Archive for ‘miscellaneous’

August 19, 2012

Against sexism

by Neil Rickert

I have been travelling for the last few day, and it has been difficult to find time for a new blog post.  So, instead, I’ll say “Bravo!” to Jen for two recent posts:

How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism


I also suggest reading “The campaign against Amy Davis Roth” for an example of the kind of behavior that Jen is posting about.

December 25, 2011

Best wishes for the season

by Neil Rickert

Direct youtube link

Some other sites have posted this Tim Minchin piece because it presents a non-religious view of Christmas. I am posting it because it depicts rather well what Christmas was like growing up in Australia.

April 18, 2011

The Synthese flap – what’s the big deal?

by Neil Rickert

When the philosophy journal Synthese published a special issue critical of Intelligent Design, they included a disclaimer.  There has been a stink in the blogosphere, with accusations that Synthese editors have caved in to pressure from ID proponents.  And now there is a move afoot to boycott Synthese.

I am wondering why such a big deal.  Almost the entirety of philosophy is based on deeply entrenched ID thinking.  This is hardly surprising, given that the discipline of philosophy developed in an era where ID thinking was the norm.  Moreover, philosophy is respectful of those older traditions, unlike science which will quickly discard an old idea once it has a better replacement.

Epistemology is one of the core areas within philosophy.  It is a theory of knowledge that is derived from traditional ID thinking, as is philosophy of science (sometimes referred to as scientific epistemology).  This is why many scientists have little use for philosophy.  The philosophy of mind is mostly a theory of how to intelligently design a conscious mind.  It has made little progress, and some people now assert that consciousness does not exist, or is an illusion or is an epiphenomenon.  Personally, I think it is impossible to design a conscious mind – consciousness can only arise through evolution.

So now some philosophers, scholars in a tradition based on ID thinking, are criticizing one of their premier journals because it appears to be favoring ID.

This could be a fun food fight to watch.  Stock up on popcorn.

February 25, 2011

Operating systems and updates

by Neil Rickert
stickycomics cartoon on updates

An update is available

I don’t have experience with Macs, but I thought this cartoon said it very well for Windows vs. linux.

On windows, I find updates annoying.  I normally use Windows as a limited user.  But I have to be an Administrator in order to update.  Having to login as an Administrative user is already somewhat disruptive.  Windows 7 does fix that problem – you can set it to do updating even when logged in as an ordinary user.

It’s not just the administrator issue.  I install an update, and then I find that I have to reboot.  Soon after that, I am told that there’s an Adobe Acrobat reader update.  And sometimes I have to reboot after that.  And then I’m told that there’s a java update, though I usually don’t have to reboot for that.  I sometimes think I spend more time updating the system than actually using Windows.

I mainly use linux (currently openSuSE 11.3).  And with linux, updates are not seriously disruptive.  I am notified of an update.  I click the install button, and enter the administrative password as prompted.  And then the update process quietly does its thing without further interrupting me.  Adobe and jave updates are all included – any software installed from the distro repository is updated this way.  Reboot is rarely required.  And even when reboot is required (as for kernel updates), it is less of a concern.  The update is fully installed without the reboot.  It isn’t necessary to reboot to complete the install.  The reboot is only needed so that I will start using the updated version rather than the previous version.

The cartoon is from Sticky Comics.

February 19, 2011

Online consciousness conference

by Neil Rickert

There’s an online conference going on over at the Consciousness Online site.  I have been lurking there (and posting a comment or two).  Those interested in the topic might want to take a look.

January 4, 2011


by Neil Rickert

I’ve been reading “Rich Man, Poor Man” over at the BQO site.  David Sloan Wilson wonders whether communities of the rich are poor in other ways, such as a lack of social cooperation within the community.

I worry that the affluence of modern society is eroding our capacity to cooperate at any scale, small or large. Those of us who can pay with our credit cards don’t need to cooperate, and so we forget how.

It’s an interesting report, and worth reading.  However, I wonder whether Wilson has noticed that our idea of “community” has changed.  For many, the neighborhood is no longer the community.  As a mathematician and computer scientist, I feel more at home in a community of fellow mathematicians and fellow scientists than I do in my neighborhood.  But it’s not just academic communities.  There are sports communities, musical playing communities, and many other communities defined by interests.

I became involved in a music community when my daughter decided she wanted to play the violin, and that was before the time of the Internet.  I suspect that the telephone and the automobile had a lot to do with the forming of these alternative communities.  No doubt the Internet has expanded the possibilities of engagement in alternative communities.  I’m inclined to suspect that there is still plenty of social cooperation within these alternative communities, even if there is less of that cooperative behavior in the neighborhood community.  That might make for an interesting sociological research topic.

