Link blog: philosophy, ai, tumblr, society

Like Worms in the Belly of Some Great Beast: Family Values and Crusader Kings II | Ruthless Culture
Civ-type strategy video games encourage the player to see through the eyes of the self-perpetuating bureaucracy. Mentions the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Via Gareth Rees.
(tags: games politics hobbes oligarchy civilisation society charles-stross)
Omniorthogonal: Hostile AI: You’re soaking in it!
Unfriendly AI is already here, in the form of corporations.
(tags: ai corporations unfriendly)
Hume 10 —Atheists Nil
Simon Blackburn on Hume’s Dialogues: "So is Hume himself an atheist? The word does not fit, and he never so described himself. He is much too subtle. Philo the sceptic says that we cannot understand or know anything about a transcendent reality that explains or sustains the ongoing order of nature, while the theists like Demea say that we cannot understand or know anything about the transcendent reality, which is God, that explains or sustains the ongoing order of nature. Since the inserted clause does not help us in the least, the difference between them is merely verbal. And this is Hume’s conclusion."
(tags: religion hume atheism philosophy david-hume simon-blackburn)
Riker sits down | MetaFilter
Commander Riker has a way with chairs. The YouTube video is doing the rounds, but I’m linking to the Metafilter thread as it contains comments from "The Riker Who Mounts the World", as well as links to Wil Wheaton’s take on it.
(tags: chair funny enterprise riker video star-trek)
Bad ideas from dead Germans | Meaningness
"Outside of traditional Christianity, most of what counts as religion and “spirituality” in America nowadays is actually recycled German academic philosophy from two hundred years ago. This might sound absurd, or irrelevant. In this metablog series, I hope to show that it is true, and that it matters."
(tags: german philosophy spirituality idealism)
From Otherkin to Transethnicity: Your Field Guide to the Weird World of Tumblr Identity Politics
CHECK YOUR NON-OTHERKIN PRIVILEGE.
(tags: privilege identity-politics tumblr otherkin)

Link blog: ethics, charles-stross, death, daniel-kahneman

Changing my mind on nuclear disarmament – Charlie’s Diary
Charles Stross argues against renewing Trident.
(tags: trident nuclear disarmament charles-stross war)
Coding, Fast and Slow: Developers and the Psychology of Overconfidence
"I’m going to talk today about what goes on in inside developers’ heads when they make estimates, why that’s so hard to fix, and how I personally figured out how to live and write software (for very happy business owners) even though my estimates are just as brutally unreliable as ever." via Andrew Ducker
(tags: software programming scrum estimation daniel-kahneman)
What Martial Arts Have to Do With Atheism – Graeme Wood – The Atlantic
Sam Harris on martial arts, meditation and atheism: "No one’s ever accused me of being an optimist, but I think reason and intellectual honesty will win. They’re just too useful."
(tags: religion atheism martial-arts meditation sam-harris)
How Not to Die – Jonathan Rauch – The Atlantic
Many doctors aren’t good at having "the Conversation". A doctor uses film to illustrate patients’ options at the end of their lives.
(tags: film ethics death health medicine intensive-care)

Link blog: toilet, television, security, funny

THE EXPLODING TOILET and Other Memories
"And in one of those dreaded realizations pilots are advised to avoid, that insulation between cockpit calm and atmospheric anarchy looks thin indeed. An extrapolated horror: the riveted aluminum planks bending apart, the wind rushing in, explosive depressurization, death, the first airliner — no, the first vehicle — in history to crash because of an overflowing toilet." This guy tells a good story. Via marnanel
(tags: flying toilet pilot aircraft funny)
Secrets of FBI Smartphone Surveillance Tool Revealed in Court Fight | Threat Level | Wired.com
by a court case. Those guys have some nice kit.
(tags: eavesdropping FBI spying bugging surveillance interception)
The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On – Bruce Schneier – The Atlantic
"But our brains are fooling us. Even though this will be in the news for weeks, we should recognize this for what it is: a rare event. That’s the very definition of news: something that is unusual — in this case, something that almost never happens. "
(tags: terrorism bruce-schneier security)
PSA: Ignore the news – Charlie’s Diary
The reading the news is bad for you: a timely reminder.
(tags: television news tv media charles-stross)

Link blog: funny, stonehenge, larp, laundry

I kveld med YLVIS – «Stonehenge» – YouTube

This is epic.
(tags: video funny stonehenge)

Index of /nelhage/Public/condition-echo-blueshift/case-nightmare-green

Someone’s LARP rules for a game based on Charles Stross’s Laundry books.
(tags: laundry roleplaying charles-stross horror cthulhu larp)

Arthur Recreates Scenes from Classic Movies

So cute! I like the Close Encounters one.
(tags: funny baby movies cinema pictures)

Link blog: christianity, religion, education, science

Tabloid Watch: You can’t upset a 14yo girl with leukaemia any more – it’s political correctness gone mad!

The other shoe drops in the "Christian teacher sacked for offering to pray" story (mentioned previously): the parents of the 14 year old with leukaemia have spoken to the press about the teacher's actions. Tabloid Watch links to a bunch of places where it's been reported.
(tags: christianity religion education)

Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up | Magazine

"The fact is, we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. Although we pretend we’re empiricists — our views dictated by nothing but the facts — we’re actually blinkered, especially when it comes to information that contradicts our theories. The problem with science, then, isn’t that most experiments fail — it’s that most failures are ignored."
(tags: science psychology neuroscience brain failure research kuhn)

Overtime by Charles Stross and Carl Wiens

The Laundry at Christmas, hurrah.
(tags: fiction horror laundry comedy charles-stross sf scifi sci-fi)

Whence Comes God’s Nature?

