Tuesday, December 13, 2011

AlDraw Wiki

Ever wish there were a wiki focused on AlDraw for you to learn from and contribute to? No, I didn't really think so. Nonetheless, it now exists - behold, AlDraw Wiki!

Right now there's not a lot of stuff specific to AlDraw. I've been focusing on the Construction techniques category. I have instructions on simple techniques, such as how to construct a midpoint, intermediate, such as how to inscribe a circle in a triangle and advanced, such as how to construct a circle that passes through two given points and is tangent to a given line. And I'm adding more every day.

Is something confusing or unclear? Ask and I'll write it better. Do you see a mistake I made? Edit it!

Edit: I've just added the pentagon. This page describes both how to construct a pentagon inscribed in a circle (which is easy to find elsewhere online) and also how to construct a pentagon from a given side length (which is harder to find elsewhere).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Extraordinary Evidence

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" -Carl Sagan
 Some people don't like this quote. They say it's too subjective. There's no objective standard of what's extraordinary. And other rather silly objections.

I would generalize the saying to be something more like this: "All claims require the appropriate amount or degree of evidence.".

The ordinariness/extraordinariness of a claim is not a binary feature, but rather a sliding scale. If I said I had eggs for breakfast this morning, that's a perfectly ordinary claim. You'd probably need no more evidence than my word to believe it. If I said I saw a zebra in my backyard, that's a little bit extraordinary, since they don't live anywhere near here. You'd probably need a photograph, or a news story about a zebra that escaped from a zoo to believe it. If I said I saw a unicorn, that's even more extraordinary. You'd probably need to see the real live thing to believe that. If I said neutrinos can go faster than light, that's even more extraordinary and will require lots more evidence. And then of course, there's always God, which is about the most extraordinary claim imaginable.

Another important thing to note is that belief too is not a binary value. Rather, it's degree of certainty. Probability. Which is nice, because that means this saying can be formalized by using Bayes' Theorem.

Bayes' Theorem is a mathematical formula that lets you calculate how probable you should consider a hypothesis after seeing some evidence, given your prior probability of that hypothesis, how likely you are to see that evidence if the hypothesis were true, and how likely you are to see that evidence if the hypothesis were false.

How extraordinary a claim is, is simply how low your prior for it was. This doesn't totally eliminate claims of subjectiveness, but it's no less subjective than any other belief, and if you're doing Bayes right, it's really a lot less subjective.

And how extraordinary evidence is, is simply how much more likely that evidence is to occur if the claim were true than if the claim were not true.

Going back to my examples, the prior probability for me eating eggs for breakfast is relatively high. You already know from past experience that eggs exist and that people commonly eat them for breakfast. So the evidence doesn't need to be very strong. I'm more likely to say something if it's true than if it's false, but lying isn't unheard of.

The prior probability of me seeing a zebra in my backyard is lower. You still know that zebras exist, but you also know they don't live in the wild here. So, on just my word, it might seem more likely that I'm lying than that I actually saw a zebra. The prior probability for the unicorn is even lower, because you already know they don't exist. A photograph isn't sufficient here because it's more likely that I faked it than that unicorns actually exist.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Stronghold 3

The original Stronghold was an excellent game. It's easily the best castle building game I've played (though that's not really saying a lot) and even outside that relatively narrow genre, it's still one of my favorite games. So, I was very excited about Stronghold 3, which came out just a couple weeks ago.

Unfortunately, Stronghold 3 has been very disappointing.

When it first came out, it was buggy as all hell. It was pretty much unplayable. Fortunately, some patches have been released. They're now on version 1.2.24396. It's not usually a good sign when the version number is in the tens of thousands. That's a lot of bug fixes.

But at least now you can actually click on things, and your troops will go where you tell them. (Well, most of the time. My guys still occasionally get stuck on nothing, but ordering them backwards and forwards again will usually get them unstuck. (Sadly, that's still better than it was before))

But even without the bugs, it's still disappointing. The change from earlier games that I dislike the most is happiness. As with earlier games, if happiness is above a certain level, peasants will come to the castle, and the higher the happiness, the faster the come. Conversely,  the further below that level, the faster the peasants will leave. However, in earlier games, influences on happiness level were related to the rate of change of happiness. Raising taxes wouldn't make the peasants unhappy, it would make them unhappier and they would keep getting unhappier until you did something else to make them happier. In Stronghold 3 the influences on happiness are direct, and immediate. This can make for an unfortunate situation if anything happens to your farmers. If you run out of food, people will immediately start leaving the castle, and the farmers can't be replaced.

