Tom Pittman's WebLog

Earlier this year

2017 November 18 -- Racing vs Driving

He drives race cars. So he says, but obviously not any time I'm talking to him. He went to racing school, so he knows how to squeeze the last millisecond out of each turn. Racers care about such things. I don't. I just want to get where I'm going with not very much cognitive energy, so I can use it on something more productive. Besides, competitive sports like racing cars is against my religion (see my essay "Winning the Game of Life" some ten years ago). I won't begrudge your right to do it, but it's not what I want to do -- nor even to help others to do.

So I'm mentoring this computer summer camp for high-school programmer nerds. This guy was talking autonomous cars, so I offered a project for the kids that everybody knows is exceedingly difficult, but with a few simplifications (like, the pedestrians wear solid colors), quite doable. Just to be sure, I wrote it myself. I do that. When I taught college, while the students were taking the midterm or final, I sat there and took the test also -- it became my answer key -- just to make sure it could be done in the available time. I do that. It was great, the kids made an awesome presentation of their running program (see "Summer Videos"). That was a vision problem.

This year, to up the ante, they will actually steer the car. Again -- with a few simplifications, like paved streets lines on the sides of the lane -- it's easier than most of the people in the industry assume. Maybe the kids will finish early, and we can't have that, so he's trying to suggest some challenges to add on. Start with racing.

Now you need to understand that racing is a science -- remember, he went to school to learn how. Driving down a country road, you just want to stay in your lane. Racing, you don't want to do that at all, but rather swing wide at the start of a curve, hug the inside apex, then swing wide coming out. The broader your sweep, the faster you can take the curve with out spinning out. That means you need to know ahead of coming up on it, exactly how tight the curve, and how long it curves, so you can calculate the minimum curve to make ith through. The key words here are "know ahead," the car must memorize the track. Race drivers are allowed at least one trip around their track to memorize it. We can do that, but it's an order of magnitude more work to program it, maybe two or three orders of magnitude. Like the difference between high school driver training and multi-thousand-dollar racing schools like he went to.

He found an open-source consortium of experimenters trying to autonomously drive model cars like we are planning this next year, and colleges and even races. So the kids can download existing software to steer the car using neural nets. Maybe it won't be a big enough challenge, so have them race. That's like if making a PBJ sandwich for lunch is too easy, then by all means make a 14-course dinner using forty exotic ingredients. If hanging a picture on the wall is too easy, add a whole second floor.

I can make the car stay in the lane by steering for the center of the lane. With not very much effort, the same heuristic can pass cars (steer for the center of the passing lane) or even avoid rear-ending a slower vehicle (the pavement effectively stops at the shadow cast by the car in front). So he says, but if we're racing, then if I know your heuristic, I can fool your computer. Um, yes, you as a person can do that, but you're not driving that car, another computer is, and that computer's neural net is already bogged down staying in the lane. Besides, we're not racing. This heuristic doesn't work for racing. If the kids want to encorporate all those racing science tricks, they can, but they won't finish in 4 weeks.

2017 November 11 -- Re-Using Software

It wasn't the first time I've been asked about re-using previously written software, so I gave my stock answer, "I hang it up on the wall for inspiration while I rewrite it from scratch." It often takes me about as long to figure out what (even my own) previous code does and how to use it, as it does to rewrite a focussed new version from scratch. Sometimes I copy and paste parts of previous code, but those are always the parts with the most errors when I go to compile and debug it, so it still costs about the same time as a complete rewrite.

Then it occurred to me that today I was re-using some code I wrote earlier this year. There is so much detailed work to make a friendly gooey (GUI = Graphical User Interface) window environment -- and every framework does it differently -- so I built a whole template of how to do it in Java, which I copy and modify when I need a program to run in pure Java (like the stuff I give the summer camp kids). My template is still getting tweaked (even today, when mouse clicks weren't coming through), because getting code to be properly re-usable is a huge project, an order of magnitude more work than just getting it to run for one use.

