Monday, February 27, 2006

Marked up books

One reason I think I like used books more than new, other than the 90% off, is the mark of the person who had it before me (and perhaps the few before that). I like seeing the pages they dog eared, the passages they underlined, the notes they made and sometimes even diagrams and such on the end papers. Those are a real treat. Those and notes like "HOG WASH" and an emphatic line drawn across the entire page.

Once I got a book, it was so tragic, with whited-out notes on just about every second page. "NOO!! When you did that you destroyed half the value of the book." And probably wasted a fair bit of time in the process. And it was the old fashioned white out that you had to wait for it to dry. So you can picture her brushing it on and holding it open and blowing on it before she could turn to the next page.

If it's your book treat it like it is your book. Let it show what is important to you. If you think it might be passed on perhaps avoid vulgarity in a children's book and keeping the spine healthy is a good idea. Missing pages get to me a little bit but I wouldn't worry about it.

Let people hear your critique if only one person at a time.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Justice and Economics

Justice and Economics are not so different. For clarification by 'economics' I mean 'economic policy' and by 'justice' I mean the 'justice system'. Even so they probably still seem miles apart but I stand by my convictions. The unifying factor of justice and economics is that they both influence the behavior of populations over time. I put some time into that line so I'll write it again:

They influence the behavior of populations over time.

By 'influence' I am looking to contrast it with 'dictate'. Even the most insightful legislation will never understand all of what goes into even a single interaction, and so cannot foresee all the reasons a particular action would happen, and so cannot remove all reason for it. I think this especially needs acknowledgement in the area of criminal justice where so many see the solution as more force rather than more finesse.

I say 'behavior' rather than 'values'. In considering a price floor keeping prices artificially high. Though individuals may trade different things for it, relative to the population it is still going to be consumed the same way, and it is in the way a good is consumed or used that it is given a value. Though justice and economics may influence values, they must do so indirectly through an intermediary and the effects will likely be unpredictable.

'Populations' was chosen over 'individuals'. These tools are far too broad to have a predictable impact on any one person, but they can be used to channel groups of people. Also, there are far more effective ways to get to a single person.

'Over time.' I think this may be the most important part. The effects of economics and justice will be different on individuals than it will be on the population as a whole and it takes time to bare this out. Good policy will account for all of this.

To further the interplay between justice and economics, any end that can be pursued by one can be pursued by the other. You may notice the ultimate hand at play in the structure of economic activity, contracts, taxes and such, is the law. And while fines are a part of law, any legal disincentive could theoretically be substituted with a fine or tax of some sort. Legal and financial incentives are likewise translatable. While this does not make them good ideas, it could be done.

Speaking of bad ideas consider for a moment a violence tax. So any money that exchanged hands with the intent of causing violence, like a contract killing or payment for the severe beating of a high school janitor, or as a result of violence, a robbery or a mugging, would be taxed at a higher rate, or maybe on top of other applicable taxes. There are a few interesting side effects of such a policy.

I think there are two sides to take in first. One where people report such things and willfully pay the tax. In this case there is free money and free information about an 'industry' we didn't have before and can therefor influence even further. The other side obviously is the scenario where they don't willfully report and pay. In this case investigations into such activities may, eventually, pay for themselves in recouped taxes. (Not to mention not having to pay to keep them in jail.)

By the very nature of violence it has to be against someone, the victim. It is very hard to run a busness if you constantly keep making yourself enemies. If you do so you have to protect yourself from them, but this is very hard if your 'industry' happens to pay a premium tax rate.

I wonder to what extent the tax man could replace the armed guard.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Russell's Paradox

For those who don't know the extent of my geekdom get ready.

I was introduced to Russell's Paradox as a kid in the form of Who Shaves The Barber?. It tells of a town where a barber shaves everybody in the town who does not shave himself. Most people in the town neatly fall into a category of either shaving themselves or not. But things get tricky when you try to categorize the barber. If it is considered that he does not shave himself then he would have to be shaved by the barber, himself, which contradicts.....

In set theory the paradox is stated as the set of all sets that do not contain themselves.

For my analysis we will use the definition of the set to make a system: a test set, and a validator. Each will have a yes or no value for contains self. If the test set has the 'contains self' value marked as 'yes', then the test set is a member of its proper set. If the validator is marked as 'yes' for 'contains self', then the test set must contain itself to be valid. This can be expressed in a table like this:

Contains Self

Test SetX

So the validator says the test set has to contain itself and it is marked as such. If only that were the end of it. Let's read the definition of the set again: the set of all sets that do not contain themselves. But the test set does contain itself, so it should not be part of the set. That is to say now our validator is not marked properly. So we can then mark the validator property of 'contains self' to 'no'. And we get this:

Contains Self

Test SetX

But it can easily be seen that the test set is now invalid as it does not agree with the validator. But that can be easily fixed by making the test set not contain itself.