Another thing I don't like is that strongholds seem a lot less strong in this game. In earlier games, archers on top of walls or towers had an incredible advantage over those on the ground. They could shoot farther, and they got some protection against enemy arrows. In this game, there's no protection from enemy attacks. Enemy arrows never miss and bounce off a crenelation. And though there is a range enhancement, it's pretty small. In fact, archers on a wall instead of a tower don't seem to get any extra range at all.

Beyond the big things, there are lots of little irritations too. For example, peasants eat a lot. You can only attach a wall to the very end of another wall, not in the middle for a T-shape. Troops default formation is no formation. Etc.

Stronghold 3 isn't all bad. There are a few things I like about it. One is what they've done with housing.  In earlier games, it didn't matter where you put hovels, so it made sense to make them far away from the rest of the castle. That way, they wouldn't get in the way, and they wouldn't be in harms way when enemies attacked. But it also wasn't very realistic. Now, the closer you put your hovel to the keep, the more people it can hold.

Another thing I like is that now you don't place buildings on a grid, and they can rotated very finely.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Death Penalty

Yesterday, two people were executed. One was probably guilty. One was maybe not. But even if they were guilty, is justice served by execution?

I say no. Killing is a bad thing. Regardless of who dies, death is bad. Killing may sometimes be the lesser of two evils (for example, self defense), but that doesn't make it good. Another solution that didn't involve death would be better.

Moreover, killing accomplishes very little. The victims of a murderer aren't brought back to life by his execution. It doesn't undo the damage that's been wrong. The only positive things I can think of are that it prevents the criminal from committing future crimes, which can be done through other means, and that it gives the survivors revenge-inspired happiness, which isn't really something that should be encouraged, in my book.

Two wrongs don't make a right. Justice isn't achieved by hurting someone who hurt you. Justice is achieved by healing hurt and righting past wrongs. Sometimes that's not possible, but that doesn't make vengeance right.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Literally Misused Words

Words have no inherent meaning. They mean only what they are understood to mean.Of course the intention of words and language is to communicate, so words ought to aid that endeavor. Commonly used and unambiguous words do that. Words that no one can agree what they mean do exactly the opposite. Which is why I partially agree, and partially disagree with this.

I agree with their usage of ambivalent. There's no other word that closely matches it, and if you want to say indifferent, you can say indifferent (or apathetic).

As far as literally goes, I've never seen it used it to mean figuratively. Never. It's used as an intensifier. Frequently used in the same way as really. But never figuratively. At best, it's used in a figurative sense, but that's not the same as saying it's used in the place of figuratively. That would mean you could replace the one word with the other, and the phrase would mean the same thing. That doesn't work. Though I do think, for the sake of clarity, that literally should retain its literal meaning, rather than being used as an intensifier.

Funnily enough, enormous used to also mean wicked. You don't see anyone complaining about people misusing that anymore...

And by my authority as a blogger, I officially remove the word nonplussed from the English language. No one knows what the word means. Even if they do, they don't know that people they're communicating with understand it the same way they do. It fails to communicate clearly, and should not be used. Besides, look at it - nonplussed. Clearly neither definition given is correct: It means subtracted.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tautologies and Rhetoric

Today, I read PZ Myers's response to this argument against evolution. PZ does a fine job of taking it down, but there is one point I'd like to make, and this is something that shows up in many places. Egnor says that evolution is a tautology and is therefore false or fallacious. The problem is that a tautology is not a fallacy. In fact, by definition, a tautology is always true.

That's what a tautology is. Something that's always true, no matter what. For example, if x is true, then x is true. That statement is always true whether or not x is. It's just not interesting. There's no real claim or anything there. A tautology is only interesting when it gets combined with something else, which is what Darwin did with evolution by combining the tautology of "survivors survive" with variation and heritability.

