The anonymity of the good, and the good of anonymity.

There’s a current trend in culture and politics. Or perhaps it’s not current, I merely haven’t noticed it before. Who knows?

Anyway, for reference, consider Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I’m not here to talk about what kind of social or political activity is good or evil. I have my thoughts on charities, civil rights, civil liberties, separation of church and state and all of those things, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about most of the people talking about them.

In the parable above, you can see the core idea is that, no matter how righteous you are, no matter how good you are, you shouldn’t be constantly rubbing it in others’ faces. You know how we all hate those “holier than thou” people? That extends beyond simple religious code, but to general public behavior.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that activity X is a good, moral thing. And let’s say you engage in activity X. Great! Good on you! And feel free to tell your friends, if it’s relevant. But don’t tell your friends if the reason you’re telling them is because you to feel good about yourself; what you’re doing is saying “I’m good for doing X, and if you don’t do X, well, you’re not so good.”

Worse, if someone doesn’t say they’re doing X, even though a bunch of people around them claim to be, that person starts to stand out. It’s not that they’re not doing X, it’s that they’re not telling anyone they’re doing X, regardless of whether or not they are.

What you wind up with are a bunch of people pressured to claim (and possibly lie) that they’re doing X, even when they’re not. And you wind up with people who are good, moral people doing X who, since they’re not saying they’re doing X, are assumed to not be doing X, and so are treated as though they’re less moral.

Frankly, that’s a tragedy; it forces the revelation of activity one might wish to be quiet about, for social or political reasons. Just because something is Good doesn’t make it socially or politically acceptable, and just because something is socially or politically acceptable doesn’t make it Good.

Write-behind, Read-ahead and Gluster

So, over on the gluster-user list, I just enjoyed giving an explanation of write-behind vs read-ahead, as it applies to a filesystem serving up VM images.

Having write-behind enabled is like juggling your data with with a partner. Having write-behind disabled is like you and your partner handing data to each other, rather than tossing it. Having read-ahead disabled is like asking your partner for a page of data, and having him give you that page of data. Having read-ahead enabled is like asking your partner for a page of data, and having him give you a fifty page report, because he thinks you may need the extra information–except you already made allowances yourself in asking for that full page of data; the only data you *knew* you needed was a single table in that page.

As another example of why you wouldn’t normally need read-ahead enabled in gluster, I could easily write a small books’ worth of theory into an email detailing the concept further, but I’ve already given sufficient information to illustrate the relevant concepts; anything further would be unnecessary detail I’m only guessing you might need. 😉

The read-ahead setting is about performance, not about data integrity. Virtual machines will be running an operating system. That operating system will be running block-device drivers and filesystem drivers. Both of those types of drivers have their own tunable concepts of read-ahead, so any further read-ahead at the gluster layer is unnecessary.

(Obviously, the remote filesystem in question was Gluster, but the same would apply with any filesystem. Discussion of risk management, flash-backed write caches and various bits of infrastructure redundancy can wait for other posts.)

Scientists, the EPA and law

Forewarning: I tend to play devil’s advocate. A lot. I’m openly skeptical of anything I perceive as quick judgement.

I don’t know the details, as I haven’t read the bill people are saying prevents scientists from talking to the EPA, or read an article that actually quotes the relevant portion. But I *suspect* it’s similar to Wikipedia’s policy (which I loathe, personally.). The idea (on Wikipedia) is that you shouldn’t be able to take your opionions and pass them off as authoritative without those opinion having gone through a vetting process, such as peer review or being published elsewhere.

Be mindful that there’s a difference between a published paper and related information espoused by one of the authors. The published paper has been peer reviewed (though if you follow the blogs of the professors who actually do these reviews and talk about the process, you realise that it’s almost meaningless), and can be taken as such only as a whole. Paraphrase, reword, or reinterpret it, and you’re no longer communicating the reviewed idea.

Take the John Birch society, for example. They were the guys who were described as paranoid over floridation of the water supply. In reality, they weren’t making arguments about the effects of the floride, but that individuals have the right to decide what goes into their own bodies. I know of nobody who can defensibly argue that floride in the water is bad for public health; that argument would be bunk. But the idea that we have the right to self-determination on the subject? That’s a defensible position.