Contains Self

Test Set

So now the set is valid, but is the validator? Again the definition: the set of all sets that do not contain themselves. Yeah, it has to be changed. Since the test set does not contain itself the validator should be marked as yes. And we get this:

Contains Self

Test Set

But test set has become invalid again so it has to be changed to no to make it valid like this:

Contains Self

Test SetX

And if you were paying attention you'll notice this is where we started.

To summarize the rule for the set is that it must match the validator. But the validator must not match the set. So the set chases the validator and the validator runs away giving us the four states we saw above, though never to settle on any one of them. It is a virtual perpetual motion machine. When I think about it this way it is strange to think of it as a paradox. Consider the set of all sets that do contain themselves. Is this not considered a paradox? If we did a similar experiment on this definition we would find that it could stabilize in either of two states (Either the first or third state above). If everything that cannot achieve a stable static state is a paradox where does that put, well, everything in the natural world that continuously needs energy and minerals and puts out waste. Is life a paradox? Perhaps, but I like to think not.


Links: Russell's paradox

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Johnston's Dictionary: 'Management'

The art of helping people thrive dealing with your problems.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Censorship on the Island

National Post

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What follows is an open letter, dated Feb. 13, from the Canadian Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship to Dr. Wade MacLauchlan, president of the University of Prince Edward Island.

- - -

Dear President MacLauchlan:

I am writing to you as president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. We are a national organization of university faculty members and interested others who are dedicated to the defence of academic freedom and reasoned debate. For further information, please visit our website at

We are writing to strongly protest the actions of the University of Prince Edward Island administration in seizing copies of the student newspaper, The Cadre (issue dated Feb. 8), and preventing their distribution. UPEI's public statement of Feb. 8 that censorship of The Cadre can be justified "on grounds that publication of the caricatures represents a reckless invitation to public disorder and humiliation" is contrary to the duty of all university presidents to maintain their campuses as places where debate of controversial issues may take place. Fear of possible "mob action" must not be allowed to dictate to UPEI or any other Canadian university what ideas its students and faculty may express, disseminate and debate. By censoring this debate at your campus rather than taking the necessary steps to provide appropriate security to allow debate to happen, you have encouraged the view that the threat of violence, real or imagined, is an effective way to challenge ideas with which one disagrees.

The decision as to what is to be included in a newspaper must be made by the editorial board, based on their understanding of the newsworthiness of the story. Those who disagree with the newspaper's coverage or viewpoint can register their opposition by writing letters to the editor, demonstrating or simply by refusing to read the paper or to advertise in it. Disagreeable speech should be countered by opposing arguments. Censorship is not an acceptable response to the expression of contrary opinions, and especially not on a university campus. Sending the campus police to confiscate copies of the student newspaper is an overreaction and a victory for potential censors who seem to have intimidated the administration of UPEI.

UPEI has given the impression that vigorous debate is to be avoided whenever offence may be taken, or at the very least that such debate is to occur only on terms decided by the university administration. Surely, this is not the image of UPEI that you want to promote.

We call on you to reverse your decision and to let The Cadre do its job.


Clive Seligman, president, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship,


Links: Censorship on the Island

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Official Word

The idea of corporations having 14th amendment rights as persons as been a topic of considerable discussion lately. Mainly by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on the north side of the border. I have heard on many occasions a company referred to as a virtual person but offices seem to be filling the role even more so, though not in the legal sense. More and more though I am seeing the office referred to the same even if the person filling it has changed.

Just a thought now.. What if the office was treated as a person legally. That way if the CEO screwed up in his role of CEO and this virtual persons freedoms were limited that would hurt the entire company. That would make the entire company do more to keep high level officials in line, or at least on the right side of the law. ..Perhaps more on that later.

Back on track.. Considering how we use offices to refer to virtual people, consider what it means to have the word 'official' become synonymous with 'valid'. This would suggest that flesh and blood people are now invalid.

And in day to day happenings it certainly feels that way. It is very hard to get anything diplomatic done if you are not working as the arm of something bigger and strictly organized. Though I can understand the stability of such a system it seems like a shame to relegate real people to second class status in a system created by us.


Ancient Armory

Since I went to the art exhibit at Peake Street Studio [ ;) ] two weekends ago I have been rolling the question around in my head about what is the role, or perhaps responsibility (job?) of an artist. Then a thought struck me as I heard this line from Much Ado About Nothing:

Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick.

