Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Toleration means putting up with, not using force against others for their beliefs or actions that do not directly threaten me.

It does not imply approval, just acceptance that it is their business and not harming me. Too many people try to leverage toleration to mean approval - Leftists in their continuing attack on any standards in their continuing attempt to destroy civilization, especially industrial civilization, and Conservatives in their continuing attempt to destroy freedom of expression in their continuing attempt to homogenize culture into their mindless morass of Judeo-Christian faith.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Meaningless Philosophy

Philosophy that is not accessible to the field that is supposedly being analyzed, for example, philosophy of science that cannot be grasped by scientists because of idiosyncratic terms and proofs, is just intellectual masturbation.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Marketing Yourself

If you want to receive credit for what you do, you need to make sure that those who you want credit from know that you did it. If no one knows what you have done, not only will you not receive credit, but you will not receive anything else for your work either. Unless you are doing something for yourself, which will not be of interest to others, you need to let potentially interested parties know of it. You cannot sell items that no one knows about, you cannot provide services or skills that no one knows you possess. Even if you let them know, they may not buy, but if they don't know they CANNOT buy.

The obverse of marketing yourself is captured in the quote: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." The earliest version I have found is attributed to Harry S Truman.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Austrian Method

Based on Economic Science and the Austrian Method by Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

This book is very dry and difficult reading, as bad as Mises "Human Action", though thankfully much shorter, or I never would have read it, as I never finished "Human Action".

The Austrians try to base everything on fundamental ideas, what they call "synthetic a priori" after Kant; I have never read Kant so I can't tell you whether their claim that their ideas are Kant's "synthetic a priori" or not; but they are the same types of ideas I have been calling for years "undefinable primitives". These ideas that they try to base everything on, "action", "value", "cause and effect" aren't some mystical information from nowhere, which is what earlier reading about Kant had suggested he thought - I think they are ideas absorbed from observation of reality and how humans act (and, unfortunately, what people have absorbed through reading and stories, which is why so much "intuition" on larger issues where people don't have direct experience is often so irrational), but they are so basic that they are hard even to discuss intelligibly, much less define.

A second part of the Austrians' disagreement with conventional economics is based on the supposed differences between human motivations and interests and the natural world - "the impossiblity of causal predictions in the field of human knowledge and actions" (p.43). Human preditions must be based on actions and goals, and what the particular human knows at the time he chooses his actions and goals. The particualrity of what a human knows is another reason they dislike and distrust statistical knowledge, like the GDP, it loses too much necessary information.

"... empirical knowledge which is based on understanding - just as according to our intuitions economic propositions claim to be based on understanding - rather than on observations." (p.57) Actually, as I suggested above, our intuitions and understanding are based on internalized observations and knowledge received from others.

"In explicitly understanding knowledge as displayed in argumentation as a peculiar category of action, it becomes clear immediately why the perennial rationalist claim that the laws of logic - ... - are a priori true propositions about reality and not mere verbal stipulations regarding the transformation rules of arbitrarily chosen signs, as empiricist-formalists would have it, is indeed correct." (p.71)

A part of Hoppe's argument in the book is a misguided (in my opinion) attack on a sort of naive empiricism that I have never actually encountered. I haven't read much technical economics literature, so it's possible some economists are making these sort of shallow mistakes, but what I have read in economics suggests this is unlikely.

Another part of his argument is an attack on historicism in economics, I think this is even more misguided, without historical knowledge Austrian economics could not have been developed. Also, some of the best economic reading I have done has been by Thomas Sowell, an economic historian. Another good economics writer is David D Friedman, a non-economist.

The best part of Austrian economics is that they give a clear rational account of the few things nearly all economists agree on: minimum wages increase unemployment, wage and price and rent controls cause other (non-price) forms of rationing, and so on.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Overcoming Bias and Learning from the WWW

continuation of "The Web Is Still Not Adequate for Serious Study"

The theme of Overcoming Bias is more comprehensive than the name suggests. It is about improving, or at least not dis-improving, the future. Overcoming bias is only one of the means it discusses. Transhumanism, idea futures, friendly AI, all fit neatly into this more inclusive theme.