And of course that doesn't mean that tautologies can't be used fallaciously. They're frequently used to sneak in a fallacy such as begging the question. But pointing out a tautology doesn't in and of itself show an argument to be fallacious.

Monday, August 22, 2011

AlDraw, Version 2.1

Well, it's been more than a year since I announced I was working on AlDraw 2.0. Now, 2.1 is out. The coolest thing: now it does colors. Look!

There are also a few other new features. It does copy and paste, too, although that's a bit complicated since it handles scaling and rotation in addition to translation. So now, a year later, I've hit all the big things on the to-do list. There are still plenty of little things to work on. More pictures can be found here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Problem with The Bible as a Moral Guide

Well, one of them, anyway. The problem with using The Bible as a moral guide is that it can be, and has been, used to support pretty much everything.

The bible has been used to support slavery. It's also been used to oppose it. It's been used to show that premarital sex is evil, and also to show that it's alright. It's been used to support women's rights and oppose them. People have used it to argue for and against gay marriage. People have even made biblical arguments for and against environmentalism. The only thing I can think of that the bible has only been used to support one side of is bestiality. That's not saying a lot.

How are you supposed to find out what's right when the Bible supports and opposes whatever you want resolved?

This video makes about the same points from around 11:00 to 11:50. It also makes many other good points.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Problem with Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalism is about the least objectionable religion imaginable. They don't go door to door trying to convert people. They don't try to prevent gays from marrying. They don't try to get creationism taught in schools. They don't say that if you don't believe as they do then you'll burn in hell.

But there's one major problem with UU that I find objectionable. They're too open and accepting.

The thing is, the existence of god and other religious questions are objective facts. Either god exists, or god doesn't exist. God can't exist for you, and not exist for me. If one person believes in god, and another doesn't then one of them is wrong and ought to change their mind, because truth is important.

Now, I don't think that someone with wrong beliefs should be censored or converted at swordpoint or anything like that. The only way to separate the true beliefs from the false is to constantly examine and challenge all beliefs.

But if a congregation is truly interested in getting at the truth, they shouldn't be content with "Well, some of us believe in god X and some of us believe in god Y and some of us don't believe in god at all.". They should instead examine the evidence and try to determine which, if any, beliefs are true and believe in those. Eventually, as they share information and arguments, they should start to agree on major points.

UUists tend to like the parable of the blind men and the elephant. They use it as an example of how different people can experience the same reality differently. But the parable shouldn't end with one man feeling a rope, and one man feeling a wall and one man feeling a pillar. Rather the blind men should examine the elephant further, switch places and find parts they hadn't before, and hopefully find a unified elephant.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My Weight Loss Experience

I don't have anything new to add to this particular topic (not that this is the first time), but I figured I'd add one more anecdote on the pile.

Around Christmastime last year, I weighed nearly 200 pounds. Now, I weigh 160. How did I do that? Short answer: Eat less, move more.

Easier said than done, of course. But there are some tricks I used to make it easier. I think one of the most important things I did is to work on reducing my appetite and learn to stop eating when satisfied instead of full.  This is based on the idea that how much you eat now affects how much you want to eat tomorrow. The more you eat now, the more it will take to fill you up later on and vice versa. I used to be able to eat an entire frozen pizza (over 1400 Calories!) in one sitting. Frozen pizzas are convenient because they're the same size each time, so it's easy to gauge how much you're eating compared to before. So, one of the first things I did was decide that I was only going to eat half of a pizza in one sitting. At first, that left me still wanting more. Eventually, it became difficult for me to eat even that much.

That ties into the other part, stopping when satisfied, instead of full. If you feel like "Well, I could eat more", stop, you're satisfied. You won't feel full, but that's ok. Eventually satisfied feels much more satisfying. And an instrumental part of that is to pause while eating. It takes some time for that feeling to sink in, so pause for a couple minutes and consider how you feel now. If you're still hungry, eat some more. If you're satisfied, stop.

And related to that, use smaller dishes, and keep the remaining food farther away from you. This is helpful for giving you that time to pause and think. I still have a hard time not finishing what's left on the plate.

