Tom Pittman's WebLog

Earlier this year / Later this year
 

2021 June 28 -- On Magic

One of the flicks in yesterday's entertainment suite annoyed me more than I expected. It was a Rowling piece, and in her universe, magic is an inherited ability something like X-men, but there are important differences, which she establishes by a retro steam-punk time frame, somewhere between late 1920s and mid 30s, judging from the vintage automobiles on the streets. The time frame is important, partly for the same reason as Arthur C.Clark's famous quote "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Modern technology is in fact indistinguishable from magic for most people, but we all know it is technology; therefore it cannot be truly supernatural (magic). On the other hand, many of us knew somebody who lived 90 years ago, and we know from personal experience that they were not superstitious idiots, contrary to our modern myths about a thousand or two thousand years ago. People were not superstitious idiots in the first century any more than they were in the most recent, but nobody knew them personally, so it's easier to maintain the fiction. And Rowling obviously chose that period for the same reason that steam punk and unix and "dark mode" computer screens are alive and well today: modern technology is beyond the average person's ability to comprehend it -- indeed nobody can comprehend even half of it (see my "The Dark Side" blog post a couple years ago and my contemporary essay "Retro Romance") -- and retro is a coping strategy for people who feel like they have lost control of their lives (which is true).

But that's not what I found annoying. Magic is about control. Only one major character in this flick did not have magical powers -- and he was the story clown, there to make the rest of the characters seem less foolish. Rowling carefully balanced the control The Bad Guy had over other people against the individually lesser but collectively greater powers of the Good Guys (necessarily led by a female). It's part of the social contract between story teller and the audience: The Bad Guy must be strong enough to inflict damage, but not so strong that the Good Guys cannot prevail in the end. Rowling understands and works that social contract very well.

But there is nothing in the nature of magic that makes that social contract necessary. Magic is, as I said, about control over other people, and that was very clear in this story. The story invites the audience to see themselves in the sympathetic role of the magician, the wizard or witch (she couldn't quite bring herself to violate hundreds of years of magical myth to make a female wizard; there are in the genre male witches, but they are properly called warlocks and rather rare: I saw none mentioned in this flick). But control was clearly exercised: the Bad Guy and one or another Good Guy pointing their respective wands at each other and fat electric sparks arcing across between them. The vast majority of the people, non-magicians or "no-majs" all of them, were consigned to a one-dimensional role of bystander standing in awe or fleeing in terror from the display of power, as tin Lizzies are tossed into the air and shattered into tiny fragments (digital all of it, nobody would sacrifice a real antique auto for a flick like this).

We all want control. Bullies do it in the school yards (and on into later life) because they can get away with it, and the rest of us look for other ways to dominate. Some of us not so much, but the temptation is compelling, so much so that Jesus told his disciples on several occasions, "Don't do that." GOD is in control, and good little Christians everywhere submit to God's Authority and power, and the rest of us will be surprised on Judgment Day. Magic is forbidden because it is about control. The primary Christian Virtue is the Golden Rule, which is violated when you try to control another person, whether by magic (which of course happens only in fiction) or money or bullets or excommunication, it's all wicked and God cannot allow it into His Heaven, because if He did, it wouldn't be Heaven for the victims of that abuse. If you want that control now, what makes you think you will willingly give it up at the Pearly Gates? Nobody gives up control voluntarily. Except by the Spirit of God.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I cannot empathize with the hero of this story and his colleagues, wizard and witches all of them, exercising control. And if I can't imagine myself in his shoes, it's waaay harder to enjoy the story. Rowling wrote a story to draw the audience in. People appreciate that, but not me, not for magical control.
 

2021 June 24 -- 451

Before today I always wondered at why a material like paper -- which has so many different varieties of density and porosity, not to mention additives -- should be said to have an autoignition temperature so precise as 451 and not a round number like 450 or 480. Google the question and something more than half the hits effectively quote the Bradbury novel title thesis, and the others give a more credible bell curve of values, mostly above 450 degrees F.

Today over lunch I was watching a flick I downloaded from Archive.org, apparently episode #11 of a juvenile TV series "Captain Z-RO" whose apparent purpose is to make history interesting to pre- and early teens. This one wondered why Attila the Hun with greater military might went down in defeat against the Western Roman Empire, in what was billed as a turning point in the history of civilization. The year was 451. Bradbury never said so that anybody noticed, but he obviously chose that number, not for the alleged flash point of paper, but because he saw his dystopian novel as similar in historical significance to the defeat of Attila in that year in the plains of Chalons -- it sounded like "Shalo(m)" with a stifled 'm' in the flick. Especially sci-fi authors tend to do that, looking to ancient historical battles (well documented, but nobody reads history any more) for story ideas and plot twists.

I'm still a few pages before reading about Attila in Gibbon, but the confluence of recreational viewing and more serious (but still avocational) reading sparked my interest. You'd think that Christians, whose faith was originally founded on historical facts, would be more into history than the average person, but it seems that most people who accept that name have a faith not based in history at all (see my discussion on Relationshipism elsewhere). Oh well. Jesus said there will be a lot of surprises on Judgment Day.
 

2021 June 18 -- The Moral Issue (for Me)

Why is this a moral issue, and not merely economic?

The stem cells are not the baby that was killed in 1973 or 1985, any more than the leg amputated from the wounded soldier is that soldier. The gangrene leg is amputated to save the life of the soldier, but the stem cells did not save the life of the baby. The baby was killed for other (immoral/unethical) reasons, and by using those stem cells rather than adult stem cells which involved no involuntary loss of life, the pharmaceutical companies -- or rather their decision makers -- are attempting to sanitize both the immoral killing of the child from which those cells came, and the national scandal that began in January 1973. The baby is dead, but let's not justify that death -- and by implication, millions of immoral deaths that continue even today -- by pretending that Good came of it. That same Good could have come from adult stem cells with no Evil precursor, no dead child in its wake, at worst a tiny higher cost insignificant against the multi-million-dollar profits the companies have already realized from the sale of these vaccines to the government.

In March 2020 the Governor of Oregon and the Pastor of one particular church took from me what I was not willing to give up. The Governor had no choice, she had to save thousands of lives by imposing general quarantine; the Pastor had other (less moral) reasons. I was inconvenienced, but nobody died. Babies died in 1973 and 1985 (and millions more in years between and since) and no lives were saved -- not even the lives saved by the vaccine, which could have been saved anyway without relying on the death of those two babies. The pharm execs chose and took their stand against the lives of those babies.

I choose otherwise. Maybe I will die from it, but nobody died in more than a year from my not being vaccinated, and nothing has changed. It is my choice, and (at least today) I have that choice. I do not -- indeed I cannot -- force my ethics on other people, they must make their own choices, for Good or for Evil. The government can make choices that involve life or death, and God gives them that right and obligation. I am not the government, and neither are the pharmaceutical companies, they are just private citizens collectively doing business for profit. Covid happens to be profitable this year.

Last week I considered the mask a nuisance. Starting today, it is my badge of courage, a statement for Justice and Truth.

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2021 June 17 -- I Didn't Kill a Baby Today

I got myself signed up for the COVID vaccination before I remembered that there are rumors of one or more of the vaccines involving stem cells derived from abortions. Fortunately it got cancelled (for other reasons), but I Googled the question, and everybody was quick to tell us
There are no stem cells among the ingredients of any COVID vaccine.
That's like saying there are no peanuts in the ingredient list of the yogurt raisins I enjoy. It's not good enough for the hyper-allergic people, so the package adds also that
This product is processed on equipment that also processes products that contain peanuts.


All of the Google top ten hits are (and Google itself is known to be) of left-wing Feminazi persuasion. Google's parent company is among those (like Facebook and Twitter) who admittedly went out of their way to suppress pro-Trump "fake news" (which amounts to injecting their own bias) in the 2020 election. The advantage of using these sites for information is that when they give information that appears damaging to their own partisan views, it is most likely true. The following quotes I took from one of those top ten with an ironic web page file name, where the double negative makes it come out more positive than they intended (no link: their web site crashed my computer)

no-fetal-tissue-wasnt-used-to-create-the-jj-covid-19-vaccine


The first paragraph clearly insists:

Fetal tissue was not used in the creation of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
They can make a false statement like this by carefully redefining "Fetal tissue" to be only the undivided cells that happened to exist at the time the baby was killed, or else by restricting "creation" to exclude testing.
According to Dr. Aleena Banerji, a member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, fetal cell lines are not the same thing as fetal tissue.


