Skip to main content


Been reading, Q2 2017

‘Fall’ (2012) by Victoria Reichelt. I can only really evaluate the truth of a book if it is on a topic I already know about. But books on topics I know about already are not nearly as worth reading as ones on new topics.

So, to maximise nonfiction, I need to know if a book is accurate before I read it. (Or, better, I need to know where exactly it is inaccurate.) This could be got using extremely detailed reviews by extremely involved experts - but they themselves would be wasting their time reading things they already know about. And reviews are generally too brief for this, even in academic journals or dedicated blogs; they gesture at one or two mistakes as a way of casting inductive aspersions on the whole. So what I really need is a wiki for errors and dishonesties, to spread out the Augean doings of journalists and average authors.

I don't read much fiction because I prefer reading people who know things. (That looks like a dreadful slander on novelists, but consider: …
Recent posts

notable bit buckets

bit bucket (n.): 1) Figurative location wherein all lost data resides; data heaven; 2) a null device or placeholder bitstream, for removing useless data: e.g. '/dev/null' on Linux; 3) an IT product by the giant meta-IT company Atlassian; 4) Literal location underneath the front hopper of a 1960s computer, which collected the used bits of punch cards. Here is the bit bucket for the (60 year!) CosRay experiment in McMurdo Antarctic Research Station:
rainbow bridge (post-Christian n.): A Heaven for nonhumans, particularly pets. So named in a clickbait prose poem of the 1990s. I have seen this used sincerely for the afterlife in general, hence "post-Christian": I said in my heart, “Concerning the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals.” /
For what happens to the sons of men happens also to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, fo…

the private and social

I paid tuition for the first time today. (£500 on a Bayesian modelling course.) So ends twenty-one years of perfectly gratuitous education. 1995 - 2002: Mediocre primary. Times tables, insect and tadpole lifecycles, forced sports, the globe, the War, playground torture. I remember them running out of maths resources for me in my last year. The world's end. I built Meccano towers instead.
2002 - 2008: Scottish generalism: that is, a weak grounding in everything. Excellent banal German vocabulary, which has stuck with me. Bad maths instruction, merely algorithmic, but going up to complex numbers and basic optimisation. Ordinary literature (Shakespeare, 'Of Mice and Men', 'Handmaid's Tale', Coleridge, MacCaig). Keyboards, saxophone, anacrusis and William Walton. World War I and the Clearances. Memorising Ohm's law and the Krebs cycle. Pissing about with acrylic all afternoon with Radio 1 on. Hundreds of hours doodling mindlessly. I experimented on my peers, gett…


I see the term "high-powered people" quite a lot, and realise I don't know what it means.

A trivial gloss of it is "powerful" (but it's more useful as marker of a tendency toward power). So another trivial one would be "having characteristics that bring success (in organisational life)".

What characteristics are those? Intelligence, motivation, charm and leadership spangles, tolerance of long hours, self-esteem, appetite for money or status or ascent. Or else sociopathy, narcissism, risk-taking, obsessiveness, 'the sterility that waits on practicality'.

Well, I don't have most of those things. Insofar as I know what I want from life, I want to know things, to make things more knowable, and to do good. (A lot of good, like 30,000 QALYs of good. That's not average: if we grant parents benevolent aims, then raising two kids is like 40 - 140 QALYs, if you and they are unusually lucky with genetics and peers. And that's about the…

notable notarikonim

thicc or thique (hip-hop adj.): curvaceous; in particular, callipygian. I thought this might be satirical, but no, it is well-attested in the literature.
parietal hours (from the Latin n.): "walled hours": times of the day that American college students were allowed members of the opposite sex in the dorm. About 25 hours a week, at 60s Radcliffe.
aborning (US adv.): while being born. e.g. I NEARLY DIED ABORNING; I WASN'T TO GET OFF SO EASILY
frass (US n.): Insect droppings. Compare Jamaican raas?
shotgun parser (n.): an ad hoc input recognizer, split into many pieces, across all layers, with parsing interspersed with processing logic, often reading Turing-complete data formats. Very insecure, predictably and by default. Unfortunately, this antipattern is the standard way of reading input, used in 99% of programs, simply because it is very very easy to do. "Shotgun parser" is the enemy of the Langsec people, who demand regular and context-free protocols.
sophont (sci…

Hitler's Uranium Club (1996) by Heisenberg, Hahn, Harteck, Wirtz et al

There are few, if any, other instances in recorded history where we have the conversations of leading figures as they complete one era, come to terms with it, and prepare their strategy for the next. It is as though these men were lifted out of history at a crucial turning point—from the age of conventional weapons to the nuclear era — placed within a timeless container and told to discuss their past and future as the recorders roll.
— Jeremy Bernstein

Astonishingly dramatic; also as pure as primary sources get. The result of months of secret eavesdropping on the German nuclear scientists, including after they hear of Hiroshima. Innocent of the microphones, the men concede their ignorance without ego, their character without any obfuscating propriety. (There are still two impurities: their words are both transcribed and translated by strangers. The physicists speak to us here in full sentences, with little of the fragmentariness and repetition of real speech. And it takes someone …

Einstein (2007) by Walter Isaacson

Physics becomes in those years the greatest collective work of art of the twentieth century.

- Jacob Bronowski

What to say about the stereotypically great? Start by scrubbing off the accumulated century of journalism and appropriation.

Einstein's scientific achievements:

A model of Brownian motion: the decisive argument for the existence of atoms. His model enabled experimental confirmation of Dalton's theory, after a hundred years of denial or instrumentalism.An elementary particle, the photon. The atomic hypothesis applied even to light.A law for the photoelectric effect, implying a quantum theory of all EM radiation. (A realist about quanta, unlike Planck.)So also lots of pieces of the "old" quantum theory.A theory of light and so space and time, special relativity.A physical constraint on metaphysics: no absolute time.A fairly consequential law, mass-energy equivalenceA flawed but progressive theory of heat capacity, the Einstein theory of solidsA better m…