November 30, 2010

Jury duty

by Neil Rickert

I originally posted this elsewhere, on Oct. 18th, where it was intended for family interest.  However, I keep seeing instances where officials are failing to use ordinary common sense.  So I am posting this here to illustrate the problem.

I was called for jury duty (for the county courts), and today was when I was required to show up.

Often what happens, is that you sit around for half a day waiting to be selected for a Jury, and then you are allowed to go home.  Either the parties to the law suit reach a last minute settlement so the trial is not held.  Or you are in a jury pool but not actually selected for a jury.

As it happens, today I was actually selected for a jury.  For a while, it looked as if I would not have to serve.  But the attorneys challenged several of the earlier jury choices, and I was selected as a replacement.

The actual court case was a puzzle.  I don’t mean that it was hard to understand.  Rather, I am puzzled that this was ever a court case.  It involved two charges of “domestic battery” against a woman, resulting from an altercation between she and her husband.  During that altercation,  she had apparently thrown an aluminum frying pan and that had caused injury to the husband, though the husband did not seek medical treatment for the injury.

In the jury room, after we had heard the evidence, there appeared to be a strong consensus that it would have been better if this case had never been brought to trial.  On an initial straw vote, there were 6 votes for conviction and 6 for acquittal.  After some discussion, we unanimously voted not guilty on both charges.  I suspect that the initial votes for conviction were because she had caused an injury.  The jury discussion centered on whether the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt, that the injury was not accidental with her throwing the pan only out of frustration.

The puzzle, for me, is why the prosecutors brought this case.  There are serious domestic abuse cases, but this was not one of them.  Surely, the prosecutors could have used some discretion, and suggested anger control counseling as a better alternative to holding a trial.  That’s your taxpayer dollars at work.

November 10, 2010

Uncommon Dissent

by Neil Rickert

This is a brief post to draw people’s attention to Uncommon Descent Dissent (or “UDD for short), a new blog that is focused on discussing some of the issues raised at Uncommon Descent.

read more »

September 28, 2010

The Folly of Ignorant Thinking

by Neil Rickert

Over at the Big Questions Online site, there is a post that is titled “The Power of Realistic Thinking” with a subtitle “How can we avoid the pitfalls of too much optimism and too much pessimism?”  That post strikes me as highly unrealistic (and hence ignorant).

The central idea of the post is to warn against what it calls utopian visions of the future, and against what it calls dystopian visions of the future.  Here is an example of what it considers a utopian vision:

The future in most popular scenarios  is progressive: we move forward, solve problems and make things better. In these utopian scenarios, humanity is increasingly perfected through technology, freed from the ordinary burdens of life, and able to focus on things wholly outside ourselves. Reason and the rule of law will ultimately prevail, because the fruits of rationality and order — including science and technology — are key to overcoming obstacles that stand between humankind and a more peaceful, prosperous, and free future.

And here is how it illustrates the idea of a dystopian vision:

In the dystopian vision of the future, various apocalypses threaten to destroy humanity. The future is a dark and threatening place in which the progress humankind made in more enlightened eras has led, tragically, to its potential destruction. The solutions to problems of an earlier time often turn out to create even worse difficulties.

Well, that sounds reasonable enough.  So let’s be realistic and avoid the extremes of optimism and the extremes of pessimism.

The problem is with what the author says next.  She writes:

Environmental dystopians, for example, believe the petroleum that created the modern world, and that dramatically improved the lives of billions, is leading to a planet-wide climatic disaster.

No, dummy, those are the realists.  They are not warning of a disastrous future.  They are advising about the kinds of steps that can be taken now so as to avoid a future disaster.

For a real example of dystopian thinking, look to the Armageddon nonsense being predicted by the religious crazies.  And what makes the Armageddon scenarios even worse is that the religious crazies actually believe that to be utopian, and some of the crazies might actually be in a position to try to carry it out with the misuse of nukes.

July 19, 2010

Introducing myself.

by Neil Rickert

I am new to blogging, so I’m not sure how this will go.

I expect to blog on a variety of topics.  However, quite a few of them will be related to the issue of the human mind (cognitive science, philosophy of mind, Artificial Intelligence, etc).  I have approached this topic from the perspective of “how could the mind have arisen as a product of evolution?”, whereas it seems to me that most work on the mind has a more creationist (“How would I go about designing a mind?”) way of looking at things.

I am a mathematician and a semi-retired professor of computer science.  Presumably that background has influenced my perspective.