flewellyn: (Default)
"We don't allow faster than light neutrinos in here," said the bartender.

So, this neutrino walked into a bar.
flewellyn: (Default)
Just thinking to myself tonight about how to boil down my problems with evolutionary psychology. It could have been a promising field! Really! It's just...as it is, it produces massive amounts of USDA Prime Grade bullshit.

Here, I think, is the chain of logic, boiled down to essentials:
  1. Human brains evolved. (Right! We know that.)
  2. Human psychology is a product of human neurology. (Makes sense.)
  3. Therefor, human psychology must have evolved in concert with our neurology. (Okay so far...)
  4. In evolution, traits which are adaptive (or neutral) tend to survive, while traits which are maladaptive tend not to survive. (Again, not controversial.)
  5. Human psychology definitely counts as a trait, if not many. (Fair enough...)

  6. Here's where they go off the deep end...

  7. Therefor, human psychological traits must, on the whole, be adaptive. (Well, hang on a second, all of them? Some might not be neutral or even maladaptive? And what about cultural influence? Hey, are you listening?!)
  8. Therefor, all behaviors that we observe in current human populations MUST have been adaptive traits that carry over from our savanna-dwelling ancestors, and biologically determined! Cultural norms of today are of course adaptive traits, and therefor there's no point in trying to change them! (Wait, WHAT?!)


See, they're doing fine up until that second-to-last step. Nicely reasonable premises that square with well-established science. Then suddenly it's VROOM! Straight over the cliff and into a huge sea of unfalsifiable hypotheses and "just-so" stories, transparently trying to justify current cultural norms as unchangeable biological imperatives. They routinely ignore cultural variation, both between contemporary cultures and within a single culture over time. They also ignore the enormous plasticity of the human brain, especially in childhood, and its ability to adapt itself to many different environmental conditions, on a time scale many orders of magnitude faster than evolution operates. And they tend to show a rather poor understanding of evolution; I am not a biologist, but what I do know on the subject tells me that this "cave-man psychology" thinking is woefully uninformed. I have read essays by actual biologists on the subject who make precisely that charge.

And it's surely a coincidence that the evolutionary psychologists who engage in such speculation are almost exclusively white men, and they spend an awful lot of time trying to justify problematic societal attitudes towards women and minorities, right? Right?

The frustrating thing is, up through step 5, it does sound like an intriguing field of inquiry. It really would be fascinating to learn more about how and why the overarching structure and function of our pscyhes formed, and how that influences our cultural development today. But the way they're doing it now, producing the neuropsychological equivalent of "How the Leopard Got His Spots"? That's not science. That's just pseudoscientific onanism.
flewellyn: (Default)
This is a note for anyone out there who has run into this problem on Mac OS X Server: your program needs to resolve a host name, and works fine from the command line. However, when run from Apache, host names fail to resolve, and you get the error message "temporary failure in name resolution" in your Apache error_log. You may be tearing your hair out, because from the command line, DNS resolution works fine, but somehow, any program run from Apache can't resolve a DNS lookup.

The problem is not with your DNS server, or your Apache setup. It does not depend on what language you use to write your programs, either. You need to make sure that httpd starts using the program "StartupItemContext" so that its Mach ports are set up correctly! This is found in /usr/libexec/ and will fix the problem.

So, you must use /usr/libexec/StartupItemContext to run Apache. This will fix it. Do this!

And boost the signal! I drove myself nearly crazy looking for solutions for months before I found this out.
flewellyn: (Default)
Not even a week in office, and already Obama has the Republicans throwing conniption fits. Bush's former speechwriter, Marc Thiessen, today called Obama "the most dangerous man ever to occupy the Oval Office".

For some reason, that made me imagine this:

"Until this fascism is fully operational we are vulnerable! The Obama is too well equipped. He's more dangerous than you realize."

"Dangerous to your party, Thiessen. Not to this country!"
flewellyn: (Default)
Geologists have found a gigantic mountain range submerged under the Antarctic ice sheet that "should not be there".

And they're sending an expedition to investigate.

...yeah. Like we NEED the kind of trouble we'd get if we woke up the shoggoths.
flewellyn: (Default)
So, apparently, the Earth got hit by a meteoroid.

Specifically, at 02:46 UTC October 7th (corresponding to 9:46 PM October 6th for me, in Central Daylight Time), a meteoroid two to five meters in diameter exploded over the Nubian Desert in northern Sudan, causing a fireball equivalent to about 1-2 kilotons of TNT.

Alright, [livejournal.com profile] xuincherguixe, fess up...this was your doing, wasn't it?

Oh dear.

Sep. 11th, 2008 11:51 pm
flewellyn: (Default)
I fear my brain sometimes:

flewellyn: (Default)

GlaDOS/Companion Cube 2008!