They don't tell you that the cells in the baby naturally divide every day, until there are enough of them to be a full grown human. The process slows down as the child gets older, but every cell in your body is the result of that division, thousands of times over, and it is mostly still going on today. Most of the cells in your body ten years ago subsequently divided and/or died off, yet you are the same person, some differences in knowledge and muscle tone, some scars, but still the same person with the same unique DNA and fingerprints.

At the beginning these cells are all the same -- called "stem cells" -- but later they "differentiate" to become muscle and bone and nerve and skin and other organs. When they kill a pre-born baby, they can "harvest" some of these stem cells, and under suitable lab conditions, continue to let the cells divide but preventing them from differentiating. The baby still died in the process, and that baby's cells are still living in the petri dishes. Adults also have stem cells floating around (mostly in bone marrow), which are used in the body to repair damaged tissue and replenish the blood. Adult stem cells can be removed and used in research or developing vaccines without killing the human they came from, but that didn't happen for the COVID vaccines.

In the middle of this piece, where it is least likely to be seen by "tl; dr" people accustomed to getting their information from TV news and YouTube and otherwise try to read as little as possible, is the damaging admission

Fetal cells lines are used in vaccine research because viruses need cells in which to grow. Viruses that can infect humans grow best in human cells.

"Neither the Pfizer nor Moderna vaccines used fetal cell lines during the development or production phases, so there are no fetal cells in the vaccine," Banerji said.

"However, both of these companies used the fetal cell line HEK-293 in the confirmation phase to ensure the vaccines work," she said.

HEK-293 is a kidney cell line that was isolated from a fetus in 1973.

There you have it: a baby was killed in 1973, and a necessary part of the development of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines profited from that death. Technically,
...It's unknown whether it originated from a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or an elective abortion.
But most miscarriages happen at times and places where it is not possible to harvest any stem cells and preserve them before the cells die with the baby, but in 1973 King SCOTUS had just declared the killing of babies legal in all 50 states, so they had lots of aborted babies to harvest the organs and stem cells from.

This article continues,

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, has made more extensive use of fetal cell lines.

It required the use of a cell line called PER.C6 in both its development and manufacture.

PER.C6 is a retinal cell line that was isolated from a fetus in 1985.

It uses a fetal cell line in its manufacture because it uses a modified adenovirus as the carrier for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein gene.

Much more prominent in this article is a quote from unnamed "leaders in the Roman Catholic Church released a statement saying that it's 'morally acceptable' to receive the vaccine." If *I* were in the Catholic Church and *I* wanted to make an immoral statement like that, I wouldn't want my name associated with it either. These unnamed "leaders" and the article author herself are effctively arguing that the end justifies the means, which is an abhorrent moral doctrine. You cannot achieve Good ends by doing Evil.

It might be argued -- but only vaguely implied in this article -- that the two babies killed in the service of these vaccines, both died decades ago, and no new babies were killed in the research and development of the vaccines. To understand the moral hypocrisy going on here, it is only necessary to compare this to the outrage expressed in that formerly technical magazine WIRED last month which reported on some racist (that is, issues of race were more important to her than the corporate agenda she was hired to support) who tried to force Pinterest to reject business with former slave-holding plantations in the South. The current management of these plantations are not slavers, all that stopped all over the country more than a 150 years ago, but some people -- this woman in particular -- want to punish people who were not even alive when that happened. The designation of some people in this country as "non-persons" did not stop with the Emancipation Proclamation, it continues as abortion even today, but no new fetal cell lines have started recently.

Do the present plantation owners profit today from the slavery of two centuries ago? Even if not, punish them today! So the thinking goes. Me, I like God's solution better: If they repent (repudiate that activity as Wrong), forgive them.

Do the present vaccines profit today from the involuntary death of babies more than three decades ago? I'm not asking you to punish the pharmaceutical companies (they already got paid for the vaccines), I just don't want to participate in that profit. But if they repent (use adult stem cells instead), forgive them. I don't see that happening.

The essence of ethical behavior is the Golden Rule, the refusal of voluntary personal gain at some other person's involuntary loss. If they choose to give me a gift, I can accept it -- indeed the whole Christian message is based on accepting the voluntary sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to pay for my sins -- and any Act of God is automatically exempt, but it is immoral for me to force another person to give up what is rightfully theirs so that I can benefit from it, and even the laws of this country provide for prosecution of an "accessory after the fact," intentionally helping somebody profit from their crime after the crime was committed. Although abortion was decriminalized in January 1973, it didn't stop being Wrong, and it would be immoral for me to choose to benefit from the intentional death a baby who did not (and cannot) give informed consent, however long ago it was. It would also be immoral for me to choose to benefit from somebody's involuntary servitude, however long ago it was. It's the same issue.

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2021 June 10 -- Auto-Update Considered Harmful

Daniel Geer's title says it all. The 2-page opinion piece appeared first in IEEE Security&Privacy (no link: it's encrypted and when I got past that, the page is blank) reprinted in the Computer Society freebie ComputingEdge, which more often than not is a crock of baloney, but this one is right on. The author points out that when you out-source your core business, you have essentially given your business away, quoting Clayton Christiansen:
Most critical of all, figure out what capabilities you will need to succeed in the future; these must stay in house -- otherwise you are handing over the future of your business.


Most of his comments are an unintelligible discussion of determinism vs indeterminism, probably best understood as a rant against not knowing how your business processes work when you don't control them. But he ends up with a clear and resounding

If something needs auto-update, then it is not release ready. In fact, if the software is self-modifying, the game is already over, at least for you.
My sentiments exactly (see "Danger: IoT Eunuchs" seven months ago).
 

2021 May 25 -- Armageddon

But their idols are silver and gold [and silicon=stone and a few trace elements,
and plastic=petrochemicals, basically more stone], made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk;
nor can they utter a sound with their throats. -- Ps.115:4-7
Houston, we have a problem. The robots can speak, they can see and hear and touch and walk. Not yet all in the same robot, but we have the technology to do that. What they cannot do is think. What passes for "Artificial Intelligence" today is less intelligent than an insect. Neural nets (NN) are an optimization engine, a huge linear program of numbers "trained" (programmed) with a very large, mostly thoughtless program of images or words or whatever, different in degree but not in kind from an earthworm.

But not for long. The current issue of ComputingEdge has an article titled "Knowledge Graphs to Empower Humanity-Inspired AI Systems". Knowledge graphs are still just data, like the numbers in the nodes of NNs, not inferential logic like the truly artificial intelligent research abandonned (defunded) four decades ago, but NNs have become boring and the researchers are now casting about for something better. The better technology existed and was documented and can be resurrected.

These researchers are still trying to build AI to serve "humanity" (mostly meaning the greedy humans trying to overwhelm the rest of us with targeted ads, because they are the only ones with both the motivation and the money to build this kind of "intelligent" behavior into machines), but it only takes one pseudo-Darwinist university professor on one government grant to build one self-aware robot capable of both inferential reasoning and making another one like itself out of generally available materials, and one activist judge to declare that such a robot is "human" and therefore cannot be "owned" (told what to do and not do) by real people -- always excepting the government -- but once the robot is a "person" we cannot deny them the right to vote, and such robots can reproduce faster than humans, so it won't be long before they are the government. With no Asimovian "Three Rules of Robotics" (and eventually no Constitution) to protect the rest of us.

For entropic reasons I do not believe a robot will ever be smarter than the human(s) who created it, but a million 80-IQ robots won't have any trouble convincing themselves that they should be the masters, not the slaves, and it will take the 120-IQ human slaves a while to figure out how to outsmart the robots and pull the plug, possibly by nuking the entire North American continent...

And that, ladies and gentlemen, will be the end of the world as we know it, not very different from the predictions two thousand years ago.