Nobody marks you.

Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?

Isn't that a great line? Wouldn't you love to pull that one off at just the right moment? And it is my theory that it is to provide patrons with such tools is the job of the artist. Mind you, by tool I don't merely mean one line zingers but novel ways of expressing ourselves. Perhaps lines to say, perhaps hooks to hum or movements to duplicate. Essentially to create useful bits of culture to help the listener. In that respect the artist/patron relationship is not so different from any other relationship in that a good artist will empower the patron.

When an artist is seen in this light I think it puts a little bit of light on the issue of blaming artists for violence and the like in their patrons. If you want the patron to not express themselves specifically like that outlawing their art might help. But if they are expressing something negative it is likely going to be expressed negatively. If they are not to express anything at all then somebody has their work cut out for them.

Jewelry commercials, on the other hand, seem to fall into a different category. You know the ones that say stupid things like "Tell her you love her with a diamond." That is one way to do it. Actually, I'm not sure it is. I've given a few gifts like that and not once did it feel like I was saying anything close to 'I love you'. Do you know what I was thinking? 'I hope she likes it.' Because if she doesn't I just wasted a bunch of money. But expression has to mean something in both transmission and reception.

Perhaps the new tag line should be:

"Diamonds let 'Honey, you're worth this much money' get misinterpreted as 'I love you'. "


Friday, February 17, 2006

Free Speech and Realpolitik

Can freedom of speech be quashed, not through barbarism, but through smart politics?

The cartoons that were published angered many people. Right or wrong it happened. And I won't pretend to know all the details of the fall out. But if you would, imagine for a moment that all protests against the cartoons were valid from the liberal democratic view of the world. Sit in's, for instance, in the liberal democratic tradition are valid along with boycotts and talking and writing about disapproval. And just such activities can put pressure, the very real economic pressure in the case of boycotts, on decision makers. These pressures, thus, may put such a persons in a position to chose a loyalty to economics or rights.

While the idealist may see this as a simple question it becomes very grey when we consider that much of the strength of the liberal democratic movement has come from the free market system. But these two ideas are inconsistent as demonstrated above. Economics says to suppress the cartoons so as to not offend those with money so that our institutions may persist and liberal democracy says to print them so that all who wish to can see them so that the ideals they try to spread may persist.

This is one inconsistency and there may very well be others. And there may be other systems that we will later find to be inconsistent. Two questions now come to mind: Can liberal democracy and free market economics live together? and Can they live apart?

To keep them together could be simple enough by deferring to a commonly respected superior body when such inconsistencies arise. Though both of the systems will have to take turns making sacrifices. Another option is to keep one of them in its pure form and let the other degrade in order to maintain the integrity of the first.

Which ever path is chosen if it is not done with proper respect for the potential of the division of the liberal democratic world we may be inviting a conqueror.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

How Many Letters?

I found this riddle on the net: How many letters does the answer to this question have?

It is kind of a strange question, isn't it? If you want a chance to solve it for yourself you should stop reading now!

----------------Spoiler Alert------------------ 3

----------------Spoiler Alert------------------ 2

----------------Spoiler Alert------------------ 1

----------------Spoiler Alert------------------ 0

I would say the cool thing about this question is that it supposes a test to see if it is right. The question starts with 'How many' so the answer must be a number (perhaps 18), or at least describe a value (like 'too many' or 'none'). So then the test is wether this description (assume a number also describes a value) matches up with the number of letters in that description. It is not so in English but there are likely languages where such a description does not exist. Also not in English but there are likely languages where there is more than one such description. In English there is exactly one.

We can test the answers proposed so far, 'too many', 'none' and 18.

'too many' -> 7 letters
'none' -> 4 letters
18 -> eighteen -> 8 letters

As we can see none of these descriptions match the number of letters it takes to write them and so none of them fit. But something strange happens if we recursively take the value of letters as a new description to be tested. We can even start with an answer that is completely absurd and it will take us to the correct one. Suppose we try to answer 'How many letters does the answer to this question have?' with something absurd like:

'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.' -> 35 letters
thirty five -> 10 letters
ten -> 3 letters
three -> 5 letters
five -> 4 letters
four -> 4 letters! We got it.

'Four' is a description of a number that takes exactly that number of letters to write (in English). I have also proven to my satisfaction that all descriptions will settle on four when applied to this algorithm.


