finished watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix recently. Here are some random thoughts:

Competent protrayal of chess

While the show’s story centers around competition chess, it’s not really about chess at all, it’s about characters, and in that regard it does a good job of capturing the drama of the game by focusing on characters’ emtional reactions to chess moves instead of the games themselves. This is the same sort of thing they did in Searching for Bobby Fischer. At the same time, it doesn’t try to dummy down chess concepts so the audience can understand them, like the stupid gravity assist scene in The Martian, where a character over-explains a relatively simple science concept to colleagues who should not be that stupid for the sake of the audience. Or this ridiculously stupid scene from Hidden Figures in which a NASA scientist is skeptical of Euler’s method because “it’s ancient”; trying to show the brilliance of a character by having others be over-the-top stupid.

I also appreciated that no one hit the clock with the wrong hand, a pet peeve of mine when chess master characters show up on TV.

Obsession as comfort

The “tortured genius” character is certainly cliché (Good Will Hunting, bleh!), and there is a bit of that, but chess does not really come easily or naturally to Beth Harmon. She is shown constantly studying the game. What is rare is not her innate “genius” but rather her ability to become entirely obsessed with it, to be able to focus on it for long periods of time, even without a physical board. This is likely a coping mechanism for dealing with personal trauma. As she says, “It was the board I noticed first. It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So if I get hurt, I have only myself to blame.” Quite self-aware! Some have wondered if Bobby Fischer’s obsession with chess during childhood provided a similar escape or sense of comfort; he was raised by a single mother who was an outspoken political activist. Perhaps, but in the real world such an overpowering obsession at a young age is still rare, so whatever is going on in an obsessor’s brain is probably more complicated than that.

Pills!

The green pills Beth takes throughout the show appear to be fictional (unfotunately, because I want some) but they remind me of ADHD meds. They’ve been used to calm children down, they help people focus, people can abuse them, and they might improve your chess game. From this article:

According to a new study in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, two prescription drugs can help chess players compete: modafinil and methylphenidate. The former is sold as Alertec, Modavigil, and Provigil, and the other is best known as Ritalin. Participants in the study were dosed with these drugs, and then their chess playing abilities were observed. While the drugs resulted in test subjects playing more slowly, they also increased their performance. Using modafinil improved player’s results by 15 percent, while methylphenidate improved results by 13 percent.

… International chess tournaments began incorporating drug testing in 2001

So Harmon is lucky that she got obsessed with chess at just the right time in American history when she could earn money and fame from the game and at a time when they didn’t do any drug testing! (She could even get a benzodiazepine over the counter in Germany!)

Overall

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the show. It was well-made and well-scripted, but the emotional journey wasn’t all that engaging to me, a lot of supporting characters were a bit cliché and two-dimensional, and of course chess tournaments are portrayed as very fancy and dramatic, very “Hollywood”. But then, like any movie or show about “geniuses”, the audience is never really asked to relate to all the boring studying that makes the rest possible; we are only asked to empathize with the fun parts: the attention, the applause, the success, the failures, the opportunities, the traveling, etc. It can give a very false day-dreamy impression of “genius”, which is really 99 percent perspiration. But that’s almost always the case in any fictional portrayal of someone successful. The grunt work is boring.

The real trick to being a genius is, as Harmon shows us: childhood trauma! No, not that, but rather love / obsession, not for the sake of fame and money that would make a biographical show interesting, but the willingness to work hard at something you’re interested in when there’s no guarantee of any reward beyond your self-satisfaction.

(On a side note, the word “genius” is really just an opinion of someone’s work. In fiction, you can create empathy for a character by having other characters admire their “genius”. But in fiction you have the advantage of being able to empathize with a character while also being able to consider them from the outside, to see them as other characters might see them. It’s a sort of strange dichotomy you can’t really experience in the real world.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Fiction Books I Want to Read This Year 2021

The new year has arrived! I don’t think I’ll do a “Year’s Best” post for 2020. I did not see enough movies nor read enough books, and the ones I did really weren’t that great. Maybe 2021 will be a better year for new movies, but I’m not sure there’s much of interest on the horizon. I just hope some 3D movies will return to the big screen before the year’s end; the pandemic seems to have annihilated them completely.