They do what they must, because they can. For the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead.
flewellyn: (Default)
I just wanted to save this for posterity:

Linux is not for everyone. If you have trouble diagnosing and fixing simple problems on your Windows or MacOS machine, you should not use Linux. Do not install Linux if you are on a tight schedule. Tell your guru if you have any unpopular proprietary hardware, as it may conflict with Linux's ability to function. Users who have no experience with command lines, complex filesystems, or programming are advised not to use Linux. Linux has been shown to be habit-forming and cause fanboy syndrome in some users. Side effects may include extreme frustration, lost data, wasted time, and cynicism with all computer systems. Only your guru can decide whether Linux is right for you.
flewellyn: (Default)
MIght be of interest to others. Quixote, a contributor to Shakesville, wrote a post back in February called Less heat, more light: solving the energy crisis, which does a great job of describing what our real options are, long term, for future energy sources. Not just in terms of sustainability and environmental impact, but technological complexity, cost, and the total energy yield possible for each source.

Guess which one wins on all counts? Hint: it's definitely not nuclear...
flewellyn: (Default)
Sometimes it's easy to forget that we live in an age of technological wonders. Seeing as how I work daily with computers the size of pizza boxes that are thousands of times more powerful than the supercomputers of the 1980s, and my PHONE contains a processor at least a thousand times as powerful as the million-dollar mainframes of the 1960s, I sometimes become inured to the amazing technology we have today.

But, sometimes I'm reminded of the fact that we live in what people even 20 years ago would call a fantastic future. The latest reminder? This prototype for an implantable "tattoo" cell phone, powered by bioelectricity.

It's not necessarily practical...I mean, how would you upgrade? But even so...holy blapp, man.
flewellyn: (Default)
So, I was reading a forum today, I forget where, and happened upon a debate about human evolution. Specifically, it was about various behaviors you see in humans, and whether they were adaptive behaviors, or arose from cultural influences. Yet another incarnation of the old "nature vs. nurture" argument, in other words.

The problem I have with these arguments is that they imply a disparity that does not exist. I submit that culture is our collection of evolved adaptive instincts. Humans have three traits, three defining behaviors, that make up our evolutionary bag of tricks: language skills, tool use, and social structure. These three things are what make up a culture, and give humans our uniqueness.

The individual traits are hardly unique to humans, of course! Many animals use sounds to communicate, many animals use tools, and there are lots of social animals as well. However, only a few animals have all three (primates and cetaceans), and only humans have taken those three and made them the entire survival strategy of the species. We have no other mechanisms BUT these three behaviors for adapting to an environment: no natural weapons, no camouflage, no protective coverings, zip. Physically, our bodies are extremely generic, and it's only through language, tools, and socializing that we survive and thrive.

Look at how human children develop. One of the first skills babies learn, even before they can talk, is how to recognize faces. This is key to social interaction. Then they learn language, and as any child psychologist, or any parent, could tell you, children learn languages amazingly quickly, considering how complex human language really is. Then, of course, in very short order, young children start learning tool use: picking things up and messing with them to see what they can do and how they can be used.

The combination of language, tool use, and social structure, each one reinforcing the other, creates culture. Cultures, in my view, are really just collections of ideas, knowledge, and behaviors that have (mostly) proven adaptive over time; or sometimes, haven't proven maladaptive enough to be eliminated. Cultures evolve as the world changes, and as the needs of the people living in that culture change. New ideas come around and may be rejected, or if they prove adaptive (and can out-compete old ideas), may be accepted and incorporated into the culture. (Sometimes this happens fitfully, and rejected ideas can come back after they'd been abandoned, but that's an artifact of our culture-making strategy: humans have a tendency to want to hold onto ideas they learned when they were young, and sometimes this can be very hard to overcome.)

And, of course, cultures meet, and exchange ideas with each other; obviously, they also can clash with each other, or absorb each other, or one can be absorbed by another, or...well, you get the idea. Check any history book for more info.

Obviously, how people interact with the culture they live in has HUGE bearing on their survival and success, in evolutionary terms. People who, for various reasons, would not be able to survive living on their own in the wilderness (and that's most of us, folks) can have productive and meaningful lives living in their societies, fulfilling cultural needs. Traits that would doom a non-cultural animal may simply be inconvenient to a human, such as various disabilities or genetic diseases. On the other hand, cultural effects can kill people who would otherwise live, or otherwise take them out of the gene pool (monastic orders that vow celibacy, for instance).