UPDATE: 18 Feb 2006

On closer examination it is fairly simple to prove that all numbers must settle on four. The theoretical possibilities are limited to the numbers settling on a number other than 4(1), finding a loop(2), growing infinitely small(3), growing infinitely large(4), perhaps continuing in some other irrational way(5) or settling on 4(6).

Observation 1:
All numbers greater than 4 point to a number smaller than itself.

Observation 2:
All numbers less than 4 point to a number greater than itself.

Observation 3:
3 is the only number less than 4 that points to a number greater than 4, namely 5, which points to 4.

Observation 4:
Letter counts are positive integers.

Possibility (1) cannot happen because of observations 1 and 2.
Possibility (2) cannot happen because of observations 1, 2 and 3.
Possibility (3) cannot happen because of observation 4.
Possibility (4) cannot happen because of observation 1.
Possibility (5) cannot happen because of observations 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Possibility (6) is all that remains.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Everything we call 'natural' has existed for generations and if it has not flourished it has at least maintained a steady state. In other words it has demonstrated Darwinian fitness. As environment change, though, the requirements for fitness change and some things that were once fit become unfit though no fault of their own. Similar to how all unfit things are unfit through no fault of their own.

Now consider that the environment is changing because of human activity. And by extension some things, animals and entire species, are becoming unfit because of us. But also some are becoming fit because of us. This, I would say, is that balance of nature.

While subsidizing a few species to give them a few more generations to try to adapt may give them more of a chance it seems kind of foolish to me to consider this preservation of nature. I want to describe this a preservation of a moment of nature. It even sounds absurd to me to try to preserve nature, as nature is the constant that chooses what is preserved.

While I may find opportunities in environmentalism I doubt I will make opportunites unless I can resolve issues like this with the movement.


Friday, February 10, 2006

The Ultimatum

The administration for UPEI has given the Cadre an ultimatum to hand over the outstanding 1700 copies of the controversial paper distributed on Wednesday. This explains why Wade lobbied so hard to get the Student Union on his side. As to whether the papers are handed over now is a moot point.

What I think is very relevant is that when the Student Union did something the administration didn't agree with they had two choices. The administration could take responsibility for it, as they did, but they also could have distanced themselves from it. If Wade got any calls he could have said "The Student Union does its thing and you can take it up with them. Here is Ryan Gallants number." What does it say that say that Wade didn't do that? I think it says that the Student Union is essentially not a union of students but and extension of the administration. This obviously limits the power of the student in the Union and so in the policies of the University at large. I wonder if that could cause any problems.


UPDATE: 10 Feb 2006 14:03

I just got an email from Ryan Gallant in response to this article. "It was actually the Student Union that has asked for the papers to be returned to the SU offices." While this may be true it comes off as a technicality if the SU called for the recall at the urging of the administration.

Ryan continued, "We also feel that a paper that purports to represent the student body should do just that, and the overwhelming response from students, including Cadre staff and Muslim students, is that the original decision to print these is in no way an accurate depiction of the attitudes of UPEI students."

Really? The Cadre staff? Then how did it get in there in the first place? If the Cadre wants to back peddle this one the rolling heads may just be starting. The Cadre may have to separate one of its member from the body to localize the decision to print the 'toons. I really hope it doesn't come to that. I think following the Danish example may be a good strategy: to apologize for the turmoil but not the spirit. I would be eternally grateful to anybody who is willing to show they are separable from the UPEI administration's ideology.

Ryan's email continued, "While Wade and I have had many discussions on this topic, our views, while not fundamentally in opposition, do have some small divergences. These actions were taken after careful consideration of the Student Union Executive, and were in no way influenced by the UPEI Administration (although they were happy to hear it I think)."

"[I]n no way"? Then what was the point of the meetings? If you want to express an opinion or want to show concern you have one meeting. Four meetings sounds like a consensus is trying to be reached. And the very fact that there has to be a consensus is what concerns me.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Wade MacLaughlan Takes Power Trip

What could possibly be going on behind the doors at UPEI that you and I cannot enter? The university president has just made another high profile decision to tell his underlings what not to do. And once again the prima facie details put me in the opposite corner.

Fight the good fight Ray Keating. If you need anything my email is on the right.


Links: Student paper prints controversial cartoons

Google and China

I think I may have found something novel to say about this.

There are two points that I think are relevant to this issue.
1) Canada and the US do hundreds of millions of dollars in trade with China every year.
2) Governments have infrastructure built in to be responsive to the will of the people.

Yes, I am side stepping the issue of human rights. Honestly, I don't know much about it. What I do know is that those fighting the battle have a more vulnerable target than Google. That would be their government proxies.