I only read 5 books in 2020. To be more precise, I only completed 5 books. (I read a lot of miscellaneous chapters from various nonfiction books, but I’m not counting those.) These books include:

  1. Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement by Rich Karlgaard. A forgettable book in my opinion. “Some people achieve their greatest potential later in life.” That’s it. That’s the book.
  2. A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe. A fun little sci-fi / fantasy mystery, my favorite read of the year (not that there’s much competition.) I believe a sequel has recently been published posthumously which I’d like to get my hands on at some point.
  3. Farlander by Col Buchanan. An aging assassin takes on an unlikely apprentice while pursuing a dangerous vendetta. The writing is nice and the story has some interesting surprises. Fun read.
  4. Dune by Frank Herbert. Basically it’s The Lion King, but on a sandy planet with prophecies, mystical powers, powerful spice, giant worms, and weird names. And it’s dull, dull, unbearably dull. I hated it.
  5. Majipoor Chronicles by Robert Silverberg. A collection of short stories all taking place on the same weird planet. Some stories feature some interesting ideas, but most of them fluff out with stupid overly-convenient or uneventful endings. I think Silverberg does horror or dark fantasy the best; when he tries to have things end more nicely for the characters it just feels less satisfying to me for some reason.

Those are all the books I actually finished in 2020; in August I began reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and I’m still only about half-way through it. It’s a long book, and these characters are growing a bit dull on me, so I haven’t been reading it daily. (I suppose technically it’s a book series, as it was originally published serially.) Hopefully it will not take me another five months to finish the second half.

Here’s my current (non-exhaustive) to-read list for 2021, at least fiction-wise:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Finishing the 2nd half.
  2. Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan. This is the sequel to the aforementioned Farlander. I’m actually already about 80 pages into it as I didn’t want to lug around War and Peace one day.
  3. Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson. One of my favorite authors, and I really enjoyed Reamde, so I’m looking forward to this one as well. A long book, but his prose generally flows pretty nicely.
  4. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. This is the 3rd book in his Stormlight Chronicles series. The 4th book just came out in 2020, so I’m behind. I really enjoyed the 1st book, but the 2nd book was a bit “meh” for me.
  5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Been wanting to read Mr. D for a while.
  6. The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub.
  7. The Drawing of Three and The Waste Lands by Stephen King. Books 2 and 3 of his Dark Tower series.
  8. The Vindication of Man by John C. Wright. The 5th book in his Count to the Eschaton Sequence. Another of my favorite authors. I’ve really enjoyed this series so far; it’s at times very thought-provoking, at times complete bonkers crazy, and sometimes both. Super fun sci-fi.
  9. The Kingdom of the Gods by In-Wan Youn. This is the graphic novel which inspired the recent Netflix series Kingdom, of which I enjoyed a couple episodes, although I think the book and show are quite different plot-wise. Looks like fun though.

Some of those books are a bit long, and I’m a slow reader, so there’s no telling if I can actually finish all those in a single year. And there’s of course plenty more I’d love to read, so I might change my mind about some of those in favor of others. That’s also not counting any non-fiction books, of which I have bookmarks in at least a dozen. We’ll see how it goes.

Happy New Year to all!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Stupid things

Anomaly detected

In the first episode of the Netflix crime thriller Ozark, a drug lord tests some of his workers with a little story: His aunt worked in his father’s grocery store and one day his father caught her stealing from him. What should his father do?

The main character responds: “Fire her. It’s not the first time she stole from you. It’s the first time you caught her.”


The Anomalies

I do not claim that any of the issues listed below are smoking guns that in and of themselves prove anything, only that they deserve attention and scrutiny rather than being too quickly dismissed.

Dead people absentee ballots

Someone on Twitter pointed out:

Turns out 118 year old “William Bradley” voted via absentee ballot in Wayne County, Michigan. William Bradley died in 1984.

How long has this been going on?

