2013

Ebert

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris. – Roger Ebert

The devout can’t abide such sentiments: in the comments on Ebert’s article (republished by Salon following his death), some of them have chimed in, and kept digging (sorry, I couldn’t resist giving that latter one a well deserved kick). Ebert didn’t call himself an atheist, of course, but clearly saw no reason to believe in an afterlife.

Hume

This reminded me of Boswell’s visit to Hume as Hume was dying. Boswell writes:

I asked him if the thought of annihilation never gave him any uneasiness. He said not the least; no more than the thought that he had not been, as Lucretius observes. ‘Well,’ said I, ‘Mr Hume, I hope to triumph over you when I meet you in a future state; and remember you are not to pretend that you was joking with all this infidelity.’ ‘No, no,’ said he. ‘But I shall have been so long there before you come that it will be nothing new.’ In this style of good humour and levity did I conduct the conversation. Perhaps it was wrong on so awful a subject. But as nobody was present, I thought it could have no bad effect. I however felt a degree of horror, mixed with a sort of wild, strange, hurrying recollection of my excellent mother’s pious instructions, of Dr. Johnson’s noble lessons, and of my religious sentiments and affections during the course of my life. I was like a man in sudden danger eagerly seeking his defensive arms; and I could not but be assailed by momentary doubts while I had actually before me a man of such strong abilities and extensive inquiry dying in the persuasion of being annihilated. But I maintained my faith. I told him that I believed the Christian religion as I believed history.

It seems Boswell suffered DOUBT (as the archivist at the National Library of Scotland has it) as a chronic sinus sufferer. Visiting an apparently contented unbeliever on their deathbed can’t be good for your sinuses: you’ll get a worldview defence reaction from all those thoughts about death.

Lucretius

I’ve been reading Lucretius after Ken MacLeod’s recommendation. Stallings‘s translation into rhyming couplets is quite jolly:

None’s consigned to the pit, to patch-black Tartarus, below –
Future generations need material to grow.
And they, when life is through, shall follow you into the grave,
As those that came before, no less than you, wave after wave.
Thus one thing arises from another – it will never cease.
No one is given life to own; we all hold but a lease.
Look back again – how the endless ages of time come to pass
Before our birth are nothing to us. This is a looking glass
Nature holds up for us in which we see the time to come
After we finally die. What is it there that looks so fearsome?
What’s so tragic? Isn’t it more peaceful than any sleep?

The death panel: Nagel

The Skepticon atheist Death Panel weren’t quite convinced by an argument that nothing has been lost: Julia Galef quotes Nagel (at around 28:22), who points out that we feel that someone who is reduced to the state of a newborn infant by a brain injury has lost something, even though that person was a newborn infant in the past. So I agree with Nagel (and Yudkowsky, who turns out to be a pretty funny speaker) that death is bad. But Lucretius is also concerned with the people who don’t want their corpse to be cremated because they think it might hurt, or who fear a Hell or somehow experiencing oblivion as being entombed forever: as he and Hume and Ebert knew, such fears have no foundation.

I’m mostly writing this down so I remember it, but maybe it’ll also come in useful to other people. This is how I converted from LJ to WordPress.

Getting data out of LJ

WordPress’s LiveJournal importer is buggy and doesn’t do a bunch of stuff I want (such as re-writing links to my own posts so that they now point to the new blog). Luckily, jwz has been here before, and wrote a Perl script to download a journal and output WordPress’s XML import/export format. This does better, but needed a bit of hacking to suit my obsessive need to avoid information loss in the transfer to WP. I’ve stuck my own version here: the comment at the top describes what I changed. You’ll need LJ::GetCookieSession. Like all Perl scripts, this one is configured by global variables near the top, so you’ll need to change those too. You then say
ljgrabber.pl -v --wordpress --comments > wordpress.xml
and then upload wordpress.xml to the WordPress importer (Tools, Import on the WordPress dashboard).

Note that I haven’t used any of the other advertised options (to re-write bits of your LJ so they point to the new blog) in my modified version of the script, so damned if I know whether they work, crash, or delete your journal. Probably best to try it on a spare journal first, I’d’ve thought.

Installing

I ran through WordPress’s famous 5 minute install having stuck the untarred WP download in the right place on my site. Excitingly, this left wp-config.php (which has stuff like the database password in it) with both public read and public write permissions (assuming it was the installer and I wasn’t immediately pwned by something before anyone had seen the blog). So, you might want to watch for that.

Plugins you will want

  • Akismet: WordPress blogs attract a lot of spam comments. Akismet kills them all. Possibly there’s something I can do about this to make my blog less obviously a WordPress one, but I haven’t worked out what they’re using to identify it yet.
  • Avalicious will grab user pictures from LJ if your commenters specify a LiveJournal as their website URL. Since jwz’s Perl script produces such comments, installing this gets you the familiar looking icons for everyone. Note that you will want to apply jwz’s patch or it’ll kill your performance on pages containing comments from people who deleted their journals.
  • Live Comment Preview: cos it’s handy.
  • Subscribe to Comments: nearest thing I’ve found to LJ’s email functionality. I’m not sure whether it’s actually emailing you replies to your comment or just any new comments. Probably should check that.
  • LiveJournal Crossposter: does what it says on the tin. Note that if you go back and edit imported posts, it seems to want to post them again (presumably because the imported posts don’t have whatever magic it uses to tell that they’re already posted to LJ), but for posts which it has cross-posted for you, it’s clever enough to apply subsequent edits back to LJ, too. Note that there’s a setting which controls whether it just posts excerpts or the whole entry. For now, I’ve set it to the whole thing, even if it does mean the Russian mafia are getting advertising revenue from my writing.
  • Updraft Plus Backup/Restore: backs up the database and files to Google Drive, which I wasn’t using for anything else.
  • WP Super Cache: Crimefighting Jesus told me to, and he runs the hosting company, so he should know.