Culture allows humans who cannot or will not have children, to still make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the species, which can in turn affect the survival and success of other humans. Through culture, we can survive and thrive in environments which are extremely hostile, and which other species from our original native home in east Africa would find completely inhospitable, if not instantly lethal. Culture gives us access to a variety of food sources enjoyed by no other species on the planet, enables us to live at population densities unmatched by nearly any other animal, and in short, gives us the ability to adapt to nearly any situation. It's the most adaptive set of behaviors any animal on this planet has ever evolved.

The entire question, then, of "nature versus nurture", with regards to human behavior, is ultimately meaningless. My answer? Nurture is our nature.
flewellyn: (Default)
So, I was showing my friends on AIM a couple of extremely geeky examples of musical science.

First, the theme from "Super Mario Bros." as played on tesla coils:


And second, the theme from "The Legend of Zelda" on theremin, with synth backing:


To which my friend Magda said the following:

madelinetalks: Cute. I want one of those!
madelinetalks: Are you sure it's not magic?
Eyerleth: Yeah, they're pretty darn cool!
Eyerleth: It's not magic, it's SCIENCE!
madelinetalks: Sufficiently weird science is indistinguishable from magic!
flewellyn: (Default)
From the depths of my brain comes...math humor?

Faster than a speeding decimal!
More powerful than Peano Arithmetic!
Able to leap tall asymptotes in a single bound!

"Look! Up in the domain!"
"It's a lemma!"
"It's a proof!"

No, it's...SUPERSET!
flewellyn: (Default)
I must have Dune on the brain or something...this just popped into my head:

I must not peer.
Peer is the link-killer.
Peer is the little lag that brings total disconnection.
I will ping my peer.
I will route it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has ACKed I will tune the firewall to see its path.
Where the SYN has gone there will be nothing.
Only packets will remain.


...yeah, I don't know either.
flewellyn: (Default)
Sometimes I have an urge to go to a Shakespeare festival or reading or whatever, make a doorbell noise, and then call out "Bard of Avon calling!"
flewellyn: (Default)
Recently, [livejournal.com profile] xuincherguixe and I were discussing the subject of video games. Namely, what sort would we make if we were inclined to try and create some of our own?

This, as you might imagine, is not a good thing for us to be speculating about. You see, [livejournal.com profile] xuincherguixe is quite insane, and I am almost as silly. The concepts which we created are...well, not evil, precisely, but definitely odd.

Our idea? The Jim Lorfen series of games. In the same vein as "Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri", or "Sid Meier's Civilization", or perchance "Sid Meier's Railroads", we would have games credited to "Jim Lorfen".

So, you would end up with "Jim Lorfen's Squirrel Raiser", "Jim Lorfen's Pastry Trebuchet", or "Jim Lorfen's Battle Moth".

Who is Jim Lorfen? No idea. Not the foggiest. Nor would the games (or the manuals) tell anyone who he is, or is not.

But the fun doesn't stop there. As the sample titles I gave above may indicate, we came up with a few...interesting ideas for games, which I shall now present here, because I thought it would be fun. Also, I need to fill space.
  • Pastry Trebuchet! A 3D version of "Rampart" or "Scorched Earth", played with siege engines that hurl large, exploding baked goods. Each type of pastry, whether a pie, a tart, a strudel, or what have you, would have different effects, such as extra damage, greater damage radius, lower calories, fruit filling, and so on. Not a game for the diabetic.

  • Squirrel Raiser! Vaguely similar to "Act Raiser", in that it combines action and combat with sim-style construction, this game has you take the role of the Master Squirrel, leading your furry rodent subjects in a bid to take back their park and forest homelands from the evil...well, we haven't worked that part out yet. Probably ninja raccoons, or giant battle robots.

  • Battle Moth! Combat flight sim action, arthropod style! Fly moths, butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects as they battle over the backyard, firing venom blasts, egg missiles, and other weapons at each other in a bid for supremacy! You'd have to refuel by drinking nectar from flowers, and of course avoid the porch light and the bug zapper. I envision the landing zones being illuminated by rows of fireflies.

  • Xtreme Dishwasher! An RPG, you are a dishwasher (probably a Whirlpool) trying to discover the secrets of your past and avenge the death of your refridgerator father. Battle appliances and other home equipment in a bid to defeat the ultimate evil, Lord Lawnmower.

  • Mortal Debate! Take debate team to the next level in this verbal-fighting game, in which you must choose the right argument or counter-argument in order to use your special powers to defeat your opponent! Each point made means a punch, kick, thrown fireball, or what have you; each point lost means you're one step closer to the dreaded "QEDality!"

  • Tree Simulator! Simulate the life of a tree. Um...stand there and photosynthesize. Pollinate. Grow fruit. How do you like them apples?
So, that's the ideas we've come up with so far. Got any others, folks?

Remember, if it made sense, it wouldn't be a Jim Lorfen game!
flewellyn: (Default)
How many X does it take to Y?