Try it for yourself:
https://mvic.sos.state.mi.us/Voter/Index

I indeed checked it for myself and the site did indeed confirm that the dead man received and sent back an absentee ballot. Politifact, which is independent and not biased (we know because they say so), has rated this false because “A city elections official said that no ballot was cast for the now deceased Bradley.” The New York Times assures us that they’re just “run-of-the-mill clerical errors.” Whew! But then, being reassured by the source of your initial distrust (“a city election official”) is hardly compelling. Imagine a murder suspect on trial. Judge: “How do you plead?” Suspect: “Not guilty, Your Honor.” Judge: “Well, that settles that; if you were guilty, you would’ve said so, so the court is adjourned! See you at home, son.” Anyway, the same thing is happening for other names of deceased. At the very least, all deceased names should be double-checked. (And why the heck don’t they, gee I don’t know, purge supercentenarians from their database?)

Software “glitches”

Dozens of Michigan counties used the same software that caused 6,000 votes in one county to switch from Trump to Biden. As a programmer, I’d love to learn how such software “glitches”? I don’t buy it; tabulating software is probably not that complicated. (Keeping the data secure is the more complicated part.) The glitch was either gross human incompetence or voting fraud. Googling around, one can find articles on machine-hacking voter fraud happening before, this from a 2018 election, Beto O’Rourke vs Ted Cruz (was it really that close?):

In essence, security protections in software (operated on voting machines throughout the country) had been purposely disabled or ‘un-activated’; penetration of the machines was possible via online access methods widely understood among reasonably sophisticated IT people; and mismatches in time-stamped dataflows suggest votes were changed.

Again, this isn’t “proof” of fraud, but it does deserve more scrutiny. (Even counties that are “red” and “go to Trump” should be scrutinized; if any totals are artificially manipulated, it would still affect the state’s total.)

Statistical surprises & stuff

Quoting writer Larry Correia here:

The massive turn out alone is a red flag.

But as for doing better…

The late night spikes that were enough to close all the Trump leads are a red flag.

The statistically impossible breakdown of the ratios of these vote dumps is a red flag.

The ratios of these dumps being far better than the percentages in the bluest of blue cities, even though the historical data does not match, red flag.

The ratios of these vote dumps favoring Biden more in these few battlegrounds than the ratio for the rest of the country (even the bluest of the blue) red flag.

Biden outperforming Obama among these few urban vote dumps, even though Trump picked up points in every demographic group in the rest of the country, red flag.

The poll observers being removed. Red flag.

The counters cheering as GOP observers are removed, red flag.

The fact that the dem observers outnumber the GOP observers 3 to 1, red flag (and basis of the first lawsuit filed)

The electioneering at the polls (on video), red flag.

The willful violation of the court order requiring the separation of ballots by type, red flag.

USPS whistleblower reporting to the Inspector General that today they were ordered to backdate ballots to yesterday, red flag.

The video of 2 AM deliveries of what appear to be boxes of ballots with no chain of custody or other observers right before the late night miracle spikes, red flag.

(Edit: Also see There is Undeniable Mathematical Evidence the Election is Being Stolen.)

What’s the major new ingredient of this election? Mail-in ballots. Never before used them at such a scale, but they’re secure and fraud is rare. They said so on the news. (Not back in 2012, but ignore that.)

As Correia says:

I am more offended by how ham fisted, clumsy, and audacious the fraud to elect him is than the idea of Joe Biden being president. I think Joe Biden is a corrupt idiot, however, I think America would survive him like we’ve survived previous idiot administrations. However, what is potentially fatal for America is half the populace believing that their elections are hopelessly rigged and they’re eternally f***ed. And now, however this shakes out in court, that’s exactly what half the country is going to think.


If you’re going to cheat, the best way to do it is slowly and subtly, not blatantly. But that’s why the Ozark quote came to my mind. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the point is to consider what information you might be missing. If you catch someone telling a lie, how many other lies have they told undetected? If you spot one person shoplifting, how many shoplifters have already flown under the radar? If you find even one stolen vote, how many more have slipped through unnoticed?

But I guess if not enough people care (or believe), it doesn’t matter? (“The emperor has no clothes!” said the child, without evidence.)

Problem is, even if you don’t care during this election cycle because it’s the outcome you hoped for, what makes you so sure it won’t be used against you? That is, if the election result is dishonest, all votes are nullified.

So what now?