I expect I’ll tart it up a bit at some point but the default theme seems reasonable enough for now. Any other top tips welcome, I guess.

I’ve moved my public blog to my own site, making good on my threat of 2011 (I don’t like to rush these things). I’m using WordPress. I’ve installed some sort of plugin to cross post to LiveJournal, so you can continue to follow me there if you want: if you’re reading this there, it worked.

I’ll still be reading LJ and probably making friends locked posts about what I’m up to. But all the exciting new rants will be elsewhere.

John Stump, composer of Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz « Lost in the Cloud
An article about the composer of that spoof piece (with directions like "release the penguins" and "add bicycle").
(tags: music composer funny)
Web of Beliefs 2012: Complete Edition – Greatplay.net
Peter Hurford’s summary of his beliefs, which links to a lot of his interesting essays. I should do myself one of these, I reckon.
(tags: religion belief philosophy epistemology science)

Traffic Waves – YouTube
If you drive at the average speed of the traffic and leave a gap in front of you, you can alleviate traffic jams, apparently.
(tags: traffic waves cars driving)
Salsa Dance Etiquette for Leads: How to Avoid Being Blacklisted When Social Dancing | danceclasschallenge
Also applies to a bunch of other partner dances.
(tags: dancing leading etiquette salsa dance)
Salsa Dance Etiquette for Follows: How to Avoid Being Blacklisted When Social Dancing | danceclasschallenge
Much of this is applicable to other partner dances.
(tags: dancing following etiquette salsa)
Why you shouldn’t believe the Resurrection happened » The Polemical MedicThe Polemical Medic
A nice summary of some good and bad arguments about the Resurrection.
(tags: religion miracles christianity resurrection philosophy)
Top 10 Reasons our Kids Leave Church « Marc5Solas
An American Christian on why they’re losing their youth. Obviously, they’re not going to say "because it’s all lies", but I don’t think an atheist has to support the idea that all de-converts thought very hard about it and left on rational grounds.
(tags: religion christianity de-conversion atheism)
Kevin and Jo videos
Jo and Kevin recap a course they did a couple of years ago, which has some of the same material they taught in Cambridge recently, but in a Charleston context.
(tags: dancing charleston lindy)
Power of Suggestion – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education
"The amazing influence of unconscious cues is among the most fascinating discoveries of our time­—that is, if it’s true." Attempts to replicate some of the classic experiments in psychological priming have failed. Interesting article about the role of reputations in science (as well as about priming).
(tags: priming psychology science)
hot as fuck: bands | dogpossum.org
Top tips for bands playing for dancers (and dancers dancing to bands).
(tags: music dancing lindy jazz lindyhop)
Carsie Blanton’s Baby Can Dance – OFFICIAL VIDEO – YouTube
Nice song, cool lindy in the video (almost all lead and followed apparently, there’s no choreography apart from one tiny bit) illustrating that it’s not all about the aerials.
(tags: music lindy lindyhop dance)
European Swing Dance Championships presents: Lindy Hop Bloopers – YouTube
Alternatively hilarious and terrifying. My favourite is the one where they kick the spotter, I think.
(tags: dancing lindy funny aerials lindyhop)

Engineers are cold and dead inside, research shows • The Register
This is true. I’ve been faking it all these years.
(tags: psychology research engineering emotion)
Bringing your religious beliefs to work – what are the limits? | Opinion | The Lawyer
Cherie Booth looks at the recent European court decisions on religious expression at work (decisions which seemed pretty sensible to me).
(tags: law religion discrimination europe homosexuality)

H.P. Lovecraft Writes Descriptions for the Sample Clips on Brazzers
“She reveals her body, plastic with fat, bulging in unwholesome ways like Willendorf’s Venus with painted face. What brood or species produces such a creature? What transpires next left me shattered, my mind recoiling from what I had seen, the nauseating sound of rippling tissue still echoing in my ears. Trust that I dare not relate to you the horror that to this day fills my veins with ice.”
(tags: porn pornography lovecraft horror parody funny)
James Meek · How We Happened to Sell Off Our Electricity · LRB 13 September 2012
A fascinating account of electricity privatisation in the UK.
(tags: electricity politics privatisation thatcher lrb)
The Sons of Martha — The Call of Poetry
Kipling’s classic about Real Engineers: “They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.They do not preach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they damn-well choose. “
(tags: poem kipling engineering)
‘The Shipping Forecast’ Read by Brian Perkins – YouTube
Funny shipping forecast, via Desmond Carrington.
(tags: shipping parody forecast funny radio radio 4)