Now let’s take an individual, paranoid member of said society. Let’s say that the published, defensible argument is that people have a right to self-determination, and this publication had this individual as an author. But let’s say the *motivation* for backing that argument, for this individual, is that the individual thinks floride treatments are part of a mind control program.

Would this individual, in individual conversation, stick to the defensible and sane argument? Almost certainly not; that’s the point of individual discussion, to expound upon what’s published.

Likewise, is a scientist or researcher going to limit what he conveys to the strict letter, meaning and scope of published, peer-reviewed documents? Absolutely not! He’s a human just like anyone else.

Science isn’t a licensed profession. There’s no certification necessary to be called a scientist. At best, there’s a vague idea of an academic pedigree. But even that’s not really cared about if someone is popular enough. I mean, what the hell does Neal de Grass Tyson have to do with arguments about climatology or biology? His expertise is in astronomy. But somehow he’s the marketer for much more. And Bill Nye?

Now, here’s where it gets particularly sticky. Scientists are treated as *gods* among us. They’re idolized, worshipped, and held on high. Think of all the times you’ve seen something silly accompanied with “FOR SCIENCE!” or an argument backed with a thin appeal to authority, “because science!”, or even a simple mocking “We’ve accomplished X. Science, bitches.” Now imagine if one of these gods gave testimony that wasn’t actually intellectually sound? What do you do? Call out a god in front of his worshippers?
So I’d like to know what exactly this bill says, and how it can be figured to exclude proper scientific opinions, since it’s hard enough to even define what those *are*.
As XKCD once noted, “did you know you can just *buy* lab coats?!”

The abuses of etymology

Originally published April 7, 2o14

Mark Liberman at Language Log has an excellent critique of the statement, tweeted by the BBC World Service, that “The Inuit language doesn’t have a word for freedom, the closest is ‘annakpok’ which means ‘not caught’.”

Applying the same literal interpretation to the English word “free,” we find this:

If phrases like “not caught” seem inadequately abstract or general, it’s worth remembering the etymological history of our own word free — according to the OED the development is from “around” to “one’s own” to “(members of the household who are) one’s own blood (as opposed to slaves)”…

So, if we wanted to pursue the etymological fallacy to its logical conclusion in this case, we’d have to admit that the English concept of freedom is inextricably xenophobic, meaning something like “the state of being a privileged insider”.

In contrast, the Romance forms derived from Latin libertas “liberty” and liber “free” derive from an Indo-European root *lewdʰ-o- that apparently also gave us Latin libido “pleasure, unlawful or inordinate desire, passion, caprice, wilfulness, wantonness”, Greek λιφ- “to desire”, English libertine, etc. So we can add (misleadingly but not without philological justification) that liberty is etymologically the pursuit of selfish pleasure. (Alas, lewd is not from the same source…)

In comparison, “not caught” seems pretty reasonable, as does the Chinese 自由 (zì yóu), which in Literary Sinitic was originally “self + follow/from/due to”, i.e., “deriving from self”, implying “to make decisions for oneself”, “to be one’s own master”, “to take one’s own initiative”, “not to be constrained and restricted”.

So, what are we to make of all this? Well, any number of things. But first and foremost, to me, is the danger of casual study; facts without wisdom. Casual study emphasizes differences: differences between modernity and the past; differences between Anglo-American culture and the cultures of Native Americans, Asians, Africans, etc.

Another example: I heard a story, about a tribe, native to Africa. Instead of using directions North, South, East, West, like us God-fearing white folks do, they navigated in relation to a local lake, and this was supposed to show their backwards, limited viewpoint, I guess.

Except, it’s not the natives whose viewpoint is limited; it’s people who think they can judge somebody they never met based on that anecdote. As a resident of West Michigan, I may use words like “east” and west”, but I am thinking “away from the lake” and “towards the lake,” just like that supposed tribe.

At one point, I may have been able to convince myself that I held in my head the true cardinal directions. Then I moved to Michigan City, where the lake was north, and all bets were off.

The real world doesn’t have a compass rose and north at the top. It has landmarks, and we use them. It has words, that evolve from one meaning to another, and we use them, too; often without any understanding of their “deeper meaning” that some foreign reporter is just dying to tell her audience.