For now, I guess we can only wait for the courts to weigh in. The biggest problem is that even if the voting is investigated (which is up to the courts I guess?), it’s virtually impossible to know whether or not the final count is honest or if the fraud is just dulled to a less suspicious but otherwise effective level (if at all). What election accountability can be offered to an average citizen? (What you should definitely not do is go rioting or looting, like some people like to do. And anyway, while the presidency and the right to a free and fair election may be dangerous to tamper with (if we ever really had that in the first place), the real disasters are a bit further down the domino line.)


Quick note on abortion

Only tangentially related, but a few months ago some siblings and I were discussing the issue of abortion insofar as voting Democrat vs Republican was concerned, and a quote from Sister Joan Chittister came up:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

This is a sentiment which I’ve heard echoed from several other Catholics, the implication being, as far as I can tell, that the issue of murdering unborn children is really of little political importance because Republicans’ pro-life stance is actually just “pro-birth”; as Chittister implies, Republicans don’t actually care about unborn children. How does she know? Because they disagree with how tax money should be spent.

Two problems with this: 1) It’s an illogical assumption of bad faith, an ad hominem. “You don’t care because you disagree on tax policy!” No, disagreeing on tax policy is not evidence of indifference. 2) Even if it were true that Republicans were indeed “pro-birth” instead of “pro-life”, so what? That still wouldn’t justify killing babies. “Killing unborn babies is wrong.” “Well, you don’t really care… so actually it’s OK.” No; whether murdering unborn babies is right or wrong should not depend on what you think someone else actually thinks.

I’m tempted to go on about how merely throwing tax money at social problems is not necessarily helpful in and of itself, and is hardly representative of the sort of charity that Christianity calls for, but maybe I’ll do that later.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Tunesage

Quick TuneSage progress update

I haven’t blogged in a while, so I thought I’d give a very brief progress update on TuneSage.

I’m currently finishing work on the melody generator, which is the heart of TuneSage, as I think melodies are the strongest driving force of music. I’m hoping I can start releasing some examples by the end of the week. And whenever I start releasing examples, I’ll try to release multiple examples per day until TuneSage actually launches to try and build up some anticipation.

I’ve rewritten the melody generator from scratch, so it will hopefully perform much better than any other version I’ve written so far.

I want to launch TuneSage as soon as possible, preferably before the holidays. I’m currently aiming for November 25th since that’s my birthday. Upon its initial release, it will likely be “bare bones” feature-wise. You’ll be able to generate melodies and chord progressions, but probably not much else.

That said, there’s still a ton of work to do on the front-end, so I probably won’t make that November 25th deadline, but I’ll try my best.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Interesting things

Jurassic Park as plotted by AI

Lately I’ve been fooling around with play.aidungeon.com, particularly its “Dragon” model, which is perhaps based on GPT-3 (though I’m not sure). While the app is biased towards generating second-person adventure game text, I have found it fun to feed it some plot summaries and let it generate a continuation. The results are nonsense, illogical, and inconsistent, but funny.

In regards to story writing, the app can be a lot of fun for generating random ideas, but it’s just about useless (so far as I can tell) for generating appropriately constrained ideas, which are far more important to story writing. Stories, after all, have to go somewhere. Plots develop, characters develop, tensions rise and fall, etc. With only random ideas, the story just kind of meanders around randomly. Perhaps some of its pointless meandering can be tamed with proper prompting, but I have not yet found an effective strategy to achieve this. Perhaps future apps will be better designed for such a purpose, but perhaps it is just an inherent limitation with the AI model itself.

Below are the results of one of my expirements with having the app continue the plot of Jurassic Park. The first three paragraphs are copied from Wikipedia’s plot summary of the film, and the rest is from the AI. You can see that it makes very little sense, and would make a pretty terrible movie, but I found it humorous.

Another experiment involved having it continue the plot of the film Clue, in which Mr. Boddy’s ghost terrorizes the guests and Mrs. Peacock kills Mr. Green with an icicle. In yet another, the AI continued a biography of Mozart by having him get married at age nine and grow up to play pianos in taverns and murder his cousins.