While eating less was important, eating healthier also helped. Instead of frozen pizza, I had rice. Instead of processed macaroni and cheese, I had spaghetti. Instead of beef, I had beans. I still don't have any much in the way of fruits and vegetables as I should, but it's better than before. And this also had an pleasant side-effect of costing less too.

And then there's the moving part. Not too much to say about this except stick with it. I was stuck in a plateau between 170 and 172 pounds for most of the month of May. It took me a while to figure out why, since the effect was delayed about a week after the cause, but it turned out to be because I wasn't exercising. At the beginning of May, I got a cold, and stopped going to the gym while I had it. After that, I had a hard time going back for nearly a month. But about a week after I started exercising again, I started losing weight again.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Importance of Progress

Some people don't like software updates. They find them annoying and ask things like "Why didn't they just make it right the first time?". These people are looking at it the wrong way.

Because making software isn't like making a bridge. Bridges you can't rebuild every couple of months to make minor improvements to. The money, time, and other costs make it unfeasible. But you can rebuild software that frequently. And that make software much more powerful, because it can incrementally progress.

Jeff Atwood, of Coding Horror has talked about this before.

Continuous improvement is better than starting good and staying there, because by improving, no matter where you start, you'll eventually surpass anything else that's not.

And this doesn't just apply to software. We can never be perfect, we can never know everything. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Because we can get better, and that's better than staying the same.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Wonder of Nature

I saw a billboard recently that said "Explore nature, there are surprises everywhere". Pictured, it has kids in a forest, with Shrek. Personally, I think the presence of Shrek does a disservice to the message.

The reason is that Shrek isn't in nature. But things much more wonderful and amazing are. Nature has the Grand Canyon. Nature has Mount Everest. Nature has Angel Falls and Yellowstone and the Redwood forest.

There are trees literally thousands of years old. There are fungal colonies that cover miles of land. There are organisms that can survive boiling temperatures, or extreme radioactivity. There are even animals that can survive being in space.

There's no fiction that can compare to the magic and fantasy of real life.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Freedom From Religion

Recently, in Louisiana, an atheist student pointed out that a school performing a prayer at graduation isn't strictly legal. Of course, you can imagine how that went.

One religious defense is that the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. I say that not only is that not true, it's not possible to have freedom of religion without freedom from religion. 

Here's a quick thought experiment. You want to go to the BMV and renew your driver's license. However, in order to do that, you first have to say a prayer to Zeus (or some other god you don't believe in). When you're not getting a license you can pray or not pray to whatever god(s) you like, but you can't get a license without saying a prayer to Zeus first. That doesn't sound very free does it?

I don't even know what true freedom of religion without freedom from religion would look like. You can go to whatever church you want as long as you also go to the state-endorsed church? You can follow whatever doctrine you believe in as long as you also follow the doctrine of the state religion?

Freedom of religion means live and let live. You can believe in whatever you believe in and I can believe in whatever I believe in. If we can force our beliefs on the other in any way, it's no longer free.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fuck Indiana

Indiana is going to be the first state to defund Planned  Parenthood. For this, fuck Indiana. I've never been so ashamed of my state. Yeah, Indiana is a conservative state, but this is just bloody stupid. This not only fails to achieve any benefit, but is actively detrimental, both economically and socially.

The intent of this bill is presumably to decrease abortions. Of course, abortions by Planned Parenthood aren't funded by the government. So the whole thing seems kind pointless to start with. But worse than that is that this will actually increase abortions. One of the things that PP does is provide access to contraception and information about avoiding unwanted pregnancies. Removing those things isn't going to make people stop having sex, it's just going to have them have less safe sex, which will result in more unwanted pregnancies. And if someone doesn't want to carry a pregnancy to term, they'll be willing to go further out of their way to get an abortion, so the lack of PP won't make a big difference.

Ok, so this bill will actively do the opposite of its intention. Great. What other stupidity will result from this?

This will eliminate jobs. PP employs people. With reduced funds, it won't be able to employ as many, so people will be laid off, increasing unemployment.

This will prevent access to medical services that people need. PP provides all sorts of wonderful medical services like pap smears, testing for and treating STDs, and cancer screenings. PP is the only place poor people can really get these services since there aren't enough OB/GYNs and clinics that accept Medicaid to handle it all.

