Happy Ent

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About Happy Ent

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    Godfather of the Weirwoods
  • Birthday 07/01/1968

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  1. A Single Country in the World

    I think I disagree here. Because you say “beyond us” (emphasis mine). See, Scot, I have you down as a Platonist. You worry a lot about Truth, what’s really Out There, what is the Ultimate, Innate, Ideal, True Form. This is pure Platonism. It is very well aligned with the view of Reality that many, many mathematicians have. They are logical positivists, and some of them ask Deep Questions about the Nature of Infinity, and Truth, and Whether The Integers Exist and the reals are just man-made, and so on. Not only do these deep-sounding questions hold the attention of a nontrivial fraction of professional mathematicians (say, Hilbert), they also attract the fascination of many amateurs (say, A Ellison). I mean this in the kindest way—there is a certain branch of physics that is able to attract the attention of the masses (say, me), to do with Quantum Shit, and I think maths is just like that—some questions sound as if they resonate with Deep Questions that the curious, idle mind will have thought about anyway, and science presents some more-or-less well-defined hooks to hang that folk intuition on. I have fuck-all to say (or even think about) solid state physics, but Quantum Shit really gets me interested. But science is not about truth. There is no Platonic world of ideals that we try to catch glimpses of. In particular, there is no Holy world of Mathematical Truth from which we are forever separated, nor was that proved by Gödel. Gödel just hammers home that inference (logical positivism) or induction are provably incomplete modes of reasoning, so the already-rejected idea that deduction is science is merely established yet-again using the deductionists’ own main weapon. As if that were necessary. Gödel convinces nobody interesting, he merely makes the stubborn Hilbert/Plato/deduction/logic crowd look even more absurd because he takes their only weapon and establishes Popper’s point in their own frame of reference. To sum up: Scientists: “Our quest is not the quest for Truth. Therefore, no confirmation.” (And Popper put this best.) (most of the audience goes home now. The film is over. Only two groups are left: the postmodernists who completely misunderstand this message. And the logicians.) Hilbert et al.: “But wait! Truth exists! We have all this fantastic machinery called math, and …” Gödel steps in, takes in the machinery out of Hilbert’s hands and makes Hilbert look foolish. The remaining people in the audience (von Neumann) also goes home. Caveat: Professionally, I’m a logical positivist, so Popper’s position is very far from what I’m paid to defend. (I’m a bit like a priest who lost Faith.)
  2. A Single Country in the World

    Yes, my own assessment would be that Gödel is “merely” a confirmation of Popper’s position (that maths and truth and positivism are intellectual abortions), and that furthermore Gödel’s confirmation of Popper’s position is epistemologically invalid (because it uses highly formal maths, which Popper finds irrelevant.) Note: the above is very much my interpretation of Popper’s position. What would be interesting is something from Popper’s own mouth about this. My hunch is that this exists, and I feel bad about not being an expert on this. I’ll put it on my list of stuff to obsess about.
  3. A Single Country in the World

    Interesting question. I am pretty familiar with both, so I should know. But I don’t. Popper was part of the Vienna circle, so he certainly knew about Gödel’s results, and must have had an opinion. There may be something in Logik der Forschung (which I never read). I simply don’t know. My hunch is that Popper’s epistemology has nothing to say about maths. Popper’s a critical rationalist, while Gödel killed the logical positivist movement. Popper doesn’t care about logical positivism, I think. I’ll try to read up on this. ETA: There is nothing on Gödel in Logik der Forschung.
  4. A Single Country in the World

    But the Spell of Plato is powerful magic. The only known antidote is to pop a Popper pill.
  5. A Single Country in the World

    What you advocate is some version of Plato’s Republic. A benevolent construction that runs society to the benefit of everybody. This dream has been with us for centuries, and most political philosophies are subject to this “spell of Plato” in some version or the other. I completely reject this. The main reason is the empirical observation that people has different goals, both as individuals and as groups. These goals are in conflict with each other. People simply disagree in how the ideal state looks, and this disagreement is a good thing. From this disagreement is born a rich tapestry of different ways of organising societies. This is a good thing; most human progress (intellectual as well as moral) is born out of this diversity of ideas (manifested in diverse organisational structures). The strongest antidote for the spell of Plato (and the totalitarian dream of a world government) is Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies (which, to my surprise, was immensely readable.)
  6. Why Tolkien is not coddling his readers, why Tolkien is awesome

    You don’t know the half of it.
  7. The Control Key (on a Mac)