Bunslinger and the Altered Time Rat

Originally posted March 21, 2014


An epic thread on the GURPS forums: change a letter, change the advantage. Some choice examples:

Wombat Reflexes When threatened, you can move at high speed for 90 seconds. And then stop. And move very slowly.

Trained by a Masher Nobody makes better potatoes. Nobody.

High Paint Threshold You can work around paint for days on end and not be overcome by fumes.

Inane Attack You make your enemies laugh every time you get violent… seriously they are mocking your attack.

Combat Refluxes  You vomit out your giblets when attacked, like a sea cucumber

Vampiric Kite  This is an alternative to Signature Gear. You possess a magical kite that can drain life out of other kites, rendering them useless and incapable of flying, whereas your kite becomes more adept at it.

Doesn’t Steep Your internal temperature is unaffected by being submerged in hot water.

Bunslinger Deadly accuracy with baked goods

Unbillable Utility companies, physicians, attorneys, and the like may not collect payments from you for services rendered.

Enhanced Mime Sense Foes will find it impossible to trap you in a box.

Divine Flavor You taste delicious. Predators and cannibals (or herbivores if you are a plant) react accordingly.

Honest Lace Nobody will doubt the sincerity of your lace

Park Vision You get +4 to Vision rolls to spot open parking spaces.

Enhanced Tim Sense You have an uncanny ability to detect the presence of anyone named Tim, even if they attempt to lie about their name.

Enhanced Fracking By managing a hydrocarbon extraction mining operation, you can double its extraction speed. This only works if there is anything to extract.

Extra Farms This perk allows you to buy more Wealth than your single farm would reasonably support, because your either own or work at one or more extra farms.

Extra Heath If you already own rural property, you also legally own a small moor or heath nearby as well. It does not give any extra income (unless you buy extra levels of Wealth), but you can tell people to get off your land.

Extra Kegs When throwing low-brow parties, you never run out of beer – it just takes a few minutes for someone to roll your extra kegs out of the back room. Inebriated people may have to make DX rolls to move the kegs.

Cod of Honor When holding aloft a cod (or similar fish), onlookers will treat you as perfectly honorable, even if they know your aren’t.

Prefect Balance You can reliably play magistrates and officials off against each other. You can also drive midcentury British automobiles on two wheels and similar feats.

Altered Time Rat You have an ally that is a surgically enhanced rodent from the future.

Intuit Ion: You have an instinctive sense for the electrical charge of atoms.

Grue Faith You just know that if you turn out the lights, a monster is going to get you.

Elves and Toasters

Originally published March 19, 2014

Conversation of the day (yesterday). Mike was describing an argument he was in on  reddit.

Me:I didn’t get into any arguments today.How boring. Mostly because I was looking at GURPS stuff instead of reddit. PDFs are generally not very argumentative


Me: This is GURPS. Elves can crossbreed with toasters if the GM allows it.

Mike: AAAAAAAH! *head explodes*

Me: did your head crossbreed with a grenade?

Cartoons and Fables – How Cosmos Got the Story of Bruno Wrong

Giordano Bruno statueOriginally posted March 17, 2014

Tim O’Neill has one of the most complete and detailed takedowns of the extreme bad history in the Giordano Bruno segment of the recent Cosmos reboot:

Bruno is the poster boy of the Draper-White Thesis – the idea that science and religion have always been at war and an idea beloved by the New Atheist movement despite the fact it was rejected by actual historians of science about a century ago.  Try to engage in an attempt at intelligent discussion of the real and much more complex and nuanced interrelations between religion and what was to emerge as modern science in the medieval and early modern periods and Bruno is usually brandished as “proof” that the Church was the implacable and ignorant foe of early science.  After all, why else did they burn him for daring to say the earth wasn’t the centre of the universe and that the stars were other suns with planets?  For those who prefer simple slogans and caricatures to the hard work of actually analysing and understanding history, Bruno is a simple answer to a intricate question.  Nuance and complexity are the first casualties in a culture war.


Originally published March 12, 2014

Phrenology bust

I bought this phrenology bust, which now sits on a bookshelf in my living room, as a decoration for my wedding. It fit our theme — steampunk — and allowed everyone involved to make endless puns about the “head table.” All in all, not a bad deal.

Now, I can’t speak much to the origins of this particular head. I bought it at an antique shop… well, you could call it an antique shop; maybe more of a junk shop. Like many such heads, it credits L.N. Fowler.