And this in turn will increase medical costs since it's cheaper to treat things earlier than later. And most of that cost will be borne by the taxpayers.

Really, this is just sickening. Fuck Indiana.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Big Government

Something conservatives like to whine about is that the government is too big and needs to be made smaller.

Personally, I don't really care about how big the government is, not as a terminal value. The government should be as big as it needs to be to do the things it needs to do. It should be big enough to defend its citizens from invading countries. It should be big enough to protect its citizens from criminals. It should be big enough to provide a minimum standard of living to all its citizens. Etc.

It doesn't matter if it's small or big as long as it does those things. It strikes me as quite odd that there are people who do treat the size of the government as a terminal value. That necessary government services should be reduced or eliminated just so the government would be smaller. Although, it seems very few proponents of smaller government support cutting funding to the military...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Libertopia: My Solution to Libertarians

Libertarians claim that everything would be better if government got out the business of, well, government. If everything were privatized and government were non-existent, people would just get along, and no one would ever try to take advantage of others unfairly.

I propose we test this hypothesis. We should set aside an area of land where absolutely no laws will be enforced. Maybe somewhere in Alaska, or perhaps eastern Africa. If what the libertarians say is true, it should become a utopian wonderland full of rainbows and unicorns. As more people want to go there the area can be expanded as necessary.

On the other hand, if it turns into a poor, violent hellhole, well...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Taxes are not Theft

In fact, without taxes, theft doesn't really have a meaning.

The thing is, property is not an objective reality. There is no empirical test you can perform that will determine if an object belongs to someone, and to who. Property is a social convention.

You only own something to the extent that you control it. You have it, and someone else doesn't. But someone bigger and stronger than you can take your stuff, and there's nothing you can do about it. Even if you're the biggest strongest person there is, a group of people can overpower you.

One of government's functions is to protect property rights. If you own something, someone bigger than you isn't allowed to just take it from you. And if they try, well, government is the biggest one around. And government needs taxes to operate. You need funds to pay for the police who will stop people from stealing.

Without taxes, the enforcement of property rights collapses, and property ceases to exist. And you can't have theft without property.

Beyond even that, taxes pay for roads and other infrastructure, which you're in debt to, even if you don't use it directly. Even if you don't own a car, you still get a benefit out of roads, because grocery stores you shop at are supplied via roads. Even if you have never needed medical care in your life, public medical care benefits you by herd immunity. The list goes on.

Wanting to get these benefits without paying for them is closer to stealing than taxes are.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

There is Evidence for God

Something many atheists claim is that there is no evidence for god or religion. Not one single bit of evidence at all. But that's not true. It's frequently talked about as if it were an all or nothing kind of thing. As if all the evidence points one way or the other. But, it's possible for there to be evidence for something that's false.

There is evidence for god. It's weak evidence, and clearly overwhelmed by the evidence against, but it's still there. It's not nothing.

The biggest piece of evidence I can think of is that the vast majority of people believe in god. And this is not argumentum ad populum, but rather a probabilistic, Bayesian point of view. Which is more likely? The probability that so many people would believe in god given that god exists, or the probability that so many people would believe in god given that god doesn't exist? I think people are more likely to believe in something true rather than something false, especially if it interacts with them personally. Of course, people are willing to believe all sorts of crazy shit, so it's not much more likely. Which is why it's very weak evidence.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Identity and Intuition

If you were to be perfectly duplicated in every respect, would the duplicate be you?

Intuitively, the answer is no. I'm me, and the duplicate is the duplicate. But intuition is not perfect. Our intuition is a shortcut rule-of-thumb for life on the savannah. In a radically different environment, or different circumstances, intuition is not a helpful guide at all, and can easily lead you astray.

Consider, for instance, relativity. If you see one person running at six miles an hour in one direction, and another person running at six miles an hour in the other direction, what speed will the first see the second one going? Intuitively, and correctly, twelve miles an hour. But what if you see one spaceship moving at 2.9x10^8 meters per second, and another moving the same speed in the opposite direction? Will the one spaceship see the other moving at 5.8x10^8 m/s? No, it will see it moving at 2.999x10^8 m/s. Because velocity addition is not really u+v as we intuit, but rather (u+v)/(1+uv/c^2). It's just that at low speeds, the speeds we evolved with, the difference is imperceptible.