Later, after I'd said all that and he'd replied positively, it occurred to me that software re-use is an expression of your religion (like the preference for incremental software design, see "The Problem with 21st Century AI") in pretty much the same way. If all the the complexity in the universe came about by the accumulation of random errors building on other chance events, then software design should be incremental in the same way, because that's the way the universe works. If on the other hand, the universe does not work that way, if things tend to run down (and not improve) when left to their own devices -- the law of physics which makes that claim is called "entropy" and the reverse supposition called "evolution" is without scientific evidence, see "Biological Evolution: Did It Happen?" -- if the laws of physics deny long-term incremental improvement, then the best computer programmers will also conform to the universe and its God-given laws and work by fiat Design. I do that, but not always consiously relating it to the Design vs Darwin conflict. Today it is conscious and intentional.

2017 November 6 -- Story of Your Life

I spent some 50,000 hours -- give or take 20% -- over 20 years developing a Bible translation program (see, and it works reasonably well, but I lack the administrative skills to assemble and motivate a team of people to take it the next step. In the process I learned a lot of linguistics, but that's another story. So I'm working on other things now -- and reading more fiction. About a month ago I brought home from the library this monster book of science fiction, nearly 1200 pages, more than a hundred short stories, many of them heavily and openly feminazi (I skipped over those), many of them unashamed fantasy (I'm more into hard sci-fi with credible science, so I also skipped the fantasy, too many of them after reading for a while). Each story had an introduction by the editor, telling something about the author and a little about the story. That's how I mostly knew what to skip.

For a story near the end (p.1097) the introduction explains:

Although [the author] is not a linguist, his portrayal of linguistics in the story -- including language universals and writing systems -- rings true for those who are professionals in the field. The issue of linguistic relativity plays a role in the story, including the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which holds that the structure of a language affects a speaker's conceptualization of their world...
I'd never heard of Sapir-Whorf, but I knew the principle -- even programming languages affect the skills of the programmer! It was a fascinating read. The editor was right: the story was linguistically plausible -- that's why I so dislike feminist and fantasy stories, because their science is so unbelievable -- and also that the author was no linguist himself.

His heroine -- in all modern finction the smartest person is a woman, even the non-feminazi stuff where the only feminine qualities are her name and the pronouns used to refer to her -- she writes in her report,

I suggested that the term "logogram" was a misnomer because it implied that each graph [alien word as written] represented a spoken word, when in fact the graphs didn't correspond to our notion of spoken words at all.
Perhaps not all linguists know enough Greek to understand how nonsensical that is. The Greek word for a spoken word is 'rhema' but it is not used in very many English borrow-words so it's relatively obscure; 'rhema' is different from 'logos' which refers more to the entire communication or idea, as in the English words derived from it, "logistics" and "logical" and "apology" and "biology" and so on; in the Greek New Testament it is also used for a ledger or accounting of one's income and expenditures, and in Luke 19:22 is mistranslated in every Bible I've seen. The term "logogram" is exactly the right Greekism to use for what she (the heroine) and he (the author) were trying to convey there.

The same idea is further developed, that these aliens had a different written language than their spoken language, that an adverb was a slightly different shape in the written language, but an add-on word when spoken. I can't find it now for this review, but I remember her saying that no human cultures had a different written language from what is spoken. Obviously the author is no linguist, because I suspect every linguist worth their salt knows that Chinese is such a language (the only one). The written language has no linkage to the sounds of spoken Mandarin or Cantonese (which are each unintelligible when heard by a speaker of the other who has not specifically learned it), and yet the written script is used all over China for some 50+ different languages. The written language is the unifying element in China, just as Luther's German Bible unified the splintering dialects of Germany. Chinese characters are also borrowed into Korean and Japanese by educated people (probably to prove they have the leisure time to learn so many characters with no relationship to the sound of their words), while the native languages in both cases is alphabetic and keyed to the sound of the the words in those languages as is true of every other language in the world -- although less so in English.

But even the most scientific of sci-fi, the author occasionally makes science errors, as you have seen me call attention to here in my blog (see frex "Lethal CO2: 5000 ppm?" three years ago). It doesn't spoil the basic quality of the story.