Here’s the Jurassic Park plot continuation (the first three paragraphs are the prompt):

Industrialist John Hammond has created a theme park of cloned dinosaurs, Jurassic Park, on Isla Nublar, a Costa Rican island. After a dinosaur handler is killed by a Velociraptor, the park’s investors, represented by lawyer Donald Gennaro, demand that experts visit the park and certify its safety. Gennaro invites mathematician and chaos theorist Ian Malcolm, while Hammond invites paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler. Upon arrival, the group is shocked to see a live Brachiosaurus.

At the park’s visitor center, the group learns that the cloning was accomplished by extracting dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes preserved in amber. DNA from frogs was used to fill in gaps in the genome of the dinosaurs. To prevent breeding, all the dinosaurs were made female. Malcolm scoffs at the idea, saying that it will inevitably break down. The group witnesses the hatching of a baby Velociraptor and visits the raptor enclosure. During lunch, the group debates the ethics of cloning and the creation of the park, and Malcolm warns about the implications of genetic engineering.

The group is joined by Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex and Tim Murphy, for a tour of the park, while Hammond oversees the tour from the control room. The tour does not go as planned, with most of the dinosaurs failing to appear and the group encountering a sick Triceratops. It is cut short as a tropical storm approaches Isla Nublar. Most of the park employees leave for the mainland on a boat while the visitors return to their electric tour vehicles, except Sattler, who stays behind with the park’s veterinarian to study the Triceratops.

[AI’s continuation]

Meanwhile, Malcolm enters the control room to find that the computer system has been sabotaged. He hacks into the system and finds that Hammond is dead and his son Michael has taken over. As he attempts to escape, he runs afoul of an angry Tyrannosaurus rex who chases him through a tunnel leading out of the building. He returns to his car where he is attacked by two more T-Rexes.

Malcolm manages to drive away, but is pursued by a third T-Rex. A fourth one follows, which knocks him off the road and onto a rocky hillside. He calls out for help and is rescued by Ellie Sattler, who drives up alongside his car and opens fire on the pursuing Tyrannosaurs. She kills them both with her rifle before they can reach Malcolm again.

Back at the visitor center, Malcolm tells Ellie that she saved his life and that he owes her a debt of gratitude. She asks if he wants to come back to the island with her, but he declines. He says there are things here he needs to do first. Meanwhile, Hammond’s grandson Lex has returned from the mainland and reports what happened to his father. While he’s explaining the situation, Hammond notices through a window that one of the rival bioengineers, Ed Regis, is in his proximity.

Hammond rushes out and shoots Regis multiple times before being restrained. He declares that they are at war, before ordering the computer system to be destroyed with a flamethrower.

The film then cuts to the outside of the visitor center, where there is a scream of pain from Ian Malcolm as the building explodes.

The following morning, law enforcement arrives on the island. Gennaro briefs them on the situation. While searching for survivors, they discover that all of the dinosaurs have been killed. The footprints discovered near the visitor center belong to a henchman working for the island’s owner, Peter Ludlow. Ludlow had learned that Hammond was dead and believed that he could get away with claiming the island. He also realized that he was trapped there with several hostile dinosaurs.

The second coup happens in the hospital room where John Hammond lies dying. His granddaughter Kelly has taken over his role as head of InGen and has accelerated the timetable for building a new Jurassic Park in San Diego. However, a police sniper takes her out from a nearby building, mistaking her for Ludlow. The blame shifts to Ludlow. The actual culprit is Ed Regis, who storms the room.

After killing Ludlow with a gunshot to the face, he shouts out that he didn’t kill anyone and that Ian Malcolm was the murderer before escaping via helicopter. With InGen destroyed, Hammond dead, Ludlow dead and Regis on the run, a third shadowy group is suggested as being responsible for the attacks. The investigation suggests that they have no known motive or target.

The book ends with ‘DNA donkeys’, a note about the next entry in the series Tey cats and a reminder that there are fourteen new engravings made out to readers of this book.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

The meaning of facts

Someone shared this comic on facebook (from drawninpowerpoint):

I criticized the comic because, although the comic clearly portrays one character as the more ignorant, the two characters are really behaving similarly; their viewpoints are just based on articles from sources they trust. They are not doing the work of exploring or questioning the reasons they trust those sources in the first place, or the implications of accepting what those sources say. One character just takes for granted that her source is “objective” and “scientific”, as though the other character would just accept such an analysis at face value. Not only are they not questioning the foundations of their disagreement, they seem unaware that such foundations even exist; it’s just one source of information versus another.