Robin Hanson writes about textbooks for satisfying reading in a comment to
Recommended Rationalist Reading.
"My general advice for undervalued reading: textbooks. Go to your nearest college bookstore, sit in the aisles, and browse and read textbooks on your main subjects of interest. Until you've read and understood textbooks, why bother with anything else?"
- - Posted by: Robin Hanson | October 01, 2007 at 07:36 PM

The WWW is diametrically opposed to that sort of reading and learning. Like television, but even more so because you are interacting with it, it encourages a scatterring of attention. Bored, or don't feel like working out the meaning of a difficult section? Click a link or Google a keyword - maybe you'll find an easier explanation, but at least you won't have to keep working at it.

I don't agree with much in Steve Talbott's book The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, but he has a few good ideas, that's where I originally saw the "scattering of attention" criticism.

BMI and the Anti-Weightloss Crowd

It is possible, actually likely, that some fringe fanatics overstate the value of the BMI (body-mass index), but the most extreme statements I have seen from a fairly reputable source are Michael Fumento's in The Fat of the Land: The Obesity Epidemic and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves.

On page 3 he mentions a Norwegian study [H. T. Waaler,"Height, Weight, and Mortality: The Norwegian Experience", Acta Medica Scandinavia 679 (supp.[1984]): 1-56] that "found that the lowest death rates for men was below the Body Mass Index (BMI) 25 level, while for women it was a 27 BMI." And he shows how to calculate the BMI on this page.

On pages 8 and 9 he discusses BMI, calipers, underwater weighing, and the newer electircal methods of measuring overweight, as he points out the benefit of the BMI is that you can do it yourself to monitor your weight, the others all need knowledgable assistance (calipers) to expensive equipment.

Page 27 he writes, "In exceptional cases such as bodybuilders, BMI is not an accurate measurement, but for most of us it is accurate, and it is certainly accurate for studying the population in general." I am substantially stronger than average, though definitely no bodybuilder or powerlifter, at 22 before I started really gaining weight, I weighed 170 pounds at 5 feet, 9 or 10 inches tall, almost exactly a BMI of 25. My weight had varied between 160 and 180 pounds over the previous five years. Over the next four years I gained 10 pounds a year, so that by my 26th birthday I weighed 210 pounds. That is the lowest my weight has been since. Over the last 22 years my weight has gotten as high as 250 pounds (thankfully only once and briefly) and twice I've gotten it back down to 210. Mostly I run between 220 and 230 pounds. I got on this personal note because I am more muscular than most people, yet BMI was an accurate measure of my being overweight.

You might notice how many people who attack BMI write that it wouldn't work for Arnold Schwartzenegger. Which is true, but irrelevant. Even people who are substantially stronger than average, but not serious bodybuilders or powerlifters, are not going to have a large enough muscle mass to make it more than slightly off.

And the people who use this excuse are obviously not bodybuilders.

Also, the lower your body fat the healthier you are going to be, so overstating your BMI is not going to be a significant problem anyway. I have just started another attempt to get my body weight down (I'll let you know if it actually works this time) with the intention of getting my BMI as low as I can, I hope to end up getting my weight down to 155 pounds, a BMI of 22. Even if I start getting it down there, I am weight training as part of my effort, and my lean body weight might go up a little. We'll see.

By the way, I don't strongly recommend "Fat of the Land". Fumento too often overstates the case for what he wants to believe. The chapter on fiber is one case, he admits the case for fiber is weak but then says you should eat it anyway because it displaces caloric foods, which is one of the things investigated, and the evidence for this claim is weak. He also dismisses low-carb diets like the Atkins mostly with ad hominem attacks and appeals to authority. But if you really want to know current nutritional understanding this is a good presentation of the mainstream medical position.

(page numbers above are from the hardcover edition)

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Working More Effectively
Stop worrying, straining, trying, and just do it and you will probably do it better. Relax and you can be faster, more powerful, and more accurate.

Worrying about anything will interfere with doing it. To do something well, focus on what you are doing, set your emotions aside. Emotions are necessary to doing - as motivation to do anything in the first place and as further motivation to do it well. But emotion while you are working is a distraction and will interfere with doing first class work.

You need to prepare and learn in advance to do something well, all worrying when you are trying to do it does is interfere with your actions. No matter how poorly you may have prepared, when it comes time to act, then act without worrying, because worrying will only reduce your effectiveness even further.

Efficiency amounts to being effective using as few resources as possible.