What interests me most in this model is that there are three different spots which all amount to “you like to have sex”: conjugality sits somewhere behind your left ear; love of sex a little bit up and to the right, and below that, towards the curve of your skull, reproductive love.

So if we can get out our calipers and measure your skull to be even a bit larger than normal in one of three areas, and you like sex, clearly we’re getting at something!

Or, you know, you’re one of practically everybody who likes sex and has irregularities in skull shape.


Not to pick on the Victorians exclusively here, I see this all the time. Hey, sometimes I’m tired, irritable, or feel a little off… also, I’ve been known to, on occasion, eat bread! (or soy, milk, salt, MSG, “processed foods”). Not to make light of serious allergies, but the symptoms of serious allergies are not “sometimes I’m irritable.” That’s a symptom of being a person.

And, sure, if it makes you feel good… even placebos can have a positive effect. Reducing stress is a pretty powerful thing. But turning every little thing around us into poison is not reducing anybody’s stress! A forum of normally intelligent moms linked to a scare article about acetaminophen (tylenol), prompting a response from a scared mom saying she wasn’t going to use tylenol for her teething baby any more. Her replacement? Whiskey. “Because it’s natural.”

Sorry, 21st century, you’re not winning awards for logical thinking, either.

Cast Iron Pizza

Originally published March 8, 2014

My cast iron pizza recipe is based primarily on this recipe for pizza dough and this recipe for cast iron pizza with enough variations and comments to warrant their own post.

First, the pizza dough. There are a lot of ways to make pizza dough, but I find one of the easiest ways is to use a bread maker. Bread makers are really helpful gadgets and you can usually find a ton of them at thrift stores, because a gadget that includes “wait four hours” as part of its instructions doesn’t really scream “convenience” to most people. But with just a little bit of forethought, you can totally be eating fresh bread all the time for less than you’d spend on even cheap store-bought stuff.

Anyway, pizza dough in the bread maker.

Dump these ingredients into your breadmaker, in roughly this order:

  • 1 cup flat beer. I used Bud Lite because I was trying to get rid of it. You could use a better beer, but I actually think “light” beers add just about the right flavor for this recipe. If you use a microbrew or something, consider combining it with some water.
  • 2 tablespoons butter.
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour.
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast.
  • Dried herbs, as desired. I use oregano and basil, and I avoid garlic, despite the fact that I love garlic, because my bread maker manual tells me that it is “not a true friend of yeast”. You’ll have another chance to add flavorings when you make your finished pizza, anyway.

Select the “dough” cycle on your breadmaker and let it run. It should take about an hour and a half. After that time, you should see a nice, soft ball of pizza dough. Yay! I think this dough has kind of a sourdough smell to it, thanks to the beer.

Ball of Dough


If you’re making your pizza now, this is a good time to preheat your oven so it has time to get up to temperature — 450 degrees.

Now you want to roll out your pizza dough so that it’s a bit larger than your pan. My pan is a 10.25″ skillet that comes as part of the dutch oven-skillet combo from Lodge. This doesn’t seem like a very big pan, but with this recipe it will easily serve 2-3 people.



The author of the original article said you shouldn’t need any oil if your pan is well-seasoned. I think my pan has a good season, but I still used a bit of canola oil to be sure. Either way works, I’m sure.

Oil or not, put your rolled-out dough in your pan and fold in the edges to make a nice crust. It doesn’t have to be super-neat, just make sure the edges are taller than the center. After that, you can add your sauce, toppings and cheese. Definitely use that order so that your toppings don’t burn — it’s the only way I can actually *enjoy* pepperoni, rather than sigh and scrape of bits of rubbery burnt meat.

OK, this next part is where the macheesmo method is pretty cool. Pizzas need to be cooked hot and fast to maintain a good crunchy exterior, chewy interior texture. But your pan takes a long time to heat up in the oven.

So the first step in your cooking process is to put your pan on the stove for three minutes at high heat. This will heat your pan with minimal effect on your pizza. 

After the pan is heated, transfer it to your preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the crust is a nice golden brown.

Slice of pizza


TL;DR If you’ve read this far, see my cast iron pizza recipe without witty commentary for a good cooking reference.