Saturday, November 02, 2019

A long but thought-provoking read

I found the title a bit click-baity/misleading and I don't agree with everything the author, Scott Alexander, says, but I thought some of you might enjoy a look at this: "New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed."

I think Alexander missed at least one key point, if we stipulate that "New Atheism" is on the wane or at least less in the spotlight: I know for myself -- and if there's one thing two decades of life online has taught me, it's that I have essentially no unusual thoughts -- that I became less inclined to participate in anything to do with atheism not because of disenchantment or frustration or evolution of the movement or any of the other reasons Alexander discusses, but simply because of this: I felt done.  That is, I read Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, Myers, Dennett, Coyne, et al, in large part because they were so good at articulating what I had previously felt but had not been able to say.  Once I soaked up their clarity of thoughts, I felt as though I had completed a course, was enriched, and could move onto other things.

Three other notes, again speaking personally:

1. I do agree with Alexander that, over time, it felt less and less worth rehashing the same arguments with people inclined to disagree.

2. Finding and sharing examples of religious loonies saying loony things -- here, more often with people already inclined to agree -- started feeling like a joke getting stale.

3. I do continue to worry about the continuing problem of religion's clout in the political world, particularly in the US, and I sometimes think I should be doing more about this, but, as with all things political these days, I've largely stepped away, both to preserve my own stomach lining, and because I can't think of anything to do that would give me a sense of making a measurable contribution.

Finally, as far as the assertion of Alexander's title goes, I think it's a bit early to say (at least compared to Sparta!), but it does seem to me that it's at best an exaggeration to say "New Atheism" failed. At minimum, it seems to me, a lot of consciousness was raised. Also, I strongly suspect a large amount of credit is due to the "New Atheists" for the non-trivial recent increase (that Alexander does show) in people in the US self-identifying as having no religious affiliation. Further, there's a lot of anecdotal evidence out there concerning people who once felt trapped in some overly religious community, who were helped to break free by the "New Atheist" movement. So, again, I think it's a little early to publish an obituary: profound social change usually proceeds in fits and starts, in flare-ups and dormancy. Let's talk again in another generation.

(h/t: Scott Aaronson ← a link worth visiting for other reasons, too)

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

It's hard to imagine a four-word phrase that would perk me up more than this*

xkcd filter on matplotlib

This isn't the first time the streams have crossed between two of my favorite areas of interest, btw.**

I came across that delightful phrase in section eight of a wonderful article, "Ten Simple Rules for Better Figures." You should read this, for sure, if you ever have to make charts | graphs | plots. You should read it if you ever have to critically view this kind of work by others. You should read it if you're at all interested in clearer communication. You should read it. You should also check out some of the many fine links in the article, including (and how's this for a great name?) Kaiser Fung's Junk Charts.

I came across the link to the article in the Preface to a book I've just started reading. The author, Nicolas P. Rougier, has very generously made this book, Python & OpenGL for Scientific Visualization, freely available online.

(* Resists temptation to start typing You shoulds ... again *).

Admittedly, this is not gonna be primo beach reading for some of you. But all of the above is so in my wheelhouse that I just had to pass it along.

This concludes your my early Sunday*** morning geekout.

(h/t: PyCoder's Weekly for 2019-10-29)

* That you would be willing to say in polite company, I mean.

** You do know about import antigravity, right?

*** My weekend, these days, is Tuesday, Wednesday, and I work nights. The carpenters remodeling the apartment next door evidently do not share my schedule.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Round Up. Help Out!

I am part of the ConEd Advisory Community, which probably sounds more important than it is. It's basically being signed up to participate in surveys. It's not terrible -- I like the feeling that my input, in a tiny way, might help make things slightly better, for us customers of the giant utility monopoly here in the New York area.

Today, I was sent a link to view the results of a recent survey, on some thoughts ConEd is having about changing its bill layout. At the end of the report was this:

ConEd statement about plans to improve communication with delinquent customers

This moved me to post the following comment (a link you probably can't visit unless you're a member).

