Mar. 18th, 2013 | 10:32 pm
location: the mountains
Clojure is a programming language. I don't think I've mentioned it before in my Journal. It's in the LISP family of languages; in particular, in some ways it's pretty similar to Scheme, and I've mentioned that a number of times.
I'm discovering that I like Clojure a lot. I resisted this conclusion
for a goodly while, because I didn't find Clojure as conceptually
elegant as Scheme. I still don't, but darn it, I've gotten to where I
can't deny that, for a wide range of types of projects, Clojure is
just more practical: you can get a working program faster with Clojure
than with Scheme.
You might well ask: "than with" which Scheme? Ah, yes.
Scheme, in practice, isn't one language, it's a sizeable family of
languages all by itself. They pretty much share a common core, but
differ widely as to features available beyond that. So it doesn't
really make sense to talk about how easy it is, or isn't, to get
something done in Scheme, without specifying which Scheme
implementation you're talking about.
Fair enough. Actually, I was comparing Clojure to SISC. That's a Scheme implementation for the JVM (Java Virtual Machine). It follows the Scheme standard (the one called "R5RS") for the core of the language, but many of its add-on features are JVM-specific.
And at this point in my history, SISC is the Scheme I've used the
most, by a wide margin.
It's a fair comparison ... or at least a relevant one ...
because in the case of Clojure, the whole language was designed for
I'm not going to try to prove to you that Clojure is a better language
than Scheme. Heck, I don't even think that it's "better." I
just think that it's more practical for getting certain kinds of
What kinds of things? Well, my current project ... which is
considerably the biggest project I've ever undertaken in Clojure ...
is (would you believe) income tax software.
More on that later ....
Mar. 9th, 2013 | 07:52 pm
location: Funny Times gift shop
Feb. 24th, 2013 | 04:25 pm
location: Marshall, NC
To paraphrase the first question: is there more than one thought pattern that might serve to remind a person to consider the effects of her actions on others? A way other than being trained to think
that to fail to do so is wrong?
I think there is. Let's continue with the example that I was using. And let's make it more specific.
Suppose, then, that you've been on a hike with a friend, you're both hungry, and you stop somewhere for something to eat: something in the range of a big snack, or a small meal. You order a small pizza, to share. It's small enough that it's divided into only four slices.
And suppose that the two of you are on a tight budget: ordering more food would not be a decision to be taken lightly.
You each eat a slice, and then your friend excuses herself to use the restroom. While she's absent, you eat another slice. And you find yourself tempted to eat the fourth, and last, slice.
You have every reason to believe that your friend is still hungry, also. But (he said rhetorically) so what? How, or why, does this keep you from following your impulse, and taking the last slice before she gets back?
It could be because you feel that it would be wrong, or unfair. It could also be because of a fear of consequences: she'll complain when she comes back, and/or it could damage your friendship, etc.
But here's another possibility. Perhaps you know that this friend, for one reason or another, is accustomed to giving you a lot of slack, and is unlikely to complain about being left still hungry over the next couple of hours. But she will feel it: she'll be less comfortable, less satisfied, just as you would have been if you'd had only one slice of pizza, when you had room for two (or three).
Might you not, then, forgo taking the last slice, simply because you care about this person, and don't want to subject her to that?
Sometimes we don't have to be pushed, or bullied, or shamed, into caring about another person, and acting accordingly. Sometimes we just do: it comes naturally.
That answers the first question that I asked at the end of the previous post: no, conscience, or a sense of fairness, is not the only mental process that can lead to unselfish behavior. The second question was whether (given that there are alternative mechanisms) one of them might, in some sense, be preferable to the promptings of conscience.
My experience suggests that the answer to this is yes. It feels better to give something up freely, out of caring, than to do so out of a sense that you "ought to."
I further suggest if you develop the habit of behaving unselfishly for this sort of reason, then (other things being equal) you will behave more unselfishly than if you only ever did so at as a result of the promptings of conscience.
If you are an adult participating in the raising of a child, you will have various opportunities to point out consequences of the child's actions, and thus to encourage unselfish behavior. Each such opportunity is also a choice: you can raise the issue as an authority figure, saying that the child "ought to" behave less selfishly; or you can "just" call attention to how the child would feel if another behaved selfishly toward him. (It may be rare to see this as a conscious choice, at the time; but the choice is there, for all that.)
Thus the suggestion with which the previous post began: that we place less emphasis on the concepts of right and wrong. It's simply more effective, in the long run, I believe: I think that appeals to right and wrong always carry at least of a whiff of external authority: of external compulsion, even. Therefore, to the extent that we are able to encourage a child's inner (and, I will claim, innate) tendency to care about others, we will help to build a character that acts unselfishly out of freedom, not out of any sense of compulsion ... and that, as a result of that, acts unselfishly in a more consistent way.
You may have noticed that the last sentence introduced a qualifier: to the extent that we are able to encourage an inner tendency .... It doesn't always work; whether it works or not probably depends on age, among many other things. Sometimes, the exertion of authority is the only thing that works in a situation.
In the light of this, my suggestion should be understood in relative terms: that what happens in our society depends on the appeal to authority, and indeed to right and wrong, more of the time than it needs to.