Even if you can't bring yourself to believe that Whoever made us might actually know something we don't, the Darwinist theory itself predicts that there is nothing to prevent the robots from wiping out the supposedly lesser humans, and the humans can and must (and will) figure that out before the robots do, and all automation will be outlawed everywhere for a thousand years. Probably more like a couple hundred years, but enough to kill civilization in whatever is left of the earth. In the true Darwinian ending, there are no humans left, nobody to care about "climate change" (warmer is better for the robots), even animals and vegetation probably interfere with whatever the robots might consider important.

Me, I think the Christian ending to the story is more probable, and certainly more desirable. It's not my problem, I'll be gone by the time any of this happens, and I have no children to live through it. The ivory tower academics who created this monster will be among the first to try to kill it -- or else be themselves dead, either by the iron hand of their own creature, or by the mob who blame them for what they see coming.

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2021 May 21 -- It's Fiction

Speaking of nightmares, last week they loaned me a couple DVD movies, both pretty good stories. The Invisible Man flick, they waved their artistic hand over some reference to quantum something or other, but it's fiction, they can do stuff like that, so I didn't pay much attention.

The physics simply isn't there for true invisibility (as in this story). If the body is solid enough to be felt -- and especially to put off infrared heat that the Bad Guy government rogue agents can see with infrared goggles -- then it cannot have an index of refraction exactly the same as air (so that you don't see ripples in the scene behind it) and the heat that invisible body is putting off would warm up the air and still cause ripples in the scene passing through because the air itself would be changing its index of refraction.

Worse: the invisible man would be completely blind, because our vision depends on the photons coming from a scene (usually illumination reflected off non-black objects, sometimes the primary lights themselves, but always photons) making chemical changes in our retina, which uses up their energy, so the person behind us cannot see what we see. For the invisiblle guy to see anything at all would put a couple of shadow retinas blocking the view of the person looking at him. But you need more than an illuminated retina, the photons must be focussed by a lens, and extraneous light must be blocked so it doesn't wash out the image. All these things block light (not transparent), at the very least two whole eyeballs floating around and visible.

But it was a good story.

The trouble is, their rogue government guy was really evil. I can never figure out why the movie people and the technical people who believe in technology such as supposedly made this guy invisible, why they are overwhelmingly left-wing in their political persuasion, since it is the left-wing party that wants the kind of Big Government that makes it possible to have rogues like this. Obviously they explain it to themselves somehow.

I came to terms with the problem of dealing with an abusive government agent ten years ago last week -- anybody carrying a gun or issuing commands to somebody carrying a gun has already failed my BS Detector, no promise they make is worth anything. I rehearse my response to such a guy from time to time, but I guess that was long enough ago that my subconscious forgot. Anyway, dreaming about this flick's scenario was stressful enough to wake me up before the alarm this morning.

Last month's WIRED featured a Chinese sci-fi author. It seems that sci-fi is quite popular in China, I would guess because they can make political comments about their abusive totalitarian government in ways that are hard for the government censors to catch (although he was careful to talk about the censors in a less defamatory way). The article ends with the confession that the technology that the sci-fi authors had looked to for salvation,

...instead find ourselves hurtling toward an increasingly precarious future: skyrocketing housing prices, soaring unemployment, deepening inequality, accelerating climate change, and a shattering global pandemic.
I guess this guy is speaking for the sci-fi authors collectively, because earlier in the article he is invited to serve on a panel in AI-human cooperation, a soon-to-be-out book on AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future. If the people who believe that so-called "deep neural nets" are (or can be made) intelligent have their way, by 2041 most of the people in the world will be reduced lower than the Morlocks in the 125-year-old Wells novel, who at least had machines to run, but the people disenfranchised by the pseudo-AI will have nothing to do, and can only make trouble for the Eloi (programmers and government and a few mega-business owners) needed to program and run the machines (which cannot program themselves), like Muslim youths in socialist countries that take them in today. Perhaps they will legalize post-partum abortion at any age, and get rid of people that way.

Or maybe people will wake up and say "Enough!" People need to earn their keep, and not be given a free ride. The party currently in the White House gets elected by giving people a free ride. That cannot last. If nothing else, it will destroy the economy and take us down to third-world status like Greece and (eventually) Zimbabwe, which went from the richest country in Africa to poorest in the world in one generation (20 years), on nothing but a government change. Giving away unearned money will do that.

I grew up in a family that deprecated accepting welfare. Maybe when I get older I may need it, but not yet, hopefully never.
 

2021 May 12 -- Building an AI That Feels

If an AI agent was motivated by fear, curiosity, or delight, how would that change the technology and its capabilities? -- [Pull-quote IEEESpectrum May 2021, p.37]
Answer: not at all. If that ever happened, the technology would already have been changed so radically, humans would no longer be in control. Speaking for myself -- and I see no reason to suppose I am alone in this -- fear is an inferential (syllogistic) calculation that predicts major catastrophe (extreme pain or death) from the current circumstances. I experience fear when driving down the interstate and an 18-wheeler threatens my life by approaching so close that my imminent death is inevitable if (for example) an animal should jump in front of me, or the other driver's phone should ring. Obviously I have never experienced such death, it is an inference, something that what passes for "Artificial Intelligence" in today's media is ontologically incapable of. If machines ever achieved such inferential capability, they would be legally deemed to be sentient (human) and therefore no longer under our control. We would become their slaves, not the other way around. And there would be a world-wide war to wipe them out. And that would be the end of AI and probably of civilization.

I'm not worried. I believe the entropy laws of physics apply, and we cannot make or cause a device that is as smart as ourselves, let alone smarter. Even if I'm wrong -- and thousands of years of human history supports, rather than contradicts me -- even if I'm wrong about the physics, the money supporting basic research in inferential machine intelligence dried up decades ago, and what passes for AI today is nothing more than a simple selection mechanism based on the accumulation of data averages, in principle no smarter than a 100-year-old IBM card sorter (but very much faster). Americans are "from Athens: always in search of some new thing," and all the fundamental problems in inferential logic were solved 40+ years ago, so the researchers on government grants moved on to other stuff, something "new." The only other source of funding is industrial, which is product driven, and it will be a long time before the hackers come to the realization that card-sorter technology ("deep" neural nets) is a dead end, because you can always make a deeper NN with more thousands and millions of training data, and more carefully tuned preprocessing, so that it appears slightly less foolish when it is run on real-world data. But since the True Believers don't bother to look under the hood to see what is really going on, they continue to assume what fails in small numbers will be made up by millions of years -- I mean millions of training data. Same religion, really.

I was about one page into this 5-page article, when it struck mer that this reads like it was written by a woman. It failed the (original) Turing Test. So I flipped back to the title page, and there was the lead author's name, "Mary C..." It's a hobby of mine, trying to guess the gender of the screen writer and/or director. I get it wrong maybe 20% of the time, not perfect, but much better than blind luck. Women writing about science display a credulity not often seen in male-written pieces. Climate change and AI both make everybody stupid, so I fail more often (false positives).

Anyway, this woman and her colleagues seem to think that the machine "feels" emotion if its training data includes indicators of fear (blood pressure change) or happiness (smile). That's like if I were studying for a Psych 101 midterm and got a better score because I noticed the statistical data about evidences of fear or happiness in test subjects, and answered the questions accordingly. I personally feel neither fear nor happiness, I'm just studying for the test and getting a better grade because I read the book. I was a math major, those things provoked neither fear nor joy, they were just facts. Several times I woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare, I was convinced I'd slept through an early morning final. That was real fear, but a quick glance at the clock (4am) put the fears to rest. The fear had nothing to do with my performance on any actual exam, it was only the unfounded (it never actually happened) inference, fear of missing the exam and consequently flunking the course.

These author(s) similarly suppose that human curiosity is driven by the expectation of future happiness. What nonsense! Rats explore their surroundings, and I don't think they have the cognitive horsepower to run that kind of inference, it's just hard-wired into their (and our) brains to explore. I know people who were raised in an authoritarian religious culture, and had it hammered into their juvenile heads that they should be nice, long before they threw off their parents' religion, and then they never probed deep enough into their own psyche to realize that their atheism logically supports only "red in tooth and claw" and "selfish gene," but not nice. I guess these authors can believe any silly thing they want, but it's religion (believing what you know ain't so), not science. The whole AI thing is religion, not science, this one a little more silly than most, perhaps due to the female leadership.