I like the "Moving Forward" part. I have no idea what options are currently available for customers falling behind on utility bill payments, but it made me think of how fortunate I am, now that paying those bills is no longer a hardship, and that made me wonder if there would be some way for ConEd to set up a program so that would enable a voluntary contribution to a fund that would help those who are struggling to make ends meet. For example, check a box to round your payment up to the next dollar. An average of fifty cents times how many million ConEd customers are there? This could easily become a fund of at least a few hundred thousand dollars per month to help others keep the heat and lights on.

Granted, I don't know how you'd sort out the truly hurting from the slackers who could easily be paying their bills, but just aren't being responsible, not to mention the freeriders who would look to game a program like this, but I'd like to see this idea given some consideration. Even if a few scammers snuck in through the cracks, it'd be worth it to me if I felt like I was keeping some truly deserving families from shivering in the dark.

It seems to me that it would not take more than a few lines of code on ConEd's end to implement this, nor would the administrative costs be especially prohibitive.

Also, in thinking about the slacker/freerider problem, it seems to me that ConEd is probably already pretty good, through decades of experience at collecting on delinquent accounts, at distinguishing those who are truly hurting from the rest, so maybe there's something there. It also occurred to me that there could be some sort of lottery system set up, and/or some limit on the amount of times you could apply for the benefits, which ought to further limit the assistance going to those who don't actually need it. And if a few undeserving slobs do get a free month? So what. This seems like a classic situation of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

What do you think? RUHO? RUHO!

If this seems plausible to you, please tell ConEd. Or your own local utility company.


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Sign of the day: 2019-03-18

Just found this on my phone, from last spring break:

Friday, March 01, 2019

How's this for an opening graf? (From someone who doesn't even work in retail!)

A non-refundable $45 fee on a bank statement whose existence cannot be explained by anyone; Raytheon’s Twitter account responding to a jape from Lockheed Martin’s Twitter account with a GIF of a grimacing Steve Carell from an episode of The Office; a show on The Learning Channel that is just goateed men dropping bricks on each other from increasingly great heights; the broader vibe and actual experience of Netflix; a meme on a relative’s Facebook page in which a Minion is dressed like a police officer for reasons that are not immediately clear. All strong competitors, to be sure, but for my money the most patently and potently of-this-moment experience currently available is that of being talked down to by an extremely rich person who is obviously dumber than you.

The rest, from David Roth, is also as good. It's about the current state of affairs in Major League Baseball, but it doesn't take much effort to see how it extends.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Putting a price tag on My Good Name(?)

It's nice to fantasize about for a moment or two (baby big brother needs a new pair of sandals laptop ... well, one of these years, anyway) but, uh, I don't really believe it. As far as I know, all of my doppelgängers have a different middle initial.

But hey, if you're someone new out there online, with nine benjamins burning a hole in your pocket, please get in touch! I may not be easy, but I'm comparatively cheap!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Twenty years ago (musings at a stoplight or two)

While running some errands a short while ago, I got to thinking about the Internet, back in the day.

Three things came to mind:

There was no Google. Searching basically sucked. I still want to punch you if you say "Ask Jeeves."

Netscape Navigator was the hot new thing. When my coworker and best friend, ddw, took the initiative to download the latest release and install it for use on our office LAN, he reported it as "this behemoth." He was not being hyperbolic. The file size was just over 3 MB. We had a T1 line at work, which almost certainly cost the company many hundreds of dollars per month. If memory serves, the download speeds were about the same as the cheapest DSL plans available now six years ago, which go went for about 1/1000th the price. (Is DSL even still a thing?)

I bought a new car in 1999. I got a car loan by clicking on a sidebar ad while checking my Yahoo email. I gave this company that I had never heard of my social security number. Everything worked fine. I'm not sure what's more scary these days: online ads or using Yahoo email.

Win some, lose some.