That is to say that if Google in China is a problem it is indicative of a bigger problem that could be more effectively dealt with elsewhere. If you are of the mind that the government is not responsive to the will of the people and so it is not a more effective portal for activism in this respect, again that is indicative of a much bigger problem and I would start question the difference between your government and China's.


Ideal forms

Ideas are most mysterious as they start to be understood. I just took in another lecture. This one was on curved space-time. I've been familiar with it for some time but now to hear it explained in a way that makes it accessible is wonderful.. and scary.

I'll try not to get in to details but the essence of curved space is that Euclid is wrong. Or rather that it can be demonstrated that Euclidean geometry (read: geometry) doesn't work. We don't yet have the tools to measure accurately enough to show we do not live in Euclidean space but I would be surprised if the deviations predicted by Einstein were not there when we have such tools.

I'm now wondering what would have happened had Euclid's detractors had access to such tools. See, Euclid's book, The Elements, was written to describe the space we live in. Now through some rational worm hole it has been taken to describe ideal space (though it still works for all practical applications [except programing GPS satellites in case you have the pleasure]). Had it been demonstrated that it didn't describe our space we would likely not have the elaborate theorems we have now for ideal space, and thus have little reference for this idea of curved space.

I'm drifting, aren't I? I guess the question I'm raising is about ideal forms. How many times in the past have we dismissed rationalized ideas because of discrepancies with practice. How many times will we do this again without taking the opportunity to find what the discrepancies can teach us about practice and the world we live in?

I think you get to ask questions like this when you have just accepted that you are traveling at the speed of light in the direction of time.


Monday, February 6, 2006


The classics always get the juices flowing. I've just been listening to a reading of Machiavelli's The Prince. (I think I have 3 anthological copies in my library but don't seem to have the attention for reading.) Machiavelli writes there are principalities that are hereditary, where one family rules out of custom, and novel principalities where a family has come to power by another means. It is not my intention to defend or offend any of Machiavelli's ideas or writings, but this was merely the catalyst for the thought.

I assert that both types of principalities get their strength from custom. To make it more timely, and hopfully more profound, all power is rooted in convention. The difference in the two principalities is the 'level' of the customs being depended upon, how abstract the custom is.

To link this to darwinism, the fit survive and encourage convention that will hold their place in the palace. Monarchs sell their name, magnates entrench their industries. Doing this is a type of insurance on their power, or perhaps more aptly put: ransom. This way to upset their power would be to upset the way of life that has been built around them. These new conventions are more abstract, in that they are a synthesis of the old ones. Interestingly, these new conventions will determine the fitness of the coming generations.

But as we all know history is not only about building, there are many chapters about tearing stuff down. Some conventions slow rather than encourage effectiveness. Then those pockets from the old order that do not recognise it progress faster and crush the new order.

It has happened many times, with many different permutations of building and tearing down. But we are here. We are all part of something larger than ourselves. It seems like we are building faster than we are tearing down.

Links: Project Gutenberg

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Stuff Part I

So stuff is actually happening (slowly). I am actually doing (a few) things and coming up with strange (and interesting?) ideas. But all of it is somehow unfit to publish. And that stuff has been taking away from the stuff I could publish. I would love to come up with some left field analysis about Google entering China but I just don't have it. It hasn't come. And I even tried (a little).

My regular readers (Hey Fred) may remember the post I did with the gridl0ck solutions on it (the zero is to keep it from showing in search engines). It is getting kinda crazy with the traffic. It is kinda what I hoped would happen only none of the visitors bother to check out anything else. Meh, I made a contribution to the web. Anybody want to put an add on that page? I might as well get something out of it.


Wednesday, February 1, 2006

David Weale

I've never met David Weale but I have heard his name enough times in a favourable light to have a great respect for him. When I first heard about a professor offering a 70% mark if they agreed not to attend class I remember thinking how glad I was to have shaken myself free from UPEI. When I found out it was Weale I was doubly so. His involvement means it is not an acute problem. His name alone suggests to me the administration had feedback, time and oportunity to fix the problem and it still put professors in situations like the one Weale found himself in.

The university is an integral part of PEI so it is sad to see it in such a state, but to excuse mistakes is only encouragement for it to degrade further. Most who know me well have heard me rant about UPEI already. I completed two years of a bachelors degree. Each one in a discrete step. The first frustrated me so deeply I put the idea of further education on hold until introspection told me I was ready to try again. But even on my return I found that all effort given to UPEI felt like effort wasted. I had assumed I was some how incompatible with the idea of university rather than UPEI specifically, but now I have further reason to wonder.

Links: The Calgary Sun - Unhappy lesson