More jarring (and harder to wrap my head around), the author decided to give his readers a taste of the timeless parallelism of his alien language by carrying along an unrelated side plot, the linguist explaining to her dead daughter how she (the mother) thought of her daughter, all of it written in future tense even though the events were all past and jumbled around in no particular chronological order. It didn't work for me, and it took me most of the story to figure out what he was doing, but you gotta give him something for making the effort. Sort of like making his lead linguist a woman because that's the religion of Western intelligensia, unrelated to the science. Whatever. There are woman linguists (and other scientists), but never more than in proportion to the gender difference between Thinkers and Feelers. Any attempt to claim otherwise is "religion" (believing what you know ain't so), in our case the government-funded Established religion of the country.

2017 October 16 -- Predicting Movie Outcomes

I get invited out more here than in other states -- it probably has more to do with why I'm here than the hospitality of the locals -- but anyway, the entertainment of the day was a movie which the hostess acquired from the low-price bin at the local WalMart. I think it was the most intense white-knuckle flick I can ever remember seeing. At my age that doesn't say much: I have to carry to the library a list of all the movies I've seen, because I found I was taking home too many flicks I didn't recognize by reading their jacket at the shelf, but a few minutes in, I remembered not only that I'd seen it and also that I had not thought highly of it (probably why I forgot it ;-) As I was saying, it was pretty intense. However, the movie industry is a profit-making business, so some things can be predicted in any movie:

1. The child in the supporting role -- in this case, the President's son -- will survive. We have hard-wired into our brains an unwillingness to see children hurt. God put it there, not "evolution," because we are pretty much equally protective of other people's children as our own, which does not contribute to the differential survival of our own genes over theirs. Consider how much we castigate the military for killing "innocent" children in combat zones, nevermind that if we don't kill them, they grow up to be angry jihadis out to kill us. The Darwinists cannot explain that. The point is, if the kid gets killed, people will hate the flick, and it loses money. The kid will survive. The kid did survive.

2. The hero will survive. Not always, but they can't kill off the guy who's going to be the hero of the sequel. When they put that much money into a flick, they want a sequel. Connan Doyle got tired of Sherlock Holmes and tried to kill him off, but his readers wouldn't let him. There is a social contract between the audience and the writer of gripping fiction: There will be a sequel. There was a sequel, because the hero survived.

3. The heroine (usually the hero's significant other, if she is at risk) will survive. Not always, but if only one person survives besides the hero, it will be the kid (if there is one) or his lady love, or some other woman. Nevermind what the feminazis try to tell you, God made women vulnerable, and men have a God-given duty in them to "protect the women and children" (not necessarily in that order) and they all know it. Even the Bad Guys know it, which is why the coward jihadis hide behind women and children. The one survivor from the seige in this flick (besides the hero, the Prez, and his kid) was the one female Cabinet member. The Bad Guy was going to have her killed with all the world watching (no spoiler: that's what Bad Guys do) but the hero took out the killer.

I got to thinking about these invariants, and it occurred to me that the reason we cannot have the women and children die is because nobody believes in Heaven and salvation any more. When Christians die, they go to Heaven, which is better than anything we have here. Not even the "Christians" (here in America) believe that any more, we are too rich. Jesus said it is "hard for a rich man" to get to Heaven. It's too comfortable here. Jihadis go directly to Heaven when they die in the Cause, so they make intractable foes. It's a totally different mind-set.

I got home too early to go to bed, so I put on a flick I got from the library. It wasn't obvious from the jacket that it's a Christian flick, but when the young heroine tacked on a formulaic "in Jesus Name" at the end of her prayers, you knew. The pagans don't do that. The Christians in the pagan movies don't do that. Unlike the wimpy Christian fiction I try to avoid, this story did not completely fit the "Four P's" ("predictable, sugar-coated=polite, preachy, and poorly written") I first became awar of five years ago. Totally not predictable... well, maybe I should have known the guy would become a Christian, they always do that, and the language was polite, despite opportunities to rub our faces in the gutter, only a tiny bit preachy but nothing like most Christian stories, and it actually was a compelling story. Maybe the acting was a tiny bit wooden, but easily overlooked because the story grabs you.