This points to the larger issue that these characters (and many people in the real world) seem to take for granted: facts are never “just facts.” News, even if it is accurate and factual, is never “neutral.” The facts, the news stories, are embedded with meaning. Editors at a news outlet (or even a prestigious scientific journal for that matter) selected that article or that set of facts for a reason. You, as the reader, will interpret the meaning of those facts. How you interpret that meaning will be based on a lot of personal factors, but it won’t be objective. A fact, in and of itself, may be objective, but its meaning is never objective. The meaning of a fact must be formed through your understanding of the world, your interests and values, and even the choices you’ve made.

So arguing with someone that, “You just believe that because you watch too much Fox News!” or “You just believe that because that’s the consensus on Tumblr or Twitter!” is a useless argument, a sort of reverse appeal-to-authority fallacy. Perhaps it is true, but it takes for granted that there’s some other source more worthy of trust. That is, what news sources you trust is itself founded on something deeper, including the way you form meanings from facts.

This also goes for arguments of “this news is neutral, this is more biased, etc.” It’s all biased because it’s all filtered. And you get meaning from that filter whether you like it or not, so you might as well be conscious of it and think about it while you consume it. Why is this news outlet reporting this news story? The significance may or may not be political or controversial, but a reason exists, even if you do not have enough information to guess why.

And what about all the facts and the news you don’t know about because it never reaches you? You can’t use news that doesn’t reach you to form any meaning at all! But it still exists.

My point with all this is not to argue that news should be “more fair” or “more objective” or anything. My point is that news can never be “fair” or “objective” in the first place, so you, as a consumer of news, should be aware of the set of presuppositions with which you form meaning from the news, and you should think about what meaning the presenter of the news wants you to have, whether or not it’s controversial.

A digression, but this is the same sort of problem I’ve ranted about before in regards to our formal education system in the US, especially in the higher grades. Many parents, students, and teachers take a lot learning material for granted. So much of what is taught in high school and college is just useless information because the student is never going to use it. The facts lack meaning. Very few students are going to end up using chemistry and calculus, and certainly not to the extent that they need to memorize and regurgitate a bunch of facts about them this year or else. But then the student grows up and forces his child through the same wasteful system.

This whole topic is also interesting to me because it relates quite a bit to artificial intelligence. What does it mean for a set of facts to “mean” something at all? How could we program a computer to form “meaning” from a set of facts? It’s easy to understand how a human might do it, but when we try to define it formally, it’s like trying to catch a cloud. Get too close to a cloud and you lose the shape of it and you’re just lost in a fog. But I find it a fascinating question.

This also relates to how science is not nearly as “objective” as the usefulness of the scientific method may make it seem. Much of what we call “science” is in fact subjective interpretation, the forming of meaning from facts. The scientific method provides a useful way of honing in on the most practically useful sets of factual interpretations, but they remain just that: useful interpretations. Not immortal objective truths. This does not mean immortal objective truths about the material world don’t exist, only that science doesn’t tell us what they are; rather, science only provides us with a “most useful guess for a given set of purposes based on a given set of data.” (The scientific method should also not be confused with merely interpreting meaning from statistical data; collected data for which we could not control certain variables is much more tricky to interpret, despite our mind’s natural inclination to do so.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

War and Peace vs Dune, and stuff

Reading

I finished reading Dune last week. I didn’t much like it. I thought it was boring. So if the soon-to-be-released new film adaptation isn’t great, a big reason is probably that the source material isn’t that great. I recently started reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and in doing so I realized one big reason I found Dune so boring: there’s no humor. Or at least there’s very little humor that I noticed. The book, and the characters in it, took themselves too seriously. Too me, lack of humor makes stories feel too fake. Not enough emotional contrast I guess.