Effective Ends
Effectiveness is most often used in relation to activities and processes and to how well they lead to achieving your goals. But it can also be used about the goals themselves. A more effective goal is one that contributes more to your highest Values; less effective, or even ineffective, goals only satisfy themselves and momentary interests or pleasures.

You should consider the effectiveness of your goals before investing too much time and resources in them.

Physical Effectiveness (capacity & capabilities) is more or less obvious, but I may do a post on this later.

Cautions when Dealing with Others

Caution is needed in dealing with others because they often don't know what is in their best interests; they only know what they want. And what has been "promised" them by politicians and their media allies.

Worse, the intelligent tend to overestimate the intelligence of those they have casual dealings with and the ethical tend to overestimate others' ethics.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Steady, regular training does far more good in skill acquisition than occasional intense sessions. Sporadic practice often does no good at all in acquisition - though it can be enough to maintain skills that you rarely use, but don't want to lose.

Systematic and progressive training is the only way to safely achieve heavy physical training. Spradic heavy physical training can actually cause injury. Plateaus in physical training are often caused by trying too much too quickly, that is, by overtraining, heavy training with inadequate recovery cycles.

For either skill training or physical training, keep to a regular schedule of steady practice - without rushing or becoming impatient, or losing motivation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


When you come up with a new idea, review how you came up with it, maybe you can improve it, or do better next time, or learn how to come up with even more ideas.

Spend time thinking - not reading or studying or talking. To get away from my normal "background" I do much of my creative thinking while walking. I keep a notepad in my pocket to write down my ideas so they're not forgotten. The changing, more random, background helps trigger new ideas and new ways of looking at old ideas. And sometimes reminds me of older ideas I had forgotten.

Browsing the web, especially when I push myself to follow links rather than reading more intensively, also has some of the same effects, though it's not as effective as walking - but sometimes the weather is too bad for writing down any ideas I get, either raining or snowing.

You must write down your ideas or you WILL forget them.

Play with ideas, explore unusual or random juxtapositions of ideas. Exploit ambiguity and metaphors to open up new ideas or approaches. Look for **more** solutions or ideas that could lead to solutions. Try changing one of the rules or constraints and see what happens.

Avoid premature evaluation - ideas that don't work can still lead you to ones that can - but only if you keep exploring them.

I prefer "creativeness" to the conventional "creativity", because the latter is too often reified into something in itself. Creativeness (or creativity) is actually a description of the originality of choices that we make - in design and in making decisions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Declaration of Separation

Bravo. Except for that line about god.

A Declaration of Separation

Maybe it's time to go Galt.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Five Ways of Power

I am using power analogously to its use in physics; instead of power is the ability to do work, I am using it more generically as power is the ability to get work done.
In that sense, the title could just as easily have been:

The Five General Means of Getting Things Done

Love or Shared Purposes: People work for (with) another party for goals they both share. Political parties and families are common examples. For more on this Way, see David D. Friedman's chapter "Love Is Not Enough" in The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism.

Politico-Criminal Power or Coercion: People are forced to produce work for another party through violence or the threat of violence. People tend to resist or slack-off, so although this can be effective, it is inherently limited unless combined with fraud (legitimacy).

Politico-Religious Power or Fraud: People are tricked into doing work for another party's benefit. This is probably the most effective over the short term, but once people start seeing through the trickery they start ignoring the "message". Unless it is combined with force (police powers).

Economic Power or Trade: People are paid, through a fair exchange, to do something for another party's benefit. Though also for their own, through the payment they receive. This is the best long term, and often short term, way of dealing with people. The biggest advantage is a free economy's ability to harness the power of specialization to increase productivity. The only real weakness is in transaction costs, and they are less of a problem than the analogous costs in any of the previously mentioned Ways.

Personal Power: Do it yourself without depending on another party. This is the ground state. Most people can only do a limited amount for themselves, and for a whole society, depending on an economy mostly limited to what they can do would result in a very poor Paleolithic technology and standard of living. In a modern economy, though, a person who because of high-functioning autism (Aspies) or because they are "going Galt", can live far beyond what others would expect if they develop their own abilities sufficiently and invest a minimum of economic work to buy the necessary tools and supplies.