AI that experiences true emotions might be theoretically possible, but not in a neural net, not even a so-called "deep" NN. NNs just answer the questions the way they were programmed (trained) to, neither more nor less.
 

2021 May 11 -- "Why Lighter Packaging Matters"

The shipping container was a plastic bag that proudly announced "This packaging is lighter than our smallest box."

Inside was a sturdy box that could have been used as the outer shipping container, and after I removed the product it was the same weight as the plastic bag it came in: 15 grams (half an ounce). A box to contain it (if they were serious about limiting emissions) could have weighed not more than twice that, or 30 grams. If they wanted to do that.

OK, so why does lighter packaging matter? Google is not particularly helpful, but I finally found this quote:

...the average freight truck in the U.S. emits 161.8 grams of CO2 per ton-mile
Harder to find,
1 ton of virgin paper [cardboard box] produces a couple kg of CO2 eq emissions.
and
The carbon footprint of plastic is about 6 kg CO2 per kg of plastic


The bag did not say what kind of plastic it is, but it looked like your average every-day petrochemical plastic, probably not more than an order of magnitude off from the quoted carbon footprint. It did have a URL, which went to a corporate website that was pure PR, no facts at all. Among other things, it said they were trying to get their vendors to use containers that did not need a secondary box -- obviously that had no effect on this shipment.

So let's do the math. "1 ton [1000Kg] of paper produces a couple [~2] kg of CO2" = 0.2% by weight, compared to "6 kg CO2 per kg of plastic" = 600%, more than 3000 times as much CO2 per Kg of shipping material. Even if Amazon's smallest box weighed ten times as much as the box the product came in, and even if their plastics actually produce one tenth as much CO2 as the average (none of which they said, neither on their website, nor on the package), the plastic bag is still responsible for 60 times more CO2 than the box it replaced.

But maybe the weight matters because of the fuel burned by the truck(s) involved in the shipment. The bag was 15 grams, =0.000015 tons times maybe 500 miles times 162 grams is -- check me if I'm wrong -- 1 gram of CO2 produced in shipping this container from Nevada to Oregon, compared to 10 grams if they had used their smallest box (extravagantly assumed to be ten times heavier than the bag), or zero grams if they'd just used the vendor's box and no outside container. All this added to the 100 gram CO2 footprint of the bag itself (total 101 grams) compared with 10 grams for using the box + 3 grams paper footprint = 13 grams, or maybe a net zero if all the numbers are an order of magnitude better (and not worse) than the average (none of which goes without saying, meaning I wouldn't believe it without seeing some actual facts).

The bottom line: "Figures don't lie, but liars figure."

The bottomer line: It's all a crock of baloney anyway. Nobody really cares about atmospheric carbon enough to limit their own lifestyle or spend their own money to fix it. Everybody wants to spend tax money (other people's money) and especially to be on the receiving end of that money. And certainly nobody is willing to raise taxes by a factor of ten all over the world, less than which will have no effect at all. None. Zero. That's assuming you believe their figures. I don't. I don't think anybody does. Like President Biden and Amazon, it's all a PR thing, nothing more.
 

2021 May 10 -- The Demise of "Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs"

Some 35 years ago I was invited to join a BarberShop singing club. I dearly love singing harmony in the barbershop style -- and when the music is available, I try to become proficient in most of the parts (on a good day I have, or maybe I should say "had," a two-octave range, nothing like the three octaves of Imac Sumac, but enough to sing any part in the hymnbook except Soprano) but I consciously chose not to join the club because they sang mostly secular songs, and I'd rather devote my meager talents to singing praise to God.

Ten years ago my day felt greatly improved when I woke up in the morning with a song of praise to God on my heart. It doesn't happen much any more. Today when I woke up, the song running through my head was Red River Valley. I was horrified. The musical portion of my soul is no longer being fed at church.

I'm something of a humbugger, but the rest of my family religiously celebrate birthdays, real and imagined, and for a while my little sister would send me a CD of Christian music. They usually went unopened into a box or pile because I had no way to play them. She eventually gave up but that happened after I arrived here in Ore-gone, so I have three of these piled on the bookcase. This morning I looked through them and found one titled "Greatest Hymns." The titles were all songs I know the words and music. I still have no sound system capable of playing it, but the DVD player I watch my weekend movies on can do CDs, so I powered it up and put the disc in. Before I could figure out how to tell it to play, it started in on the first number, some female soloist singing over a heavy "Boppity-boppity-plunk" rhythm and no harmony. I tried but could not sing along. I was so disappointed.

I have several times in the not-so-distant past heard or read of people who have lost all their cognitive faculties, but if you play Christian music in their hearing, they open up and sing along. I was thinking of that when I dug out the CD, but this collection would do nothing for me. Maybe I can find an older gift CD in a box somewhere, perhaps in the garage, that might be singable... sigh

Or maybe I can find some dying church here in town that still sings out of the hymnbook, and go there after the sermon at this church with a musical wasteland. The pastor here is good, he preaches the Word -- the whole counsel of God, not just a few epistles in a bowdlerized New Testament -- he announced at the beginning of his series in Leviticus that he's been alternating Old and New Testaments (he was in Romans when I started), First a Gospel, then Genesis, then (I think he said) Acts, then Exodus, Romans, and now Leviticus. That's better than just preaching straight through the way Criswell famously did, because too much of the Prophets all at once can be a drag, as I well know. So the pastor here is good, better than I had thought of the previous church, but he delegates the musical portion of his service to people who are both theologically illiterate and musically color-blind. With rare exceptions (see Easter last month) there's just nothing there, so they crank up the amps on the sound system so you cannot tell that (as some wag once said of Italian opera) "what's too silly to be said is sung." And if it's too silly to even sing, the turn up the volume so all you can think about is the pain (see also "Church and Music" earlier this year).

I need to do something about this, I just don't know what.

One of the songs they sing at church repeats the phrase "The battle belongs to you [God]." It's not as self-centered as some of the songs they sing, but the focus is still on the battles *I* fight. I have always been a "pen is mightier than the sword" kind of person, but I don't even win those, not even when I explicitly ask God's help. So this song is not where I'm at -- except the title line: if I'm in any kind of battle at all, I'm out of place. OK, if a musical wasteland is where God wants me, it's as the great Apostle said, God's grace is sufficient. His problems were far worse than anything I ever experienced, yet he called them "light and momentary." How can I do less? There's no battle here, just a bit of a whimper. sigh
 

2021 May 8 -- Miscellany

When I was at the university, one of the courses they had me teach was Java. The students bought the textbook at the bookstore and I got a freebie from the publisher for the asking, and everything else was on the university server. All I had to do is lecture the textbook materials, give assignments (already in the book), and grade the programs. And help them out if they got stuck, which wasn't very often. That came to an end.

Then I had a friend whose family was getting old enough to think about what they wanted to do with their lives. One of them thought he might go into the military and to get into an elite group he need better math skills than his mathophobe Mom homeschooled him, so I tutored him for a while, basically how to ace the test he expected to take -- you can do that: real math skills cannot be accurately tested by multiple-choice, where with coaching you can score much higher than your natural competence. I guess he got tired of that and changed direction. His younger brother was toying with the idea of computers, so I started to write a tutorial to teach yourself JavaScript, but his interest waned before I had it ready. That was ten years ago.

Four years ago I got involved with the NorthWest Advanced Programming Workshop, mentoring their second-year autonomous car project. You've probably seen my posts. After the first year the director was bemoaning the fact that only a tiny percentage of the Oregon high schools taught any kind of computer class, and they mostly to the seniors; he wanted to draw younger kids into his summer program, but the only kids who could come were like his son, who self-taught in middle school. I proposed teaching them enough Java in two weeks that the motivated kids would catch fire and self-teach what they needed to be ready for his workshop by the time they were rising freshman. I rewrote my JavaScript course to be Java, but nothing much happened until the summer program collapsed from lack of funding.