"God, so we're told, is eternal and unchanging. He is pure reason, pure mind, pure spirit – no physical needs to fulfill, no past history, none of the contingent events that make humana nature what it is. So how is it that he has, just like us, a complex nature with specific likes and dislikes? He did not undergo the process by which human beings acquire their preferences, so where does he get them from? Why does he prefer things one way and not another?"
(tags: theology religion christianity atheism)

Dark power: Grand designs for interstellar travel – space – 25 November 2009 – New Scientist

Bussard Ramjets collecting dark matter, and tiny black holes emitting Hawking radiation: two possible starship drive technologies.
(tags: science space flight physics interstellar)

Church recruiting drive targets two-year-olds

The Graun reports that the Church of England is trying to re-connect with children and teenagers, via youth clubs and providing material for the daily act of collective worship (still legally required in state schools, but often quietly ignored). While I think church schools should not get government funding, on the whole, school assembly Anglicanism is a vaccination against more serious sorts of Christianity, so I'm not as worried as the Graun or the commenters.
(tags: education religion children c-of-e church-of-england anglicanism christianity)

Books: Silk, Cyanide, Atrocities and Potter

I’ve recently finished reading Between Silk and Cyanide, The Atrocity Archives and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Between Silk and Cyanide is Leo Marks’s memoir of his time working as a code-maker for the Special Operations Executive during World War II. SOE agents were parachuted into occupied countries with the job of organising the resistance to the German occupation and of carrying out assassinations, sabotage and the like, “setting Europe ablaze”, in Churchill’s words. The agents communicated with Britain using enciphered messages sent in Morse code on their portable radio sets.

The ciphers used by SOE were keyed by words chosen from poems memorised by the agents. Marks instituted the use of original compositions, to prevent the enemy cryptographers from deducing which poem was in use and hence breaking all future messages. The book is peppered with his poems, including The Life That I Have. Eventually, Marks instituted the move to random keys printed on silk (so that keys which had been used could be cut away and burned), which, while they still keyed a weak transposition cipher, gave the agents some more security. He also independently invented a way of using one time pads to encipher text.

Marks narrates a story of brave men and women let down, in some cases fatally, by incompetence, bureaucracy and infighting among those who notionally had a common aim. His description of his struggles to improve the security of agents’ message is by turns funny and tragic, with passages which might have been taken from Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall alongside brief but nonetheless horrifying descriptions of the atrocities perpetrated by the Gestapo. Between Silk and Cyanide is a fascinating and moving book.

Charles Stross’s The Atrocity Archives deals with a fictional successor to SOE, an organisation known as “The Laundry”. Stross draws his inspiration from the idea of a Platonic universe where mathematical reasoning can change reality (familiar to readers of Greg Egan) or break your brain (as in David Langford’s short story, Blit). In a stroke of genius, Stross combines this with the horror trope of “things Man was not meant to know” to create a universe in which Cthulhu lurks in the folds of the Mandlebrot set. National governments know about this, but it’s all hushed up, of course. The Laundry is Her Majesty’s Government’s thin grey line of civil servants, who keep the rest of us safe from unspeakable horrors who want to eat our brains. From there we get the book’s other influence, the spy novels of people like Len Deighton and John le Carre, where, as in Marks’s factual story, infighting and petty malice mean the people on your side can be worse than the enemy itself.

The book contains The Atrocity Archive, as well as the follow-up short story The Concrete Jungle (link to the full text) and an essay by Stross on the links between Cold War spy fiction and horror. The Atrocity Archive itself is darker than The Concrete Jungle, being closer to A Colder War, Stross’s earlier work along similar lines. There are some some nasty set-pieces among the geek references and spycraft. The story takes its time introducing the world before anything much happens, but when things get going it’s gripping stuff.

The Concrete Jungle is more of a romp from the start, where the truly sinister is absent, and instead we get a spy action story combined with Dilbert in a universe where magic works, a world in which Bond might check out a Hand of Glory from Q while worrying about whether he’s filled in his TPS report. Stross has done his research, from the code-word compartments on secret documents to the name Dansey House for the Laundry’s HQ.

I enjoyed both stories. A follow-up, The Jennifer Morgue, is out soon, so I’m looking forward to that.

Medium-sized Potter spoilers coming up…

<lj-cut text=”Cut for spoilers”>I’m not a huge Potter fan, but I think the books are fun. The final book was a good read, wrapping things up nicely. As the darkness deepens, Rowling continues the theme that the people we think are the gods in our youth are actually morally ambiguous (I’m sure I’m supposed to say bildungsroman at some point, so that’s that out of the way). The middle of the book bogged down a bit with mopey New-Age-Traveller Potter camping out in the woods (hope he cleaned up after himself, bloody crusties (ETA: offensive slang term corrected to right one for New Age Travellers), but things bucked up after a while. Some of the major character deaths seemed a bit perfunctory, but the ones we did see were quite affecting.

The epilogue has attracted some criticism, but if you read this excellent bit of fanfiction you might wonder whether Rowling has been very clever after all (or you might think that tkp is pretty bright herself).

Rowling has created a series which has held its interest over seven books, got kids reading again, and deservedly made her richer than God. Hats off to the author.