In Machinery of Freedom, especially the chapter "Love Is Not Enough", David Friedman writes specifically about dealing with others, so he doesn't mention Personal Power, and he conflates Coercion and Fraud, but even though they are often together in the real world, there are sufficiently different that they should be treated separately.

Friday, April 10, 2009

KISS: Keep It Simple and Succinct

Succinct means brief and concise, to the point. A succinct argument is one that more directly addresses the point under discussion.

The "traditional" meaning of KISS completely misses the point. The biggest problem KISS addresses is over-complication of plans - and it is not a problem of stupidity. Those most prone to over-complicate are the more intelligent, especially the highly intelligent and highly educated, but lacking in practical experience. Experience, especially wide experience, is the best prophylaxis for over-elaborate plans.

In large-scale planning, especially where the planner cannot see it through to completion or which has too many complications, it is easier to come up with excuses as to why it didn't work out than to actually figure out what caused any problems.
It is human nature to try to explain mistakes away - if you want to get better though you need to avoid situations that make it easy to do. Almost all government projects fall into this group, which is why many who tend towards libertarianism have practical experience and have dealt with the government enough to understand the way it actually works . (Former police, former military, and engineers, for example, tend to be over-represented among libertarians (in my reading and experience anyway, I haven't seen any really reliable statistics)).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Space Fanatics Not Serious

I figured L-5 Society and similar space "fanatics" weren't serious. If they were serious they would have been working on getting to space, not jawboning, mostly to each other, about how important it is and how they need to get the government to spend more money on it or to do it.

Most of the cost of getting to space is spent on the people who do the work (except for bureacracy costs in NASA, that is). If the "space fanatics" had actually been willing to work at it, and cooperate and do the work themselves, they should have been able to build decnet quality rockets and start actually putting people into space. Instead, they all just sat around talking about how important it was to get someone to pony up the money for it.

And before someone starts talking about the space entrepreneurs, they were just a bunch of underfunded companies, trying to do "demonstration" project to get more funding. They weren't even trying to actually start a serious business of getting to space. To be fair they didn't have the resources for that anyway. But "space fanatics" as a group probably did have the abilities and resources needed, if they could work together and do it.

The closest anyone has come is Robert Zubrin, author of Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization and The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must. And most of his work was the cheaper problem of using Martian materials and was paid for by his aerospace employer. Unfortunately, the Mars Direct bunch is just like the earlier L-5 Society, instead of getting together to work, they're just getting together to whine.

In reality, they are just another version of welfare liberals who want the government to pay for what they want.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Avoiding Combat

followup to Violence

Everything has unintended, and often unpredictable, consequences. The side-effects of violence are almost never good. It can lead to feuding or to people avoiding dealing with the violent person. Provided you survive in the first place.

The best way to survive a fight is not to engage in one in the first place. No matter how good your skills, or how outnumbered your side has an opponent, you can still get killed. Your opponent is trying just as hard not to get killed as you are. And the confusion and "fog" in combat gives maximum opportunity for unknown factors to interfere (on both sides, the more numerous or skilled is still more likely to win). No matter how likely you are to win, you can still lose, or engage in mutual killing, you "win" the fight but still die afterwards. On the matter of fighting skills, consider the old adage, "The best swordsman in the world doesn't fear the second best, he fears the worst, because he can't predict what the silly son-of-a-bitch will do." (This particular wording of the quote, I have seen several equivalent versions, is from one of David Weber's Honor Harrington novels, I think from Honor of the Queen.)

The downside of avoiding fighting is a lack of deterrence. In the modern West, personal deterrence is less necessary because the criminal justice system provides a deterrent effect. Provided you avoid areas with concentrations of criminals,like many inner city neighborhoods. Also, personal deterrence is less useful, bordering on useless, where the aggressor is unlikely to know the victim. In general, though, "Violent crime is feasible only if its victims are cowards. A victim who fights back makes the whole business impractical." (Jeff Cooper, Principles of Personal Defense). Crime is a problem because most potential victims are cowards and incompetent.

Unless you are attacked, avoid combat, if you want a long, healthy life.
But if you are attacked, fight back.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Books on Self-Learning

My earlier post "Learning Journal and Record" besides my experience draws from The Independent Scholar's Handbook and This Way Out. And the opening quote from "Why Learning" is from the Prologue to The Independent Scholar's Handbook.

