Archive for June, 2009

Newfangled Features

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June, 2009 by melendwyr

I think I’ll try adding tags to my posts. I’m not sure how useful they actually are, as I’ve never bothered with them either in reading or writing, but some people seem to search for information with them, so presumably there’s a net benefit.

What precisely is the difference between post tags and categories? WordPress is awfully slow about establishing a new post tag…


More Successful Foraging!

Posted in Foraging on June, 2009 by melendwyr

Passing by the Municipal Building on my way to the library, I happened to notice that the landscaping trees were covered in purple-red berries the size of a large pea.

A little research and judicious taste-testing later, I’ve concluded that they’re juneberries, also known as serviceberries, saskatoon, shadbush, shadberry, and all sorts of species names within Amelanchier. And no one around here seems to realize that they’re edible – and utterly delicious. Like blueberries crossed with black raspberries, with a hint of rose.

Trees and shrubs planted for decorative purposes often don’t have fruit, or they’ve been selected for fruit that looks nice but that wildlife won’t actually eat so that it’ll hang on the bare branches during winter. Even when the fruits are eaten by wildlife, they frequently either aren’t edible for humans or have so little culinary value that only a very hungry person would bother with them. It’s pleasantly surprising to come across a planting of a species that’s so scrumptious.

Ontological Priority

Posted in GIGO on June, 2009 by melendwyr

TGGP has requested that I expand upon my earlier statements regarding the choice between contradictory assertions.

A useful method for analyzing incompatible ideas is to force the assigned truth value of each to vary, examining the consequences of this on the value of the others. In this way the possibility space of the conflict can be explored. “What happens if I assume this? How does this change?” I often perceive this as turning a complex object in my hands, twisting the pieces of a puzzle, exploring how a shift in perspective or a sliding piece transforms the shape of the structure.

We quickly find that the categories of statements are loosely organized into a hierarchy. (I prefer the concept of a reverse-hierarchy, with the most important things at the bottom rather than the top, but the associations that cause that are merely subjective and you may do as you please.) Altering the truth value of the most fundamental concepts has implications for certain other categories of statements, but not vice-versa.

Let’s say you observe a friend doing something that you believe is utterly and completely uncharacteristic of them, to the point where you can’t bring yourself to believe you saw what you saw.

There are two competing premises here: “Friend did X” and “Friend is incapable of doing X”. They’re clearly incompatible – the see-saw of logic is in full swing. Depending on which statement we accept and which we reject, our conclusions flow in two different directions.

If we’re uncertain about what we saw, and we’re fairly confident in our evaluation of our friend’s character, it’s easy to dismiss our observation. We could have seen incorrectly, after all. If our beliefs about our friend are uncertain or weak, it’s easy to accept what we saw. But taking confidence to be more than it is leads to faith, where any contradictory evidence will be rejected no matter how strong.

What we have to remember is that our beliefs are just a way to anticipate and react to the things we perceive. Both beliefs and perceptions can be in error, but perceptions are closer to the true reality we’re trying to understand and predict.

Changing the valence of our beliefs does not change what really happened. Considering different truth values for the reality makes our beliefs either true or false (or valid or invalid, justifiable or unjustifiable… you get the idea). One category is more fundamental than the other, which is ontologically dependent on the value of the statements in the deeper level of analysis.

That deeper level has ontological priority over the other.

Pan’s Labyrinth, Mirrormask

Posted in Fantasy, Reviews on June, 2009 by melendwyr

I’d heard great things about these movies, but each was a disappointment.

Pan’s Labyrinth had hardly any fantasy in it at all – it was too full of the ‘serious’ drama of the fight against Franco and Spanish Fascism. The fantastic elements were squeezed into the interstices of the scenes in the adult world. It’s not magical realism, because as far as the adults were concerned none of the fantastic things ever happened. It’s not a story about the realm of the imagination, because too much happens in the child’s perspective that cannot simply have been imagined. It’s some strange, incoherent mixture that isn’t really about the fantasy after all.

The effects were nice, but they don’t make a movie.

Mirrormask was just completely disappointing. Characters did things without clear motivations, were introduced hurriedly and awkwardly, and behave in ways that simply don’t make sense merely for the purpose of creating drama.

The special effects were weak, difficult-to-see, and unimpressive. The city of light and the world of shadows looked pretty identical. I expect a city of light to be bright – or at least noticeably brighter than its gloomy spots; instead, we were presented with a sepia-tinged monotony. The antithesis of the city of light looked barely different.

It wasn’t even clear how real the events of the story were. Were they completely a dream, brought on by fear and anxiety about the mother’s illness? Did the dark princess actually do things in the real world while pretending to be the daughter? What exactly do the events mean? What was the mirrormask, and why was it actually important? This wasn’t explained nearly clearly enough to my tastes.

Gaiman can write fascinating text. Shame he can’t seem to make a movie script worth watching.

Familarity Breeds Comfort

Posted in Doom, Politics and Society on June, 2009 by melendwyr

See this, which puts me in mind of another study I read several years ago (for which I have no reference, sadly).

It found that exposing people to certain songs over and over again would cause them to prefer them, even if they didn’t like them originally. It seems that aesthetic preferences ultimately aren’t as important as avoiding the sensation we experience when we’re accustomed to something which is no longer present.

This is part of why radio stations that play popular music often showcase the same few songs over and over. They want people to get used to them so that they’ll like them.

Things You Know That Ain’t So

Posted in Doom, GIGO, Medicine, Useful Aphorisms on June, 2009 by melendwyr

It’s not the things you don’t know that get you, but the things you know that ain’t so. – Attributed to Samuel Clemens

There are many situations in which we don’t care so much about the total overall accuracy of a source or a process, but want to specifically find their errors. Usually it’s because we want to correct the errors or avoid them in the future ourselves.

In such cases, I’ve generally found that the most effective way to do this isn’t to closely examine the topics and conceptual places that get lots of attention from others. Even slight uncertainties will probably have been noted and fiercely debated already. Instead, it’s more productive to take a look at the places few people think are worth examining, or that have been wrongly passed over as already-known, because that’s where uncaught errors will accumulate.

When I started investigating medical errors and issues, I expected that I’d find mistakes and some uncertain grey areas that should probably be looked at again. What I actually found was that there were countless obvious problems that few people bother looking at once, much less twice.

I’ll be discussing these issues, some of which are resolved but whose implications are not acknowledged, some of which still occur, in the near future.

My Ancient Enemy

Posted in Gardening on June, 2009 by melendwyr

The leeks and tuber-rooted parsley I planted months ago have finally sprouted.

Now, the only problem is my ancient enemy: the slugs. The slugs.

Scattering pine and spruce needles has helped so far, but that will acidify the soil until they break down completely, and that could take years. Crushed eggshells are also an effective slug deterrent and also raises soil pH, but getting enough of them will be hard.

The best organic solution would be shallow bowls or saucers of beer. The yeast in the beer attracts slugs, and the alcohol poisons them. Obstacle: as the garden is on university property, we’re obligated to follow university rules, which includes a prohibition of alcoholic beverages. The intention was to prevent students from drinking, of course, not slugs.

I’ll have to see if there’s an exception for pest control.