Anyway, this flick proved my point about the kid surviving: she died, and it was OK, she went to Heaven, and made a point of saying so. They had an alternate ending where she survived, and it just didn't grab me like the preferred ending. She really was better off, because her life here sucked lemons. But only in a Christian flick.

2017 October 13 -- More Unintended Consequences

Nine years ago my thinking was "I wish the lawmakers would just go home." I still do. Did you notice? Even though Congress and the Prez are nominally the same political party, they still have gridlock. It's wonderful! Not so lucky here...

My friend in another part of Ore-gone proudly told me that the state has a law restricting suburban sprawl. What he didn't tell me is that crowding the houses together like that makes for nasty air pollution. Of course he has a lot of money, so he doesn't experience that problem. Apparently the law makes exemption for a small number of very expensive estates. Or maybe he bought his property before the law came into effect. In any case, he can't see -- nor hear -- his neighbors.

Today I live in the most expensive house I ever lived in my whole adult life, on the smallest lot in the whole time. The day I moved in, the air reeked of some stench I was unfamiliar with (you may recall I blogged it). More recently, the neighbor has taken to pounding on my wall (from inside his house). I think of it as another form of air pollution. I think his roommate doesn't like the pollution either, there are two black cars in the driveway, an SUV and one of those Chrysler gangster cars. Poor guy! He's been blasting his ears out so long, he's gone deaf. Now he wants the rest of us to join him in his disability. I don't agree. The pollution only happens when the SUV is gone -- and maybe for a couple minutes in the afternoon: I looked, and the guy was sitting in his car with the door open and not quite visibly swinging back and forth from the sound waves emanating from inside; when his "song" finished, he turned it off, closed up, and went inside. That sword apparently cuts both ways: last week I saw the door of the SUV open and large clouds of opaque smoke pouring out. They both each make the other one do their pollution outside, where it only offends the neighbors.

His roommate got home and the pounding stopped. Time to get back to work...

2017 October 4 -- Stealing Pizza

You know those ad flyers you get in your mail every month or so, this month there were only a few pages, the outside sheet of which had three of its four full-page ads for local pizza places. None of the pizza I've had here in Ore-gone is particularly good -- certainly not like RoundTable in Calif, nor even PizaHut in Kansas: my theory is that the farther you get from the chain home office, the lower the quality -- anyway, I was thinking that pizza sounded good and considered using one of the coupons, but then I noticed that one of the ads was for PapaMurphy, which I recall is take-and-bake; my sister who spent several years in the food service industry (including managing a pizza place) tells me that home ovens never get hot enough to do T&B properly, so that was out. The next ad had in fine print "+$2 baked" which made it T&B also. The third was Dominos but no interesting coupon specials; besides, their home office is in Michigan, so it's another loser (as I recall from Dominos quality in Calif).

So I was mentioning this to my sister, and she said the only pizza place in her small town was PizzaHut, but they went broke and closed down. It seems the employees were stealing from them, making up arbitrary pizzas and writing them off as "client refused," then each taking three or four pizzas home. She was incensed. It seems to me that in today's post-Christian culture, remote business management is foolish and mostly impossible -- remember Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov? "If there's no immortality of the soul, then there's no virtue, and everything is lawful" -- the owner should have had somebody there he trusted. I learned that myself, trying to contract an out of state business to manage some property as a rental. They are all a bunch of liars and thieves. According to Jesus [Luke 17:1] putting an irresistable temptation before them makes the owner also guilty. Don't do that.

To my sister I simply pointed out that the owner could have put a stop to it by declaring their take-home pizza as "other income" on their W-2. As I recall, the IRS rule is that the employer can give the employees food without declaring it as income only if the meals are consumed in connection with a necessary business function, for example, having them on the premises in case they are needed for an emergency during what would otherwise be their meal break. Not everybody understands the tax law, and she remembered things differently from when she was in the business, but her description is consistent with my understanding.