This way out;: A guide to alternatives to traditional college education in the United States, Europe and the Third World, John Coyne & Tom Hebert, 1972.

This book is divided into three sections, this review covers only the first, since the second and third, Experimental Colleges and Foreign Study, are too dated to be useful. The first section, Independent Study, is the best single source I have found on self education. It is geared more towards college age students (hence the title) with several chapters on moving out and for parents, but most of it deals with the nuts and bolts of learning and is applicable for everyone. As far as I can remember, it doesn't even mention computers, not surprising given its age.

The learning system in This Way Out is built around doing projects, though they also discuss tutorials and other ways to organize your study. I also found the brief description of an experimental program tried at MIT in 1968 interesting; instead of multiple regular classes per semester, they tried concentrated study, one class at a time, each for a solid month.

Two good quotes:

"Write lots of short papers. Long papers kill tutors and students alike. Write lots of short papers. It will teach you to write and that, as we will demonstrate later is essential."

"This is the big one. If you don't like to read, you'll have to stay in college. A college's faculty presumes that students don't read without threats of failure,. . . But if you like to read, if your natural desire to read wasn't thwarted in grade school, your education will take place, despite everything."

LIFELONG LEARNER (Touchstone Books), 1977, and The Independent Scholar's Handbook, revised edition 1993, both by Ronald Gross.

These are both largely inspirational with lots of vignettes of independent learners. Both also provide some techniques and resources for learning. The Independent Scholar's Handbook has more on techniques and is more up to date, which isn't saying much since even it is 16 years old. Neither, of course, has anything on the Web. The first half of chapter 2 in The Handbook has been the most useful part for me, the sections on keeping an intellectual journal and enterring new fields. The biggest drawbacks are the author's focus on the humanities, since I'm mainly interested in science and technology, and the liberal/Leftism peaking through his writing, especially in his choice of scholars to profile (e.g., Alvin Toffler and Barbara Tuchman).

Instead of Education: Ways to Help People do Things Better, John Holt, various editions 1976 to 2004, though as far as I can tell the later editions have only different introductions.

This has some practical stuff, mostly on finding people and resources for learning, mostly it's inspirational. It also has lots of anti-schooling stuff. Holt is also pretty liberal in a sort of mushy, feel good way, fortunately it doesn't get much in the way here. Holt's later book, Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story, is worth a read even if you're not particularly into music, but is almost purely inspirational.

I have seen books on "Distance Learning" on the Web, but have found nothing good on using the Web for study, witness my last post, "The Web Is Still Not Adequate for Serious Study". If you know of any good sources, on line or books, please leave a note in the comment.

The Web Is Still Not Adequate for Serious Study

The Internet is the world's largest library. It's just that all the books are on the floor.
-- John Allen Paulos

Reading this just before I published it, I realized I should define what I mean by "serious study". Serious study is opposed to shallow reading, which is very good for exploratory learning, and the web is more helpful with, though still not sufficient. It is also opposed to directed research where you are already familiar with the area and are looking for a specific item, for which the web is very useful, though again not adequate since too much stuff still isn't on line, but it is better for this than serious study. Serious study is when you are learning a new field in depth, the equivalent of college classes. You need specific information, but even more important you need an understanding of how facts and theories relate to each other.

Scattering your attention; the Web simply has too many distractions. It's hard to study from the web for the same reason most real studying in libraries is done in carrels rather than at tables.

Very hard and time consuming to find useful information; Google is NOT adequate. Google's ranking by links is a measure of popularity not value. It could be improved for this purpose, but made harder to use, if you could restrict "links from" in some way. I've had somewhat more luck in browsing blogs related to the topic, then following links from there - but that's still time consuming following the blogs. Bruce Schneier's blog, Freedom to Tinker, and Overcoming Bias have been the most productive recently for me.

Most pages are very shallow; many others are too narrow for learning, though decent papers for those already knowledgeable in field for research. Too much emphasis on new results, but most new results are wrong, many of the rest are incomplete. There are reprints of some older papers with proven value, but they are often hard to find.

Another problem that I have, from what I've read it doesn't seem to be a common problem though, is that I read easily and quickly from the screen, but have retention and recall difficulties for what I read on screen. This is one reason I tend to concentrate on blogs, very short pieces tend to be more memorable.