Monday, September 28, 2009

more xkcd

As I demonstrated a few posts down I enjoy thinking of really big numbers. This includes thinking about eternity, which does come up when thinking about the afterlife, or life extension stuff. This is hardly a scientific survey, but I find that if I ever end up talking bout transhumanist stuff people often treat immortality as quite a short amount of time, like a thousand or a million years, which is really, really nothing like eternity.
I've never spent any time thinking of a way of trying to describe a long period of time in an intuitive way, though for ages I've like this example.
Say there's a giant iron ball the size of the earth and a fly lands on it an takes off every million years. When that ball has worn away to nothing eternity hasn't even begun yet.
While this doesn't really lend itself to easy retelling (and though it's really about boredom), this is much better.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

stupid economists


posts I don't understand

If I had to pick one person who I'd choose to model my thought on (or hope to emulate) it'd probably choose Robin Hanson.

So when I say this
our current era is likely unique in having the least contact with strange cultures. Our distant ancestors heard rumors from travelers about distant strange cultures. Our descendants may also have contact with strange cultures when they re-engineer themselves and fragment Cambrian-explosion-style into a vast space of possible creatures, grouped into local cultures.
doesn't make a lot of sense to me it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. But who wants to actually think about these things when one can immediately advertise one's own ignorance?!

Why do the (almost certainly inaccurate) rumors of strange cultures trump the access we have now? Maybe I'll figure it out...

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Stop whatever you're doing right now! Robin van Persie has admitted that he exaggerates falls. He doesn't dive, but he exaggerates his falls. This is simply shattering. Maybe if I start a Facebook group we can have him thrown in jail.

Recently an Arsenal player was suspended for two games for diving in an attempt to win a penalty (the suspension was later overturned) and Alex Ferguson was all for it, cos he's principled that way and would be fine if it were his player (Ferguson wasn't actually that bad but this is something that really annoys me so I'm being unfair).

Sentences like this (that are actually enforced) are the only way of getting rid of this kid of cheating and I think they should do it (even to players from Arsenal), but I haven't heard of any other players being banned for diving and I think it's, err, unlikely that he was the only one diving. In the little soccer I've watched so far this season I've seen plenty of players go down theatrically were the ref just waves play on. This is the way things are. The people in charge let it happen so in a sense it's hardly even cheating. Randomly punishing every 1000th instance doesn't exactly command respect.

English soccer isn't exactly the place where you'd expect cool heads to prevail, sanity is punished by raving morons, but I still think the way this issue plays out is almost indescribably pathetic.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

sentences like this on "serious" blogs are fun

It seems just physically impossible to create 10^140 or more lives we would value like ours per atom, even considering quantum computing and black hole negentropy. But could individual living standards be that high?
Just reproducing a post by Tyler Cowen.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just so you know

My voting mark finally grew out! I can vote again!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Moral discovery

Over the past year or so I've listened to some fantastic podcasts on ethics and read a book and Eliezer Yudkowsky posts on the subject. I have a hard time classifying what position I take on ethics, which is most likely motivated by the fond hope that one day someone will seek out my expertise and then sit rapt as I explain why I'm torn between the realist and anti-realist positions.

Beyond the Golden Rule, utilitarianism is the moral theory that most people are likely to have though about in some detail. It's intuitively appealing but also easy to think of utilitarian recommendations that most people reject. Utilitarianism is also assumed in just about all public discourse, though people seldom say so explicitly (we usually deny it).

I'm less phased by the horrible examples people use to discredit the theory than most people and have long thought of myself as a kind of utilitarian but I finally came accross a though experiment that really does make me pause.

There are about 10^(80) subatomic particles in the visible universe. So 10^(80) is a big number. 10^(90) is ten billion times bigger. Now imagine a number of the form 10^(999999999999999999999....) where you write the 9s as small as you can, and you convert all the matter in the universe into paper to keep writing 9s. The number you end up with is pretty big.

Now suppose there are that many people in the multiverse and you have to choose between all of them getting a speck of dust in their eye and one person being tortured for 50 years, what do you choose?

I choose the people getting dust specs in their eyes. This is difficult to square with utilitarianism, which makes me feel a bit weird.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I'm kinda hard on sports journalism, but I should give credit where it's due. The official ATP site has this to say about Juan Martin del Potro getting to the final
At the age of 20 years and 355 days, del Potro is the youngest US Open finalist since Novak Djokovic finished runner-up to Roger Federer in the 2007 final, aged 20 years and 100 days.
There has been one other final since then and Andy Murry was in it aged about 90 days older than del Potro is now.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Serena Williams and Emmanuel Adebayor

I've never been a fan of Serena so I'm glad her behaviour had some real consequences. Predictably, I'm annoyed that there's been some attention on whether is actually was a foot fault or whether she actually threatened to kill the line judge. As though gesturing aggressively and threatening to ram the ball down her throat wasn't enough for a code violation. Oh! But other people say worse things! Classy. I'm sure she's right about that, but I watch a fair amount of tennis and it's probably the worst behaviour I've seen.

I was a big Emmanuel Adebayor fan. I even blogged my fandom. It did seem reasonably clear that was an asshole, but I was just glad he was doing well for my team. Let that be a lesson to me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

the death penalty

I am against it except in extreme cases and I do think that the possibility of executing innocent people is a good reason to be against it, but I've never quite understood why finally finding a concrete case of wrongful execution is quite such a big deal. If we're executing a bunch of people I think it's bound to happen.

