Jan 23

On learning

One of my all-time favorite books is about math.

It’s Infinity and the Mind, by Rudy Rucker. I was reading adult mathematically-themed books and books about physics by the time I was in the fifth grade.

I understand most mathematical concepts – including some very high-level ones – better than many who have scored in the top echelon of students.

As a for instance, for several years I was friends online with a student at Stanford. He was in their quantum program. It’s a bit more technical than I want to get in here, but our dispute was over determinism and probability in quantum systems. His argument was that determinism was ruled out by quantum systems. I argued (correctly) that determinism was perfectly possible under several different valid at-the-time interpretations and probability models of QM. We argued about it for a long time, and then I told him to go ask his professor.

He later sheepishly told me that he’d talked to his professor, and that I was right.

The details don’t matter, and even if I’d been wrong, they still wouldn’t matter – the point is that I understand the concepts just fine in many areas where even those who practice using those methods don’t really understand their implications or exactly what it is they are doing when they use infinitesimals\limits or many other abstruse mathematical tools.

However, for the life of me, I cannot actually calculate (usually) even the simplest math problems that would be quite easy for a middle-schooler. I also cannot at all play chess (despite being in the chess club and playing hundreds of games over two years), I believe for similar reasons, despite understanding it conceptually just fine. I’d guess these two facts are related, as whatever cognitive deficit I have expresses itself in these two arenas. Also, I cannot solve even the simplest logic problem, no matter how long I spend or how patient I am.

This post originally intended to talk about teaching kids math using soul- and curiosity-destroying techniques, how the “transfer effect” that supposedly makes teaching math help thinking in other arenas is completely false, and the opportunity cost of these failed methodologies – but already this entry is too long, so I will just stop here for the moment.

Jan 22


This is extremely similar to the technique I have used to so successfully lose weight.

Studies discussed in Willpower by Baumeister show that the most successful method of, for example, not eating MnMs is to tell yourself that you can have some later.

People who said they could not have any wore down their willpower and eventually gave in.  People who said sure, they could have some, but not now, didn’t wear down their willpower and in the end, often didn’t have the candy later either.

What I do instead is to have a designated day where I can eat whatever I like. Since it is physically impossible for me to eat more than 4,000 calories or so in the 19-hour period I am awake that day (I don’t sleep much), it allows me to eat with abandon and be done with it without making me fat again.

I see some chocolate I really want? Yum, looks good, if I still crave it on Saturday, I can eat a whole bucket of it.

Damn, that pecan pie at the grocery store looks great. I’ll have it later on Saturday if I really want it.


It’s also a great method of eating much better food. I eat far better now than when I just mindlessly stuffed into my gaping maw whatever I pleased – and that includes every day, and not just on what I call “dessert day.” (Though on dessert day, I also tend to eat higher-quality junk food, even.)

That has many advantages. Higher-quality food if you can afford it is far more filling. I can eat less and fewer calories and be full longer. A $20 meal from Fresh Market fills me up for 2-3x as long as a very large meal from a fast food restaurant (about 10-12 hours for Fresh Market, about 4-6 hours for fast food).

But the blog post is perfectly right about helping depletion of willpower. I no longer have to exert all that much willpower at all to resist food I’d like to eat.

I just know that if I really want it, I can eat it all I like on Saturday. Very easy.

And that’s not to say it will work for everyone. I’m an extreme outlier in most areas, so it probably won’t. And frankly I don’t care if it works for anyone but me, as it does in fact very much work for me.

Jan 22


Sometimes – ok, most of the time — I think I was not born on this planet.

“Yet no matter how old you are, the music you listen to for the rest of your life is probably what you listened to when you were an adolescent.”

From this article.

I rarely these days listen to that much from when I was an adolescent. An occasional Smashing Pumpkins song, perhaps, mixed in with all the other great music I’ve found in the past five or six years.

And yet I know most people listen to what they did when they were 16 for some reason, and ignore all else.

You humans, you are strange and incomprehensible.

One day, I will return to my home planet.

Jan 22


I’ve now upgrowed (new strong past tense of “upgrade”) to Waterfox, a true 64-bit browser.

It’s a little bit slower at day-to-day usage according to benchmarks, but nothing I can notice. It has no 2GB process limit – which I often exceed – so now I can use all 32GB of memory and not have slowdowns when I have more than few dozen tabs open for a while.

I told ya’ll I’m a heavy user.