Let P = set of things incongruous to Y.
Let Q = set of things humorously appropriate to X.

N. One to do Y, N - 1 to do Z, where Z ∈ {P ∩ Q}.

There, that's all lightbulb jokes anywhere, generalized.
flewellyn: (Default)
For some reason, this just popped into my head...

Take my games, take my songs
Take my spreadsheets, all you want,
I don't care, I'm still free,
You can't take the web from me...

Lose my docs, get me hacked,
Data's never comin' back,
Dump my files and FORMAT C:
You can't take the web from me...

(fiddle solo)

There's no place, for IE
Since I found Mozilla's free.
And you can't take the web from me...
flewellyn: (Default)
As my bio says, I am a computer person, in much the same way I am an oxygen-using person. Computers and programming and technology in general fascinate me, so naturally I care a great deal about what goes on in the computer world.

One of the up-and-coming ideas, currently being advanced by the RIAA and MPAA, those same paragons of consumer advocacy that brought us the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, is Digital Rights Management, or DRM. Also known in the free software community as "Digital Restrictions Mangement", this technology is intended as a set of hardware-based cryptographic tools which will allow the computer to verify that the user is actually authorized to use certain content. In other words, a CD or DVD would be encrypted, and unless your DRM chip could verify that you had a legit copy, you couldn't use it.

Obviously, this has some people rather upset. It's a very domineering tactic, and among other things, makes it so that you no longer own the computer you buy, or the CDs or DVDs. You would use them only in the way that large, monolithic corporate interests want you to, and they could have complete control over what you were allowed to view and listen to on your computer.

At least, that's the idea. There is one teensy little problem with DRM: there is no way it could actually work.

I am not a cryptographic expert (amateur enthusiast at best), but to me the problem boils down to one of key distribution. It's very easy to build cryptographic tools, open source or not, without compromising the security, because knowing the cypher algorithm does not necessarily help you break the encryption by itself; you need the keys, or a means of producing those keys.

Traditional cryptography, also known as symmetric key cryptography, has one key which is used for both encrypting and decrypting messages. The problem there is, symmetric key cryptography has the small problem that the same key is used for both encrypting and decrypting, which means that key has to be secret at both ends. So, if the two ends are far apart, you have this problem of sending the key to the other person; how do you get it there without it being intercepted?

The newer forms of asymmetric cryptography, called "public key" cryptography, were designed to alleviate this problem. This splits the single key into TWO keys: one for encrypting, and one for decrypting. Having the encrypting key does not allow you to decrypt messages that were encrypted with it; only the decrypting key can do that. The idea here is that, basically, you distribute the encrypting "public" key far and wide, while keeping the decrypting "secret" key to yourself. Thus, anybody can encrypt a message to the holder of the secret key, but only the holder of that key can decrypt those messages. This is a very elegant solution to the basic problem of key distribution, assuring that the messages are kept private for the intended recipient.

But here's where the problem comes in. Since it was invented, cryptography has always assumed that, while the message you encrypt may be intercepted by untrusted parties, the person you intend the message for can be trusted. DRM is about locking down content, not about ensuring privacy of messages; it flips around the usual case in cryptography by distrusting the recipients. In order to make sure content is only decryptable by authorized people, you'd have to ensure that only those authorized people had access to the keys needed to decrypt. If it's public key, asymmetric cryptography, you'd have to distribute those keys somehow to the authorized people.

And any way you do that, whether by embedding them in the content or by separately enabling them, nothing prevents those authorized people from redistributing the keys to other people! Since, in DRM, the recipient is not trusted, this means that key distribution becomes a catch-22: if you don't distribute keys, then nobody can read your content, and they have no reason to buy it; but if you do distribute keys to purchasers, then they can redistribute them, everyone can read your content, and they have no reason to buy it.

Locking down the spec for DRM, requiring it in ROM, building it into the operating system...none of these things will help. The core issue is, the keys have to exist on the recipient's machine in order to read the content, and once there, they can be discovered and put to "unauthorized" use. Granted, 9 out of 10 computer users may not have the knowhow to do this, but it only takes one or two to discover the method and propagate it. DRM as a content restriction method is doomed to fail.

The technology could be put to legitimate, useful purposes, mind you, as a way for the owner of the machine to secure it against running untrusted binaries; this would allow you to, for instance, "sign" all the programs you want to be runnable with a little authorization key, and then the computer would simply refuse to run any unsigned program. This would be a huge boon for securing a system...but for the system's owner, not some third party. That, I think, would be a very good use of built-in cryptography in a computer, and should be encouraged.

But the stone cold fact is, if you have physical access to a computer, that computer cannot be secured against you. And frankly, if you're the one who bought it, I think that's a good thing.

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