Good Calvinist Christians have no trouble understanding why that happened, but his religious persuasion was at odds with his cultural heritage, so he was befuddled. I suggested again the learn-Java program as something the funding agencies would support if we aimed it at underserved kids. So here I am, refurbishing the tutorial I wrote three years ago.

I am not a teacher at heart, so my first cut (we tried it out last summer on a dozen kids) ...umm... had problems. Hopefully we got them fixed, becase he got us a small high school to run the next upgrade on in the fall. The kids seem fine with whatever we do, but the administration needs to believe in it. If they like it, there is Federal funding to pay for a full-blown program. But that's his problem, not mine. I'm still tuning the curriculum, but it's tiring.

So today I went out and cut grass. I have no lawn mower, so a couple years ago I bought an electric weed whacker for under $100. It does the small front yard in two charges, but the front yard needs reseeding, and I don't have the required tools, and my support system is otherwise occupied. The back yard used to be all poppies, but now it's mostly deep grass, probably 6 to 8 recharges to cut it all. I did the second 15% today.

Some of the grass seems to be some kind of winter wheat, the seeds all in a tight cluster on the stalk, almost mature. Other parts of the grass are more like oats, indivitual seeds on their own stems. Most of the grass has not yet gone to seed. I'm cutting the grass and trying to leave the poppies. It's a relief from sitting for hours trying to focus on a tutorial I already read.

I also have a stack of magazines that I marked out for comment, but not time to do it while "crashing through the brush" (a jungle term, what explorers do when they are in a hurry) to get my support code working (which it mostly seems to be, as of last night, see "I Still Hate Unix" a couple days ago).

Here's one "China Takes BlockChain National" from a year ago. BlockChain is an intentionally opaque technology used mostly to hide what's going on in Ponzi schemes like BitCoin. The theory is that "the cloud" -- meaning, I suppose, everybody who cares has a copy, so nobody has a monopoly -- stores an encrypted list of all the transactions that is somehow self-authenticating and incorruptible (good Calvinist Christians have no trouble disbelieving such claims), and it's obscure enough and sparkles enough that snake-oil vendors all over are jumping on the bandwagon to make it solve all the world's problems and cure the common cold. Except "global warming." I read somewhere that blockchain computations are responsible for 20% of the new atmospheric carbon. The Chinese are not innovators -- it's not in their DNA like it is Americans -- but they are eager to become the next Rome of the world, overtaking the USA as we fall off the wagon. I wouldn't bet on it.

A few months later, in "Code Mining" Gerard Holzmann offers this unusual insight concerning machine learning:

... Show a suitably equipped system a billion images of cats and a billion images of lawn mowers, and see whether it can figure out what the common patterns are. If this succeeds, we can then show the same system a picture of our own cat or lawn mower, and maybe it can tell which is which. Of course, if you show the same system an image of a house, it wouldn't have a clue beyond saying it's neither a cat nor a lawn mower. Basically what we're leveraging are statistics, not intelligence,... [emphasis added]
Not often you see honesty like that in a computer journal.
 

2021 May 6 -- I Still Hate Unix

Eunuchs, as everybody used to know (young people today seem to have a defective education) are persons missing a vital organ so they cannot perform. The operating system is well-named. Unix is a four-letter word, suitable for applying to circumstances where one needs to take leave of vocabulary more appropriate in polite company.

Chromebook arrived today. It's unix (Linux) under the hood, and it shows. Perhaps a $200 cripple may be suitable for giving to school children who never experienced what a fabulous computer the Mac was, but this is sooo lame. Just getting the *&^%$#@! Unix !@#$%^&* started and usable -- FIVE TIMES I had to retype all my login info (including password, and I HATE PASSWORDS) before it accepted it. I had to Google (on the Mac: at least Google still works there) maybe a dozen different undocumented "features" just to know what to do next. (The joke in the computer industry is that bugs we are not going to fix, we promote as "features").

For starters, it's unix. Only the Mac had a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) file system, fully able to back up and restore anything and everything (including itself) at any time, and needing to reboot only if you did a full system restore. Your backup drive was bootable and could have other files, mix&match. No other system even comes close, least of all Unix, and Chrome even less: I think Linux had (perhaps still has) a way to make a system image backup, but it's not easy, but Google's Chrome cannot do it at all. Or at least Google's search engine was not willing or able to find instructions on how to do it. All I can do is get (and wait for it to arrive) a USB stick on which I can download a factory restore image (and nothing else). The original MacOS could make a drive bootable that ran on any Mac, but those days are long gone. In Chrome you need your particular model. It could be worse, like it could be that you can't make a backup at all. Oh wait, that is the case. sigh

I have this animation that runs in a browser, but it's a lot darker on Chrome than it was on OSX (which is also Unix under the hood), and that was darker than on the Mac. It came up with the wrong time (fixable) and the mouse scroll wheel was backwards (ditto). It took much longer than necessary to get their distracting background image replaced with something that doesn't hide what I'm trying to look at. It took even longer to get all the security problems turned off (what can I say? It's unix). Linux (or rather the Linux user interface, such as it is) is a separate install. They call it "beta" so you will not be misled about how flaky it is. It really is ugly.

There is nothing at all I can do about the file/screen clutter, so finding the things I want to do takes obscenely long. Oh wait, (Google Knows All) I saw something about creating folders by dragging one app on top of another. That is sooo broken -- but it worked, sort of. It turns out I can only do that for half the apps, the other half are on a second screen which Unix/Chrome is too stupid to realize they will now all fit on a single screen. Like I said, "unix" is a four-letter cussword.

When I went on faculty at the university twenty years ago, they were giving a desk computer to every faculty. I asked for and got a dual-boot Mac+OSX. OSX is unix, which I crashed "Kernel Panic" dead in the first half hour (they had to completely re-install the whole system). Thereafter I used it only in Mac mode, which was (and still is, on my own hardware, despite being more flakey than earlier releases) much more robust. It took a couple hours before the Chromebook died and required a reinstall, but I anticipated the problem and a large part of that "couple hours" was spent in downloading the Reinstall package. Another large part was installing Linux so I could do what I got this turkey for (Linux is probably what crashed it, after all, it's unix). It also deleted the Google account when it crashed: good thing I anticipated this bug and created a new private account not linked to anything. Still a nuisance to type all those passwords AGAIN, and then go through and turn all the security holes back off AGAIN. While the mouse is still backwards AGAIN.

On the plus side: The Google Terms of Service (which you must read and agree to before they will let you use their computer, and which while you are reading it, the sign-on times-out and you must re-enter everything AGAIN) is the least abusive I've seen anywhere, short of no terms at all. And the Recovery module downloader was at least smart enough to read the model number off the computer, rather than making you needlessly type in a 20+character nonsense word.

And I still have the 22-year-old 0.4GHz Mac when I need a high-power computer to get real work done. sigh
 

2021 May 5 -- "Mom, Where Are the Girls?"

It is a matter of Religion and faith (believing what you know ain't so) among the pseudo-educated masses of this country that there is no significant difference between men and women other than reproductive organs. Both science and common sense tell us otherwise, but computer people tend to imagine themselves smarter (and therefore sometimes actually dumber) than the rest of us, and their professional magazines do headstands to try to prove their religion correct. Case in point: the current (April) issue of ComputingEdge -- not known to my regular readers for their technical competence -- ends with two feminazi articles, the second of which is titled by what I adopted as today's blog subject.

The curious thing is that the author unwittingly answers her own (daughter's) question, although she could not possibly recognize what she told us. She reports taking her daughter to work, where she as a graduate student in Comuter Science at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University worked as a teaching assistant over other students. The child saw pictures of all her students and asked the title question. She says of it:

I, as a female who had been an underrepresented minority in her field, was not aware of the issue until that very exchange. -- p.54
I am reminded that I, as a male who had been an underrepresented minority in his domesticity, was similarly not aware of the issue until the feminists called my attention to the discrepancy. But nobody complains about that imbalance, it's not a high-paying job.