Jan 22


Was there an inauguration or something yesterday?

Great, another four years of a granny-starvin’ drone murderer. Just what the country needs.

To be fair, it’ll probably be better on the margins than the other granny-starvin’ murderer who didn’t get elected, but if it only matters on the margins, it doesn’t matter much.

Jan 21

As usual

As usual, I am atypical, but for me I was pretty much fully-formed mentally by the time I was 10 years old, so it makes no difference to me when I read or did read something.

I think I have gained a little knowledge since then, and a little wisdom – but not that much. I understand maybe 5% more than I did then.

Some people grow up fast. I was one of them.

Jan 21

No culture

I’m sure it’s from a combination of many factors, but I don’t seem to be a part of any culture that exists on this planet. Sure, I dwell in some of them – restively – but part of them? No, not by any means.

I play with computers, but I’m not a true geek really – I don’t fit the misogynist, dismissive-of-women mold that is almost demanded in that culture. And I actually like physical activity and don’t obsess over computer games to the exclusion of all else.

I love the outdoors, but don’t really fit into any of the hiking/trail-obsessive communities out there.

Photography is something I greatly enjoy and that I am even good at, but I’m not really into pixel-peeping and obsessing over hardware. And I don’t really see that as a group activity, anyway.

I’d consider myself smart and extremely-well read, but don’t really fit into that class as once most people figure out I have no college degree (nor any desire for one), I am excluded from that group even if I wanted to be part of it – despite having read and understood several undergrad college degrees worth of textbooks (yes, I did and do read the actual textbooks – reading two currently).

I could go on. For a long, long time.

This post came out of a discussion that Rose and I had about how difficult we find it to make friends, as we’re very evidence based and have low tolerance for people full of bad information that is divorced from science (which is most people).

And that we don’t really fit into any recognizable group as easily as other people do.

Not that I think we are paragons of reason, unassailable nonpareils of logic and intellectual ascendance.


But I do know we’re square pegs where there are only round holes.

Jan 20


I’m not criticizing anyone for making a “wrong” decision (as there is no wrong decision in this case), rather merely stating what I think and what I would do. I was mulling over this tweet as I was writing this.

Were I a young, bright, potentially college-bound kid today, I would not under any circumstances go to college if I had to take on any more than about $10,000 in debt. The job prospects are just too uncertain and at least in the US that debt will follow you around (and grow) forever if you don’t manage to land a decent job. That debt is also not able to be discharged in bankruptcy.

Now, going to college at all unless you can pay for it in full or receive a full-ride scholarship is an enormous risk, just as risky as buying a house was at the height of the housing bubble.

Some people will come out ok – but many will lose everything. That’s the nature of risk, and you never really know which side you are going to be on until it all goes up in flames.

So what would I do were I 16 again and didn’t join the army (as I did in real life)? I’d quit high school, immediately get a GED, and get all the technical and related certifications I could find, preferably on the more exotic and/or up-and-coming IT and similar systems out there.

Then I’d have a guaranteed job for at least 10 years, making more than most college grads.

If you really do want to go to college, work for 6-7 years, and save like mad. If you get a decent, hard cert and start a “real” IT job at 21, you should be able to save something like $70,000 by the time you are 26. Then go to college all you like.

Jan 20

Windows 8 ain’t for workin’

John Scalzi thinks the same as I do about Windows 8. It’s for Fisher Price playtime, and not for working. The same of course is true for Unity, Gnome Shell, etc., though I think Windows 8 is by far the worst offender.

I did this because simply put I’ve come to believe the Win 8 start screen, and the whole environment it propagates is just terrible UI for those of us who actually use their computers for work, rather than using them just to play games and get on Facebook. When I’m working I often have several programs open in several windows, and have those windows up where I can see them all, because each window has information relevant to what I’m doing. If I need to access additional programs, I don’t want to have to leave that environment; it messes with work flow.

Reading tech sites and all those who proclaim to love Windows 8, I quickly realized how few so-called geeks actually do any more with their computers than play with them – as no one who actually does any work with a machine could ever really use Windows 8.

Unity I can kind of make useful for work though it slows me down a great deal, but Windows 8 is hopeless. It’s like being back in Windows 1.0 again.

I don’t see how some company can’t not come up with an OS oriented to professionals. These clownish OSes designed for clicking on Facebook and typing “ROTFL” are not acceptable for someone who needs to get actual work done.