But it is a big deal and it seems like they have found a case in America. This article is brilliant and horrifying. I didn't think that the cast of CSI were working on these murder cases, but the stuff that went on is truly shocking. Apparently the fact that the guy had posters of Iron Maiden and Led Zepplin (!!) in his room showed that he had a fascination with violence and death. The arson investigators basically knew nothing and a real expert saying as much wasn't enough to convince the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant him a stay of execution. The governor also refused to grant a stay of execution claiming his decision was "based on the facts of the case."

If it's a topic that you feel passionate about, you should really take the time to read it.


I check the map thingie at the bottom of my sidebar from time to time. I like it because I think there's a good chance that hit hit it registers is from a live human.

I look today and apparently I got 343 hits in the past 24 hours. Somehow I doubt it.

this makes me slightly uncomfortable

As a rabid anti-Rafite

You might think I'd be happy that his quarterfinal had to be postponed, but I'm not.

The only thing more painful than watching Fed lose to Nadal in a final is Fed losing to Nadal in a final after Nadal has had to play 4 days in a row including two 5 set classics each lasting over 5 hours in the quarters and semis. And after Nadal has had a chance to say, "Getting to final is good for me no? Beating the best player in history when I'm so tired and injured will not possible no? All I can do is try my best and se what happens no?"




The streak started a year after he got his head right and will be ended partly because he's getting old.

Oh how that loss to Kuerten must haunt him!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Trevor had a post on Che a while back in which he mentions both my distaste for the guy and the lack of reasons on my blog. I've wanted to write a post but have been held back partly because, like Trevor, I don't know much about him and partly because I want to place how we think about someone like Che in a broader moral framework. Addressing both smacks of effort and while posting a half-assed blog post isn't a big deal, an ignorant post on a topic that people feel passionate about is a great way to make a really bad impression. But whatever, half-assed post it is.

I don't like Che because
  • he's a symbol (the quintessential symbol) of stuff I don't like. Socialism, Marxism, communism, violent revolution, anti-capitalism etc.
  • the way he is celebrated (that bloody photo everywhere) really aggravates me. That shirt is one of the crassest, most commercial things out there. The people who wear them usually don't know much about him. Anti-capitalism is just one of the products they love which capitalism provides.
  • he had people executed without any real kind of process. Given the gripes about the Bush administration this should count as a pretty bad black mark.
  • he was instrumental in bringing nuclear missiles to Cuba.

Even assuming the wikipedia article is biased I was a little surprised by how well he came across. I don't think he's this bad guy of historic proportions.

One of my concerns is one that I did try to get at in a previous post. If you think you're justified using violence to fight what oppression, on what grounds do you oppose the use of violence by other people who perceive oppression very differently to you?

It's a similar issue to the people who will cite free speech when defending their right to say extreme things but then suggest that Salman Rushdie should be killed because of what he said.

And while I agree with Trevor about not being so ready to divide the world up into good and bad (when it comes to this kind of history, I tend to think everyone is pretty bad), I do think this can be a tool that works a little in the direction of where our instincts point us in the first place. For example, my impression is that Trevor is very willing to categorise George Bush as being one of the very bad guys.

I'm thinking about getting a gun, and dealin' crack. Being a crack dealer. Not, like, a mean crack dealer, but like... like a nice one.

Kinda friendly, like, "Hey, what's up guys? You want some crack?".

Actually I'm not. Ricky Bobby is, but this is exactly what I thought of when I read Thomas Friedman saying this
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.

Starting a paragraph, "One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But..." is like starting a sentence, "I'm not a racist, but..."

Sure dictatorships don't tend to work out well, but that because I'm not the dictator! I know what needs to be done. All you people may think you know what needs to be done but you're wrong and since I can't convince you of your wrongness and my rightness, it's reasonable for me to request the power to simply ram my proposals through and no it is NOT reasonable for you to feel the same way.

Hey man, I don't have a job writing for the New York Times, I have written few bestsellers and I know how common this attitude is, but just come out and say it like this seems really lame to me. To feel no shame about effectively using that amazing platform to complain about how outrageous it is that some people disagree with you.

Good question

Well I think it's a good question, but it's probably one that will annoy Obama fanatics.

Obama says that health care reform can be paid for with the money they'll save by cutting waste in existing health care spending. Arnold Kling asks
And if we don't pass this plan, does he intend to keep the waste and inefficiency, out of spite?
Should the American people now hope that trillions of dollars is currently wasted? After all that would mean more money for reform right?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

great quote

"The fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to."

George Bernard Shaw.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

killer fact!

You get a lot more rankings points for wins at the US Open than you do for any of the other major tournaments. I don't know why this is.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


I watched District 9 on Sunday and even though it isn't really my kind of movie, I was really impressed.

I'm not entirely sure about how original I think it is, but that may be because I watched "The Fly" for the first time on Saturday where the protagonist gradually turns into a fly in a similarly gruesome way.

Originality in one aspect was definitely lacking though. The baddies work for an evil multinational corporation! Surprise! Apparently concerned that this fact would be lost on the audience, they call the evil company "Multinational United" and repeat a few times that it's privately owned. Maybe District 10 will take the logical next step and call it EMNU.