And similarly, we never evolved in an environment where people were perfectly duplicated. Our intuition isn't equipped to deal with that situation. So to answer that question, we can't rely on our intuition. We need something more than that.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Cribbage is a fun card game. In it, you're dealt six cards, and you have to discard two. Afterwards, a starter card is drawn. The four cards you're left with and the starter card determine how many points your hand has. (There's of course more to the game than just that, but that's what's relevant.)

The scoring works like this:
His nobs - If you have a jack of the same suit as the starter card, that's 1 point. (If that starter card is a jack, that's something different and gets counted at a different time.)
Flush - If your hand has all cards the same suit, that's 4 points. If the starter card is the same suit too, that's another 1. After this, there's no difference between the starter card and the ones in your hand.
Pairs - For each pair you have, you get two points. Note that cards can be counted multiple times, so if you have a 4H, 4D, 4S, that's three pairs (4H, 4D), (4H, 4S) and (4D, 4S) for 6 points.
Straights - If you have three or more cards in a row (like 3, 4, 5) you get as many points as the straight is long. Personally, this seems somewhat inconsistent, since a straight of four is also two straights of three, which would get you 6 points instead of 4.
Fifteens - For each sum of fifteen you can make, you get 2 points. All face cards count as ten. Cards can again be counted multiple times, so if you have two tens, and two fives, that's four fifteens for 8 points.

Anyway, I was curious as to what the average hand value would be if you always discarded so as to give your hand as many points as possible (which you don't actually always want to do, because of other parts of the game, but oh well). So I made a program which goes through all 20,358,520 possible hands of six you can be dealt, and finds the best two to discard, taking into account the different possible starters cards.

All told, it ended up running for about 18 days. But it did finish. And here are the results.

The average hand value is 8.29 points.

The most frequently discarded rank is king at 11.56% of all discards.
After that is queen at 9.85%
8 at 9.30%
7 at 8.85%
Ace at 8.78%
9 at 8.37%
2 at 8.27%
10 at 8.02%
3 at 6.72%
6 at 6.55%
Jack at 6.14%
4 at 5.39%
5 at 2.17%

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Ship of Theseus a.k.a. Grandfather's Axe

There's an old philosophical puzzle. Suppose you have a wooden boat. You notice some of the planks are getting rotten, so you replace them. Is it still the same boat? As time goes on, you replace the planks one by one, until every single plank making the boat has been replaced. Is it still the same boat?

Alternatively, your grandfather's axe is a family heirloom. But when your father got it, he replaced the head, and when you got it, you replaced the handle. Is it still the same axe?

I posit that identity cannot be determined by the identities of the constituent parts.

First, I'll assume that identity is something that can be discerned - that is it's something that can be determined by observation. Intuitively, this makes sense. If you see two boats, you can distinguish them by how they look, even if they switch positions, or change by small amounts. Even if you have two boats made the same, there will be minute differences that can distinguish them. And the same with the planks. You can tell two planks apart.

But the fundamental constituents of matter have no such identity. An electron is an electron is an electron. All electrons are indistinguishable, and provably so. If you had an electron, and you put it in a box full of other electrons, it would not be possible to find your initial electron again. In fact, there isn't such a thing. Initially, there was one electron in your hand, and many electrons in your box. Then there were many+1 electrons in your box. The one electron cannot be uniquely tracked. It has no identity.

What this means is that if you have, say, a hydrogen atom, and then instantaneously swap out the electron with a different one... Then nothing has changed. Nothing has been done. If that hydrogen atom had an identity, it could not have changed, even if every single subatomic particle in it had been swapped at the same time.

On the macroscopic scale, things can have identity, because they aren't indistinguishable. They have different particles in different configurations following different patterns.

Identity is one of those things that makes sense in our experience, but which breaks down in extreme thought experiments because it has no fundamental truth to it and our flawed conceptions were only meant to work with what we have experience with.