With pizza on my mind, I made one today, but home-made is not as savory as the ones you get out. Possibly the crust is different, this one tasted like a cookie: No wonder, sugar is there in the ingredient list. Also I think the store-bought ones are much saltier, I'm not nearly so thirsty after mine as theirs. Whatever. I see there is also sugar added to peanut butter (read the label: most also have added oleomargarine "hydrogenated peanut oil") and sugar is even added to canned peas. sigh Buy "organic" and they probably add "organic" sugar (and raise the price). When I was researching my "Factory Farm" essay, I learned there is no detectable nutritional difference other than price (cost of labor). Home-made pizza is more labor (for me) than store-bought, but takes less time and costs a lot less. In Kansas and Misery and Taxes I could buy grocery pizza for $2 at Aldi's then add extra cheese, but those stores do not exist out here on the coast, and there is nothing comparable at WalMart. So I buy crusts (or pita bread) and add my own toppings. It costs more and doesn't taste as good (probably all that salt), but it works. Ore-gone doesn't have any good store-bought pizza that I know of. Remote management.

2017 October 2 -- Forced Conversion

He that complies against his will
Is of his own opinion still. -- Samuel Butler (1612-1680)
I was reading over the weekend about the current ruling RSS party in India, which seeks to turn that country into a "purely Hindu state." They are doomed to failure, as indirectly pointed out by their own novelist Aravind Adiga (I mentioned his White Tiger a couple months ago). There is so much corruption in the Indian culture that the most anybody can hope for is a pretense of success. Perhaps that's all they want: for all I know the Christians there may also be corrupt, but probably less so than the Hindus, because our religion teaches us to be good and honest and loving, whereas every other religion I am aware of makes no such effort (Mormons and Jews possibly excepted, but I don't know). The result is that the greater virtue of Christians shines an embarrassing light on the evil.

The curious thing is that only countries with majority non-Christian religions (and no recent memories of otherwise) have laws forbidding "forced conversion," but the only ones in violation of such laws (where they exist) are the ones pretending to enforce the law. This Christian fellow in India I was reading about was accused of "forced conversion," and then they took him into the Hindu temple and performed a reconversion ceremony on him. When he refused to recite the words, the bludgeoned him into unconsciousness. His wife and children were there too, praying out loud for his protection, but the only one they were beating up was the man. Why is that? They -- along with everybody else in the world but the feminazis -- know that men generally care more about the Truth than women, so he's the one who will cling hardest to his truth system. Convert him, and the family will come along to get along (or at least pretend to, which is probably good enough for the Bad Guys). But knowing that runs against a different religion.

The report did not tell us what the guy was saying there in the temple, nor why he alone was the focus of the Hindu attention, but if I found myself in such a poisition -- and had my wits about me -- I would probably remind my captors that their accusation is foolish: We Christians do not need to forcibly convert anybody, the RSS (or the Taliban in a nearby country doing the same thing) is doing it for us! Who wants to believe in a cruel god and in gods who urge their adherents to lie and steal and kill? It's a lot more pleasant to live in a culture where people are honest and good and loving. Furthermore, when people help each other instead of harming them, everybody benefits. That alone, ladies and gentlement, is why there is only one superpower in the world today, and why it is the richest nation in the world in all time -- with the possible exception of Solomon's kingdom 3000 years ago. More people want into our country than out; that's not true of India and Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and the other countries in the "10-40 window."

That's completely independent of any truth issue. Liars and thieves and killers don't care about truth, so you make a case to them that they can understand. Of course they don't want to -- just ask the hatemongers (you know who they are, they're the ones whining about "hate" all the time while hating just about everybody else they see) who have no message worth listening to, so instead of offering a reasonable explanation of why I should change my mind and agree with their point of view, they scream and riot. No wonder their side lost the election! If you want to live in a democracy, you need to convince people that your position is better than the opposition. Of course it helps if your position actually is better. And the system rewards those who succeed. Screaming and rioting and using foul language is not a way to get there. And if you don't want to live in a democracy, there are lots of countries without that benefit, go live there. Nobody does that, of course, because the nice people in this country (the ones who voted against Hillary) make it a much nicer country to live in. But we do that by allowing people we disagree with to have their say too. Sometimes the people I disagree with are right, and this country is a better place for everybody when everybody gets to have their say.

Anyway, the hatemongers and the jihadists and the RSS Hindus and yes, even the atheists, are all hypocrites. Some Christians are too, and I don't defend them, but the Christian message encourages social virtue, whereas the other religions do not. It's a tough argument to beat, and the cruelty of our opponents is all the "force" we need to make converts. Think about it.