    When I was an emacs user (which I was for 20 years or so), I always had Caps Lock mapped to Control. Control is of major importance for emacsing. You seem to move your hand from home row a lot. I try to avoid that (and my wrists are very grateful for it. I also type much faster that way.)
  8. The Control Key (on a Mac)

    My life sucks. Our good friends at Cupertino have graces us with an update of their operating system OS X (version 10.12, code name Sierra). It breaks the key remapping software that I and every other sane person on the world is using: Remap the useless Caps Lock key to both Control and Escape. You see, even normal people want to remap Caps Lock to Control. You never need Caps Lock for anything, and Control is a super-useful modifier key (for instance, the Mac natively supports both Ctrl-H (for backspace) and Ctrl-W (for delete word to the left) which—if you are a touch typist—makes your typing much faster and keeps your fingers on home row. Provided Ctrl is accessible, such as on the Caps Lock key. Of course, if you are like me, you do most of your typing (outside of Westeros.org) in Vim, so you need to tap Escape all the time. But—bliss!—the wonderful applications Seil and Karabiner made it possible to remap Caps Lock to both Escape (when the key is tapped) and Control (when the key is used in combination with another key, i.e., as a modifier.) Life was perfect. And now, this no longer works. I have remapped Caps Lock to Escape, because otherwise I’ll to crazy. That leaves Ctrl. I cannot even understand which finger you’re supposed to use—pinky? So how do you do Ctrl-W quickly, without breaking your typing? Or do you use the left thumb? These are honest questions. If you use Ctrl, please tell me how you actually access it. Otherwise, I’m tempted to remap it to right Command, which (as far as I can observe myself while typing) I never use. Does anybody have any experiences with that?
  9. If you started reading bits already, you’re fine. Remember: Do not lie. If you have progressed far enough to intelligently identify some missing prerequisite, that would be great: “You, it’s clear that this project would involve artificial fertilisation of young beeches a lot. I think I have the process for angiosperms pretty much internalised because of my internship at the Arboreal Indulgence facility last summer. But for gymnosperms I seem to be missing necessary linear algebra; I assume that would be an obvious candidate for course-work in my first term.” Be precise, realistic, determined, etc. Know what you don’t know, and signal willingness to remedy that. Use “By the way, how does the credit transfer system with the math department work,” smiling winningly at the head of studies who has been so far irrelevant in the interview. This puts the ball on the other side of the court. After all, this interview is about both sides pretending to be interested in the other side. (Of course, you should try to avoid smirking when talking about arboreal reproduction.)
  10. Great Ordeal Feedback

    “We two are one,” screamed Dave and Anasûrimor Lënnox, and plunged over the abyss, holding hands, into the arms of nothing.
  11. I have conducted many such interviews. They are all very different. Some interviewers are stupid and ask stupid questions. (Some candidates as well.) There are no hard and fast rules. The anecdotes you have heard vary widely because interviews vary widely. My suggestion is to be honest, because you can’t guess the hidden agenda anyway. Deal-breakers for me: Extreme narrowness/introversion. This is on a scale, of course. In interviews for a position in theoretical computer science, 3 extremely introvert persons (by normal people standards) will interview another introvert. But trust me that there are candidates so far out on the autism spectrum that even I can’t see how that candidate should function. (“Function” in all the other, secondary but important, issues you need as an academic. Sit in meetings, tutor students, hold TA sessions, give talks, hobnob at conferences, present my research at a poster session, etc. There are nontrivial people skills that even a Ph.D. student needs. And there really are extremely socially inept candidates. In fact, academic studies are one of the tiny niches that accept this demographic. We do use the interview to ascertain this, because your stellar grades and perfect research plan does not tell us.) We also need to make sure that you are not an asshole. Assholes exist. Another red flag: “I don’t really know what to do with my life, so I thought I’d try this.” You need to signal determination, or at least willingness to lie about it. Final dealbreaker: If you disbelieve that Varys planted Shae in Tywin’s bedroom.
  12. Great Ordeal Feedback

    One more piece of feedback to Scott, which I forgot. I love how you have kept the Mop off-screen in the last two books. Of course, the big reveal (when in the final battle of Gogotterath, when the Holy War stands on the brink of utter annihilation and the sentient trees of the Mop suddenly appear and kick some Consult ass) has been properly foreshadowed, but many readers will have forgotten this and be honestly surprised at the arboreal action in the TUC. I find this very well crafted.
  13. (Stands up next to matt b): We’re all preciousss.