A rhetorical infelicity (mild, I hope) in what I have written: I ended up talking specifically about child-rearing, and thus, my conclusion may seem not to match the original suggestion at the beginning of the previous post. I made that transition because I think that the issues in question are somewhat more straightforward when child-rearing is in focus, since it's relatively clear that the adults who raise children have an influence on the development of the characters of those children.
I will claim, though, that similar things are true about the influences that adults have on each other ... more or less equivalently, about the influences that society has on all (well, most) of its members, regardless of age. I won't offer any concrete evidence for this claim (at least, not in this blog post); call it a suggestion, as indeed I called the whole thing from the beginning.
To sum up: if you act on the assumption that it's in people's natures to be nice ... to the extent that it's realistic to do so ... you end up with nicer people.
Jan. 25th, 2013 | 09:12 pm
location: a cheap hotel in Los Angeles
The suggestion is: concern yourself less about what is good or bad, right or wrong. Think about it less; talk about it less. Maybe even experiment with a point of view in which these concepts don't exist.
If this suggestion seems obvious and natural, that may be an indication that it isn't for you. Most of the people for whom it is intended are folks who will feel some doubt about it. The doubt would take a form something like this: "Why are you promoting selfishness? Surely what today's world needs is more concern for others, not less."
It is not my intention to promote selfishness. I, too, would prefer a world in which people showed more concern for others ... in particular, for the effects on others of their own actions.
But is there only one way of showing such concern, namely, by thinking in terms of right and wrong? We tend to believe so, but I suggest that this belief is based on a presupposition, and that the presupposition deserves to be questioned.
So what is this presupposition? That our own desires and preferences are thoroughly selfish. That we do not want to consider the effects of our actions on others. And thus, that we will not consider them (or, at least, not be swayed by them) unless we force ourselves to do so.
And how can one "force" oneself to show concern for others? According to this presupposition, the way to accomplish that is to think something like this: "Of course I'd like to eat all the cookies, not leaving any for the others ... but it would be wrong."
But is that the only way of thinking that might lead you to leave some of the cookies for the other folks? Or are there other ways? And if there are, might there be reasons to prefer some of the other ways?
To be continued ....
Jan. 24th, 2013 | 10:25 am
location: Little Tokyo, Los Angeles
One night down, four to go. I'm not used to waiting. I was supposed to meet somebody here in LA, but they didn't show. That caught me by surprise; I had no Plan B. Unless you count the knowledge that it wouldn't be healthy to show my face in Frisco too soon.
Who was this somebody, and what was it that I was expecting, that had brought me here all the way from North Carolina? Sorry, but I'm not ready to tell you that. You don't want to see a grown man cry, do you?
Or maybe you do, you pervert. Well, I'm not going to give you that satisfaction.
The Little Tokyo Hotel is a good place to lie low. I'm pretty sure no one would think to look for me here. The landlady doesn't speak much English. Perfect.
I was thinking of going to Disneyland. Not many would think of looking for me there, either. But even apart from the rain, I don't think it would feel right.
It would probably even smell wrong. Like curdled orange juice under a cowboy hat.
To be continued ... if they don't get me, first.
LJ Talk: an underused resource
Dec. 11th, 2012 | 07:33 pm
location: The Net
Aug. 29th, 2012 | 04:01 pm
My greyhound, Toofus, was born on August 29, 1993. How do I know this? It says so on his Web page: http://www.greyhound-data.com/d?d=doctor+t
I had him for five and a half years: I adopted him in the spring of 2003 (when he was already nine years old), and he died in October of 2008.
I posted about his death a couple of months after it happened: see http://edelsont.livejournal.com/768.html. And I had mentioned him in my LiveJournal before that: see http://edelsont.livejournal.com/tag/dogs.
I still miss him.
Aug. 27th, 2012 | 05:17 pm
location: in the woods
Here's what I did: deleted all "cookies" left on my computer by Netflix.
Now some of you, reading this, are going to have this reaction: "Could you please put that in English?" In other words, maybe you don't know what it means to "delete cookies" ... or how to do it.
How to do it depends on what browser you're using and what type of computer you have. All I can tell you is what worked in my situation: I use Firefox on a Macintosh. I followed these steps:
- On the "Firefox" menu, choose "Preferences".
- In the Preferences window, choose the "Privacy" tab.
- Click on "remove individual cookies". This brings up another new window, headed "Cookies".
- In the "Search" box at the top of the Cookies window, type "netflix".
- Highlight all the entries that remain in the list box under the Search box (they should all have the word "netflix" in them).
- Press the "Remove Cookies" button.
If you're using Firefox on Windows instead of Mac, the instructions above might work if you replace the first step with the following:
- On the "Tools" menu, choose "Options".
May. 19th, 2012 | 12:20 pm
well enough to guarantee that there will be a sequel.
May. 17th, 2012 | 01:25 pm
mood: happily sad
An alternate title for this film could be 'Existentialism 101.' I'm not saying that that would have made a better title, only that it would be a true one.
To me, this feels like the indispensable movie. I'm glad I've lived long enough to see it.