2017 September 8 -- Summer Videos

Y'all know I spent four weeks in Portland this summer mentoring some high school kids in a summer day-camp, the NWAPW Year 2 (see comments here and earlier). The director had a couple videos made of the process. The first one is a short promo, with work scenes taken from the two groups, both the Design group I led, and also the Neural Nets (NN) group who met next door and didn't finish. The voice-over is narrated by one of the NN participants, and I think he makes that group sound better than real life. Whatever. Anyway, that's this flick:

The second video is some 40 minutes, pretty much the entire presentation the kids gave on the last day. It gives you a feel for the quality of work the respective groups did. My group presented first, then the NN group, followed by the director giving acknowledgements and urging donations, starting about 30 minutes in. I thought the actual meeting went a whole hour, so maybe they edited out parts:

I'm somewhat iconophobic, so I tried to stay away from the front of his camera, but that was not always possible. It looks like he edited out all those pieces, because I didn't see myself in here at all. Except for the director's wrap-up at the end, and a brief shot of some of the teaching assistants sitting against the back wall before the presentation started, the staff are not shown at all: this is about the kids, not us.

2017 September 4 -- Entropy, aka The Fall

It's Labor Day, and I'm not feeling very laborious today -- OSX is sooo broken. Maybe tomorrow...

In the early 1980s Steve Jobs was a visionary. He saw the future of desktop computers in a think tank run by Xerox, and he went back to Apple and made it happen. In the words of the famous 1984 SuperBowl commercial, "1984 won't be like 1984."

Like all visionaries, his ideas didn't sit well with the board of directors responsible for the company he founded, so he got pushed out. Like all visionaries, his ideas were better than anything they could replace him with, so they brought him back. Unfortunately, he had moved on from the brilliant OS he had created for the Mac: it was Apple proprietary, so he couldn't take it with him when he left, and the people he recruited to rebuild his vision were "unixies" (college fresh-outs, where they are drilled with unix, the only OS available in source code for university students to study and therefor become attached to), so his replacement was unix. By the time Steve Jobs came back to Apple, prior Apple management had brought in people who did not understand the MacOS and made a mess of it. Rather than fix it, Jobs sold the Apple management on discarding their "aging" 17-year-old 3rd-generation OS (see the introduction to my "Blueprint for a 21st Century Operating System") and replacing it with a "modern" 34-year-old 2nd-generation dinosaur with a thick layer of whitewash, which they now call "OSX" (as in Old, Stupid, former = "eX"). With Jobs no longer at the helm, Apple's OSX is now going backward even faster than when he brought in his team of eunuchs.

A recent item in the dead-tree magazine I read for news (no link: they need to monetize their on-line content, which means I cannot give you a working link to it; maybe that makes sense to their bean counters, but not to me) pointed out the recent discrepancies between the left-wing-bigot (my term, not theirs) management policies of high-tech companies like Apple for USA government, compared to the same policies applied to oppressive regimes like China. Apple refused to comply with American government requests to access the data in a dead criminal's iPhone citing "privacy" but (after Jobs is gone) they had no hesitation complying with China's requests to stop distributing privacy-enabling apps in the China market.

In the same article, Google's erstwhile famous motto "Don't be evil" was dropped from the new parent corporation. Although it is claimed elsewhere that subsidiaries like the namesake search engine business are free to (and in Google's case, did) retain the motto, the corporate policy obviously has a negative effect on compliance (see "Google Knows Nothing" last month).

I shouldn't be surprised, a wise guru long ago said "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." We in the USA enjoyed a couple hundred years of respite from the cognitive effects of that evil, but as the religious source of our prosperity is pushed out of the public life, its benefits also will disappear. A couple weeks ago I was reading a novel set in, and exposing the utter corruption of, India (see "It's a Mystery to Me") and I noted that our own future is every bit as dismal: I called it "entropy." Everything goes downhill, only God can push things up away from doom. I read the last chapter of the Book, and He does and will do that -- but the USA is not part of the solution. Repent!

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