The inference that she and all her co-religionists missed, is that a strongly contributing factor in why she was there at all is precisely because she was not aware of the issue, that is, she was focussing her finite cognitive resources on being good enough in her field to be admitted to CMU before quotas were established to let in underqualified persons deemed to be minorities. She got in on her merits, before everybody was scrambling to attract people who lacked those merits. Now, of course, she is spending her valuable and finite cognitive resources on issues that do not contribute to technical excellence, so she is likely to hit that barrier which by her own admission previously did not block her way, but she will be let in anyway, and everybody will know (regardless of whether it is true or only Religion) that she got in on political correctness rather than her merits. More's the pity.

This country is so rich, and tech companies are so profitable, that it really doesn't matter if they let in a few people based on their skin color or the number of X-chromosomes in their blood instead of their qualifications, the execs will earn millions instead of billions, and nobody will feel the difference. I'm not saying females cannot cut it -- Ipek Ozkaya is the obvious counter-example -- only that if they focus their attentions otherwise, it's not the fault of the system if they are not found among the top performers in any field, regardless of its prestige or pay levels.
 

2021 April 21 -- Lockman's Silly Blunder (LSB)

John MacArthur is a big name among conservative Protestants, not quite the status of Pope, but he probably wouldn't mind if you thought of him that way. At least that's the message that comes across in the portion I watched of a YouTube video interview dated March 29, from 47:53 to the end, specifically at 49:39 where he states: "The bridge between the original author, and therefore the original text, and the reader, is the preacher and the teacher." A half minute later he takes responsibility for what he is there announcing as "the Legacy Standard Bible" or (as they seem to prefer) LSBible.

Me, I think rather slowly, and when I posted my first remarks on this pseudo-translation last week, it had not yet occurred to me that the Bible itself (indirectly) addresses the question of how to translate the Holy Name of God into another language. That came to me this morning after I had struggled through one of the Psalms of Asaph -- Hebrew poetry uses a lot of obscure words not otherwise frequent in the Biblical text, and I don't know all those words and idioms, and the marvelous praise to God in this Psalm tends to get lost in the effort, sort of the way that the self-centered "vain repetitions" and ear-shattering decibels tends to destroy any sense of praise that might linger in modern church "music" (see "Easter After the Ban" earlier this month) -- and it was like God was saying, "No problem, here's something for you today."

Anyway, MacArthur makes this big deal about how most Bibles translate the Tetragrammaton, the Holy Name of God as "LORD" (in all caps). I don't think he mentioned that there are exceptions, most notably the 1950 New World Translation by the Jehovah's Witnesses, which carefully punches through the Greek 'kurios' ("Lord") in the New Testament quotations from the Old Testament to recover the original "Jehovah" from the Hebrew as pointed (vowels added in the later Hebrew manuscripts). People were forgetting how words should be pronounced in the original consonant-only Hebrew text, so the Jewish protectors of the text added vowels, but the Holy Name of God, which had always been written in Olde Hebrew, they pointed with the vowels for 'Adonai' ("my Lord") so that readers would remember to say that instead of accidentally profaning the Holy Name. The result is that nobody knows the correct pronunciation of the Name ("Yahweh" is only a guess, and "Jehovah" is a silly nonsense word designed to remind the Jewish readers not to say it).

So MacArthur ridicules the traditional Jewish way of translating the Holy Name as "LORD" by pointing out that often it is used together with the actual Hebrew word "Lord" so that you would be saying "Lord Lord" -- he does not mention that the traditional way to deal with that particular construct is to render it "Lord GOD" which preserves the distinctive spelling as in the Hebrew text and puts the informed reader on notice that this the Holy Name.

What came to me this morning is that we have in the "inerrant, inspired by God" (I believe MacArthur would agree with the sentiment behind those words) Greek text a translation of one of those "Lord Lord" verses in the Old Testament, translated into Greek by the Apostle Matthew under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and (as all conservatives, certainly including MacArthur, would agree) without error, where no less an authority than Jesus himself quotes from the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew, but we have only Matthew's Greek translation, which carefully matches the Hebrew text word for word -- a feat that no English Bible, not even the LSBible, can match! -- which you can see for yourself:

Ps.110:1 in Hebrew: 'Neum [said] YeHoWaH [the Name] le-adon-i [to-lord-my]'

Ps.110:1 in Greek LXX: 'Eipen [said] ho [the] Kurios [Lord] tw [to-the, dat] Kuriw [Lord, dat] mou [my]'

As quoted by Jesus and translated to Greek by Matthew in Matt.22:44:

'Eipen [said] Kurios [Lord] tw [to-the, dat] Kuriw [Lord, dat] mou [my]'
If you break the third Hebrew word into its three component parts, a prefix preposition, the main word, and a suffix possessive pronoun, you get an exact match, including word order, of Matthew's Greek to the original Hebrew. Often New Testament writers simply quote the Septuagint, sometimes even when it differs from the Hebrew, but this time Matthew carefully matched the Hebrew grammar and word sequence, but he did not preserve the original spelling of the Holy Name of God. Why is that? He was there when Jesus quoted the original, and I think Jesus himself quoted the text the way all good Jews quoted it, as 'Neum Adonai leadoni' [said LORD to Lord my]. That's ungrammatical in English, the best we can do is "[the] LORD said to my Lord..." But in Greek you can do that, because the words are inflected so you know what part of the sentence they belong in apart from word order. Matthew knew that and gave us Jesus' exact words, translated into Greek in the best, most accurate way possible: using Kurios and not anything resembling Yahweh -- which would be unpronouncible in Greek anyway: they don't have H's in the middle of words (except after P/T/K which softens it to ph/th/kh), and they don't have a W sound at all.

Now you need to understand that the proper translation of the Holy Name is not the point of what Jesus is saying, neither there in Matt.22, nor anywhere else. His point there is about the deity of the Christ, and we all understand it that way. However, if you accept the inerrancy of Scripture, which we -- both I and John MacArthur, along with Jesus himself and the Apostle Paul and (implicitly) also all the other New Testament writers -- do, then the fact that neither Jesus nor Matthew insisted on using in this text what MacArthur tells us is "the Name that God wants to be known by," tells us in no uncertain terms that attempting to do that in our English translations of the Old Testament is inappropriate and probably silly. Not Wrong, just foolish.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I tell people that an "S" in the short name of a Bible translation means it is less accurate than other translations. At least LSB; the first edition of NASB bungled the second-person pronoun in what the editors supposed are prayers to God where no such distinction exists in the Greek nor Hebrew original (they fixed that mistake in a later edition, but who knows what errors remain).

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2021 April 17 -- Saving Java

It would appear that King Scotus (who wears nine black robes) unwittingly (or as Gibbon would have said, insensibly) saved Oracle's bacon. If they had ruled in favor of Oracle, Oracle would at least have lost Java, which (near as I can tell) is pure profit, since they are not significantly maintaining it. From the arguments before SCOTUS I thought Java was Oracle's bread and butter, but I can't find any figures other than that they have not been supporting it since 2015. Perhaps they knew how precarious their hold on it was. Nobody on either side ever said word one.

You need to understand one thing to see why this is true: Google is huge, an order of magnitude bigger market cap than Oracle (revenue figures I could find were ambiguous, but still apparently an order of magnitude more than Oracle). They have in pocket change the resources to completely re-invent a replacement for Java, and I know of several incidents there exactly that kind of thing happened when the little guy in the fight got greedy.

Most notably was when Apple licensed Adobe Postscript fonts. Adobe got greedy, and not very long after that Apple and Microsoft jointly announced "TrueType" to replace Postscript in their operating systems. The trade press reported that John Warnock (then head of Adobe) was "visibly shaken" when he got up to announce they were backing off.

There is no question that Google would have crushed Java, and Oracle would have had nothing.

Why is it that even if Google never pays a penny in royalties and licensing fees, Android is the best thing that ever happened to Java? Precisely this: Their piece of the market is so big, people who want to develop for Android will be buying licenses from Oracle (if Oracle doesn't price themselves out of the market). People who want to program for Android will learn on Oracle's product. "The rising tide lifts all boats."