War and Peace, on the other hand, has a good amount of humor sprinkled in, sometimes from characters, sometimes in just the way Tolstoy describes things. I’m only on page 250 of 1000+, but the reading itself is not very daunting. Tolstoy’s prose (at least the translated prose; I’m reading the Maude translation) is very dry. This happened, then this, and this. Straight to the point. No long flowery ambiguous descriptions. No Dickensian run-on sentences. (Though Dickens at least wasn’t too flowery either, for the most part. At least, as far as I remember; I haven’t read Dickens since high school, which was sixteen years ago.) So it’s very approachable, despite its age. It’s just really long. It feels very analagous to a modern TV show; it jumps around between a lot of different characters. It began as a serial back in the day, so I guess that makes sense.

One archaic phrase in this translation that annoys me though is when people “screw up their eyes.” I guess that means something like squinting or furrowing one’s brow? Definitely not something people say (or write) nowadays.

I’d like to finish the book by the end of the month, but I’m probably too slow of a reader.

TuneSage

Still working on TuneSage! I would definitely love to release the first version of it before the end of the year, even as soon as the end of September if I can. A lot of that will depend what “features” I include in the first version. It probably won’t be much at first, because I just want to get it out there. Anyway, I’m finally returning to work on the front end. There’s still a lot of stuff to do on the back end, but working on the front end will probably help me decide what features I want or don’t want for the initial release as I try to design a possible “workflow” for users.

Whatever else

I’ve uploaded more “thrift store finds” videos on my second YouTube channel; eBay flipping has been a fun side-hussle, easy and addicting. Just keep a social distance and wash your hands constantly. (And wear your mask, even though they fog up your glasses and then you have to take your glasses off and you can’t see anything.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Random thoughts

Thoughts on Trovedex

It’s been about two months sinced I launched and starting using Trovedex, and so I’ve got some thoughts on some improvements I’d like to make at some point. As of this writing, the site only has 7 registered users. One of them is me, half of the remaining are also me testing from different email accounts, and the rest are others who just tested it. So I’m pretty much still the only “real” user. Which is fine, because it means if I make some drastic changes, nobody will care.

One of big things I’d like to do is organize notes into “Notebooks”, as other note-taking apps do, just so things are a little more sorted, and perhaps look a bit more wiki-ish. I’ll probably have the full-page view be the default. I’d like to see it perhaps look more like Observable‘s notebooks. It doesn’t need to be as complicated, although being able to insert interactive javascript code would be nice. (I actually wanted the released version of Trovedex to allow user-provided javascript, but it’s not a very trivial feature to add with Vue, so I moved it to the wishlist.)

Of course, even though I’m using Trovedex for some things, it still does not beat using pen and paper, mostly because they allows me to draw little diagrams and arrows and stuff, which isn’t so easy to create on the computer (possible, but not nearly as easy). Perhaps giving Trovedex an SVG overlay shape creator would help. This note-taker on YouTube seems to really like an iOS app called Notability:

It’s only available for iOS though, and I don’t want to shell out money for Apple’s overpriced hardware for the sake of one app. Also the guy’s handwriting is super sloppy, and I’m not sure if he’s just got naturally sloppy handwriting (he’s studying medicine after all, and doctors are required to have sloppy handwriting), or if a digital pen on a digital touchscreen is contributing to the sloppiness. I’m writing this post on an HP Spectre laptop, which has a touchscreen with pen-writing capabilities, but it’s not great for drawing, much less writing; the precision just isn’t good enough. Although perhaps I could try the paper-like screen protector he recommends.

All that said, I’m not sure when I’ll actually get around to updating Trovedex; my focus is back on TuneSage for now!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Purchases

Thrift store finds

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this here before or not, but for the past few years I’ve been making some money by selling stuff on eBay, usually flipping thrift store finds, which is fun and easy. Today I thought I’d start vlogging some of what I found.

Not sure if I’ll keep vlogging my finds or not, but it may actually be good speaking practice for me, which I think I need.

I was also thinking about filming something for YouTube’s upcoming Life in a Day project. I have no expectations that anything I film will be found interesting enough to highlight in their final product (just as TwoSetViolin ignored my beautiful violin composition), but it could be interesting to look back on in 2030.

By S P Hannifin, ago