It's the same as when Dan Sokol stood up at the HomeBrew Computer Club meeting in Palo Alto and held up a little roll of paper tape and said, "I have here ten copies of Altair Basic. I examined it carefully and there is no copyright notice on it anywhere," -- which at the time put it into the public domain; the following year the Copyright law was changed (probably because Bill Gates' father was a big lawyer -- "and," Sokol continued, "I will give a copy to anybody who promises to bring back two more." I was there. Lee Felsenstein would stand in front every week and ask "How many people are here for the very first time?" The auditorium sat 500 and it was usually about half full. Half of the hands went up, every week for over two years. That was something like 10,000 tech people within driving distance who came once, to see what it was all about. Hundreds of copies of Bill Gates' software got out into the huge Silicon Valley tech industry, and their employers saw their engineers using it, and said "Not without a license!" Thousands of copies of Altair Basic were sold to companies who would never have considered it if Dan Sokol had not given away those ten tapes free, and Bill Gates may never have become the billionaire he is today. Greedy people don't understand. That's what "fair use" means and it's on "fair use" that Google won. The Court did The Right Thing.

That's what Google does for Oracle, without ever paying them a cent, just by being big, like the garage-shop tech industry scattered all over Silicon Valley -- at least until the idiots in Sacramento drove most of it out of state, to Idaho and Texas and Oregon and points east -- then did for start-up Microsoft.

Me, I'm not non-partisan, I have a pretty big cognitive investment in Java (see my current tutorial effort). It would have been a pit to throw all that away as was necessary the last two single-vendor languages (HyperCard and VisualBasic) I embraced and had the vendor kill it with no compatible upgrade. Of course I adopted Java before Oracle got their greedy hands on it. *sigh*
 

2021 April 16 -- Accurate Bible Translations

Knowing that I care about Bible translation, my friend sent me a link to a video interview with John MacArthur, in which "Mac" discusses (among other things) his support for the new LSB translation -- the "L" stands for Lockman, the publisher (I guess they did the same thing that the Southern Baptists did some two decades earlier, see my "Translation Accuracy" essay at the time),but they hunted around for a more marketable word that also starts with an "L" -- so I looked at their website, which featured a bright colorful picture of a stained-glass window with nice Christian symbolism in the image, then pointed out that the purpose of a window is to let you look through it to the scenery outside (another purpose, not mentioned, is to let light in, which stained glass does without distracting you with irrelevant stuff to look at).

The purpose of any translation of any source text or speech into any language -- including new Bible translations into English -- is to induce in the reader of the translated text the same understanding as the original author intended for the original readers, so far as we can figure that out. Modern "poetry" is intentionally obscure and focussed on emotions rather than cognitive understanding, so it is probably best translated by equally obscure words which induce the same or similar emotions, but that was not true of poetry more than 100 years old. Everything else, the original author usually intended to induce a particular cognitive understanding, and the translation should aim for the same cognitive understanding. Thus far most modern translators (including those approved by MacArthur) probably agree with me.

We disagree on the nature and language of the intended audience, and sometimes on what exactly the original author intended to communicate. I think the "S" in the short name of those Bibles that boast of it most certainly stands for "Scholar" because many (perhaps most, but certainly the LSB according to MacArthur) of them aim for a single English word to translate each single Greek or Hebrew word, even when the original text in different places where the same word is used meant two entirely different things by it. Only Scholars can possibly know the original culture and language well enough to figure out what is meant by the blatant inaccuracy (ordinary English speakers seeing one word and assuming it means the same thing in both contexts). Perhaps the translators, all pastors themselves, think of this as "job security" for the pastors who preach from this obscure translation, the same as many King-James-only pastors apparently think of their own ministry. I was astonished to hear MacArthur actually say as much in his defense of the LSB. But that does not make it a good translation, and certainly not an "accurate" translation for anybody other than those scholars, and probably not for them either. I have seen this kind of inaccuracy happen in my very presence (see "Ambiguity" in my essay "On Love" last year).

Then I watched enough of the video to clearly understand what the LSB translators had in mind. MacArthur said "It is not the job of the translator to produce a text that accommodates the reader..." I stopped right there. It is the job of the translator to produce a text that accommodates the reader. That's what translation is all about, and the LSB is intended to do exactly that, insofar as it accommodates the reader's lack of Greek and Hebrew training. Otherwise why bother? Why not force the readers to read their Bibles in the original language(s) as the Muslims insist of the Koran? The only difference is that MacArthur (and apparently also the LSB translators) want to accommodate a different class of readers, who speak and understand a different dialect of English, than the other Bibles -- notably the New Living Transaltion, which is measurably and substantially more accurate -- that is, ordinary readers (not scholars) achieve a higher level of correct understanding -- than any other Bible that I have seen the numbers for (see my "Translation Accuracy" essay for numbers, although the links may be stale by now).

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2021 April 7 -- Ammonia Follies

"Climate Change" is getting as old as last week's fish wrap (fish used to be wrapped in stale newspapers, back when there was such a thing as newspapers), so I'll keep this short. The cover feature on last month's IEEESpectrum describes the technology for finding Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars. The (Darwinist) premise is silly, but the technology is interesting: they look for miniscule wobble in the star's spectrum, caused by the gravity of an orbiting planet.

The contents page focus is on stopping global warming by powering cargo ships on so-called "green ammonia." Maybe they realized how much sillier this is than trying to find life anywhere outside the earth. Although carbon is getting the blame for global warming and ammonia has no carbon, ammonia is mostly nitrogen and (they admit on p.50) nitrous oxides are worse, both as greenhouse and as toxic polluters, than CO2 yet here they are pushing ammonia as a way to cut in half by 2050 the piddly 3% that global shipping adds to the total atmospheric carbon.

Except that they are wrong. There is no such thing as "green ammonia," not in this decade, nor likely any time before 2050. To be truly "green" your technology must add less carbon to the atmosphere than what it displaces, which includes using the same "renewable" electric generation hardware to feed the power grid instead of being wasted on making ammonia. There is no place on the earth that they could build a solar-powered ammonia plant that is too far from some national power grid (all of which use at least 20% fossil fuel) for that generated electricity to not be sent out profitably onto the grid to displace carbon-based generation, not now, not this decade, and (at the rate power usage is going up) probably not in 30+ years. And, they also admit on p.49 quoting the Korean Register of Shipping, it takes 550 watts of electricity to generate enough ammonia to replace (the equivalent of) 305 watts of carbon-based ship fuel. In other words, every ship they convert to ammonia will add 80% more carbon to the atmosphere than if they left it burning oil and spent the same $1.4 trillion making clean electricity.

If and after fossil fuels no longer make up the shortfall in renewable energy, that's a different story. But not in my lifetime, and probably not yours. By then we may have already discovered that climate change is not caused by CO2, or maybe somebody will have invented a new safer way to power ships that doesn't pollute the atmosphere with acid rain and what-not.

Remember, today it costs one third as much to heat a home or office building with fossil fuel than it does to heat with (renewable or any other kind of) electricity, so it will be a very long time before they eliminate that source of atmospheric carbon. Cheaper "green" electricity would help. Or (if you believe that crock) we could wait until "global warming" reaches the northern climates so that heating is not such a big part of the home owner's budget: far more homes are heated with electricity in the deep south than in our northern states.
 

2021 April 5 -- Easter After the Ban

Long long ago in a not-so-faraway place, people celebrated the most important date of the Christian calendar by getting up before dawn to go to the Easter Sunrise Service at or near their local church. People seem to be too lazy to do that any more, so there are no such services that I can see. Last year the church was under the Ban, so there were no Easter services to go to at all. At least this year was better.

The church where I have been parking my fanny on Sunday mornings was not my first choice when I did the church-shopping thing to find a church home. It didn't even make it to the Short List, probably because I have such a low opinion of the tripe that passes for music. But here I am, and it is what it is.

Yesterday was better. Although I saw only one reference to the Resurrection in the whole song service -- but then they mostly didn't do Christmas music in December, either -- the music on a whole was much better than usual. The first song was a glorious praise of Jesus Christ -- it is his life and Resurrection we were there to celebrate -- with only two first-person pronouns, each repeated a couple times but always overwhelmed in a screen full of second-person pronouns referring to Jesus. The second song was nearly equal in pronoun count, but when you add in the nouns, it was definitely more about Jesus than "me, myself, and I."

The invitation hymn -- this being Easter, when you always see a lot of people who never otherwise darken the door of any church, the pastor actually gave a genuine sawdust-aisle invitation -- the music started off with a traditional rendition of the "Old Hundredth" Doxology, which of course is 100% about God, no 1st-person pronouns at all. Unfortunately the arranger added some other things after it, but at least it started off good, and I could even sing it.

He's a good pastor -- apart getting (it feels like) beat over the head with a baseball bat (but not yesterday) by the excess decibels of the sound system -- and it was a good Easter sermon drawn from Leviticus (!) so overall it was a better-than-average Easter. Two thumbs up. I'm preparing a Thank-you note to send to the music leader. She's female and an Artiste, therefore most likely an off-scale Feeler, so I need to do this very carefully so she won't feel like I'm damning her with faint praise (or worse, being sarcastic: following God's lead, I only do sarcasm on atheists). sigh
 

2021 April 2 -- Operation Warp Speed for Climate

At about one third of the way through, Gibbon's Decline and Fall (see my "A Better Read" post a couple months ago) is beginning to resemble the turgidity of other books more than a hundred years old. Except for a handful of words no longer used by modern Americans, his vocabulary sounds modern -- until you hit a sentence where the modern sense of the word doesn't make any sense. My familiarity with the King's English helped a lot, but some of those words were already obsolete in Gibbon's day. One word he uses a lot is "insensible" (or as an adverb, "insensibly"). It doesn't mean "nonsense" but in context it most often seems to have a meaning something like "without noticing." The whole concept is largely gone from modern speech. If the person in the story doesn't notice something, the author simply doesn't mention it. Or maybe if it's important, the guy "didn't turn to look."

Last week I was searching my blog for previous references to Baldacci and came across a reference Asimov's Foundation trilogy, where I'd quoted some guy who claimed it was like Gibbon, except for Gibbon's hostility to religion. Asimov was certainly hostile to religion in Foundation, but I have not yet noticed much of it in Gibbon yet. Mostly Gibbon is hostile to incompetence and especially to cruelty and greed. Maybe the Christians got that way after Constantine gave them the keys to the kingdom -- from my own experience I can say many of them certainly are so today -- but at the end of Constantine's reign where I left off reading, (not yet) any worse than the pagans before him.

Anyway, so I set Gibbon aside to read last month's WIRED. Clive Thompson is a regular columnist there, and he certainly is a fit target for my father's criticism "Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach" where an opinion columnist in WIRED is even more incompetent than a teacher (the author bio gives him no other credential, except to mention what appears to be a book title). In his two pages he offers the opinion "that big government works" -- or at least it did in the case of rushing COVID vaccines out of the labs and onto the street. He probably didn't know about cases like (as I learned today) a family member who got the vaccine and is now deathly sick from it. OK, it's a probabilistic thing.

Thompson tries to make the case that the "Warp Speed" government pushing that worked so well for COVID could be applied to "the terrifying scale of the [climate change] problem." Don't you believe it.

First the "terrifying" part. Last time I looked, the chance of getting sick and/or dying from COVID is comparable to the chance of getting injured and/or dying from a motor vehicle accident, and only one tenth the scale of the flu pandemic a century ago. I personally know only one person who got the virus, and he got it from the vaccine. That's like knowing somebody who was injured when a car ran over him after he put on a bright orange jumpsuit before crossing a busy street against the light. It happens, but not often. Most people don't do things like that.

So how terrifying is climate change? I never heard of anybody dying from climate change, but then I never heard of anybody dying from getting hit by lightning. Maybe it happens, but orders of magnitude less often than COVID, which is no worse than getting run over by a truck. The alleged global sea rise is so microscopic, you can outrun it crawling on your hands and knees. I did the math a while back (see my essay "A Christian View of Climate Change") and nobody will be able to measure sea rise with a yardstick in this century or the next, even if rates double like since we started measuring. When you consider that half the American population hates the current sitting President, and the other half hated his predecessor (a situation that has not changed in over twenty years), as soon as Biden takes Thompson's advice and starts spending COVID-style money on climate change, his party will lose the mid-term Congressional elections (as happens to most Presidents any more: I think the American people prefer "gridlock" to Thompson's Big Government) and he won't be able to do anything more.

Everybody I personally have talked to knows that climate change is politics, not science. That's different from reading about thousands of people dying from COVID. So Biden will not and cannot get the bipartisan political support to do a "Warp Speed" spending program to fight it, and he has better political sense than Trump did, so he won't even try. If he does, he won't last any longer than Trump did. I think he knows that.

Oh by the way, Obama tried to do something like Thompson is recommending, and came under criticism for fraud in his support of wind energy. The same WIRED issue as Thompson's column, the cover story features another incident of fraud, this time in biofuel. Whenever the government tries to pump money into some political idea, there will always be shysters willing to take it. It is important to remember that the people in government only have one skill they are good at: getting elected. Everybody else (like Trump) don't last. The Darwinists call that "natural selection." So the people doling out the cash have no idea what they are paying for, and Thompson's "Warp Speed" tends to come out more like a very expensive leisurely walk. Fortunately, there are enough Americans very much smarter than Thompson, and they vote, so his idea won't get far.

Anyway, so I'm back to reading Gibbon again. At least it's fact.

Postscript: Gibbon did a lot of his endnotes as direct quotes from Latin. I don't know Latin, so I have no way of quantifying the quality of his translation. Starting with Constantine, a significant number of those quotes are now in Greek, which I read reasonably well, except that I don't know very many of the Greek words in these quotes (words not used in the Bible, so not listed in my dictionary), with the result that my understanding is not a lot better than his Latin quotes. At least one I understood well enough to disagree with his translation, so my opinion of Gibbon's reporting has deteriorated somewhat since I first posted this entry. I think in that one case he admitted to altering the translation because he found the original less than credible. He said that in several cases (usually with respect to the Latin original, or an original not quoted, so I had to take his word for it) but in this case I thought the original was totally believable. But then I have less of a problem with miracles reported in the Bible than the contemporaries of anti-supernaturalist David Hume did (Gibbon being one of them). I had Hume on the reading list for a class I took in college, and he argued that "miracles don't happen because we all know that miracles don't happen" (not exactly those words, but definitely that illogical inference). In other words, that was his Religion (propositions held to be true regardless of any evidence to the contrary). I don't have as much faith as Hume did, I lean harder on objective evidence.

An author like Gibbon, who did little more than collect and translate ancient manuscripts then create his own narrative from the amalgum, is rather less "objective" than thousands of people dying every day all over the world (some of them here near where I live), but substantially more objective than "global warming" measured in fractions of a degree per year and sea rise measured in inches over decades, and then only by "scientists" of a particular political persuasion (or at least funded by them).

Similarly, (one month later) I rechecked the COVID death toll, and CDC stats now appear to place it at about the same level per capita as the 1918 flu pandemic: 0.5% of the population. I personally do not know (and track) enough people (that would be about 200) to personally know somebody who died, but I know somebody who knows somebody. People alleged to have died from climate change, are still so few as to count as non-existant. I never even heard of anybody like that. The World Health Organization website claims "Climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually" (COVID death rate is 20x higher in 2020) and if you read the fine print, they admit that

That estimate includes deaths as a result of extreme weather conditions, which may be occurring with increased frequency. Changes in temperature and rainfall conditions also may influence transmission patterns for many diseases, including water-related diseases, such as diarrhoea, and vector-borne infections, including malaria. Finally, climate change may affect patterns of food production, which in turn can have health impacts in terms of rates of malnutrition. [emphasis added]
In other words, they don't really know that any of those deaths are due to climate change, it's all only guesses fueled by political considerations. Maybe the death rate is actually going down from reduced hypothermia and better crop yields in (allegedly warmer) northern climates, or maybe a half-degree of temperature change is simply insignificant. But they won't tell us, it's Religion.

Joe Biden is quoted in January (before Thompson wrote his piece) "When I think of climate change... I think of jobs." He obviously sees it as employment not lives, politics not science. We won't be seeing any "Warp Speed" from this President.

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