Archive for January, 2015

Harrogate commute

Saturday, January 31st, 2015 | Thoughts

country-road

I have been working with a client based on Harrogate for the past few months.

Actually, I have been driving up there for over a year now. Previously I was working with a client two days a week, which was fine as I was able to drive in early and miss the traffic. It is a very pleasant drive when you do that: countryside abounds.

However, having taken on a new client, it has been more appropriate to be there standard office hours. This quickly introduced the misery of the commute. Especially as most of it has been done in the dark.

If you leave Leeds at 7am, you can arrive in Harrogate at 7:30am. If you want to be there for 9am though, you need to set off at 8am. It brings out the worst in human behaviour too. People using the right lane to avoid the queue, and then going straight on at the roundabout. It’s usually an Audi, and such drivers are worst than child molesters.

Thus I am looking forward to avoiding the daily commute, at least for a short while.

Thud!

Saturday, January 31st, 2015 | Books

Normally I am a big fan of Sam Vimes and the City Watch. I did not enjoy Thud! as much as I did some of the other novels though, due in part to finding it a bit harder to follow than most storylines.

It did produce a fantastic quote though.

Coffee is a way of stealing time that should by rights belong to your older self

And it is not like a novel with The Watch, trolls, dwarves and Death can ever really not be enjoyable.

Thud

Watership Down

Friday, January 30th, 2015 | Books

Watership Down is the tale of a group of rabbits who leave their borrow and set off, eventually making a new one on the so-named down.

Obviously it is a metaphor for the struggle between the left and right wing in modern politics. However, this is sometimes quite cleverly hidden. For example the author Richard Adams attempts to disguise this by saying in his introduction “this is just a story I made up for my daughters and has no more meaning than that.”

watership-down

Going Postal

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 | Books

For month after month I have long awaited the arrival of a Discworld novel entirely devoted to the postal system. So much so that I assumed I had built it up so much in my mind that it could only disappoint. But it did not!

Moist von Lipwig is a cool character. More importantly however there was an indepth discussion of the clacks and how it works. Technical details, that’s what I like to see. There was not much laugh out loud humour until nearer the end, but enjoyable the whole way through.

What is all this nonsense about chapters though?

Going Postal

Morrisons online delivery

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Reviews

On Friday, Sainsbury’s online ordering system was not working, so I decided to give Morrisons a go instead. They charge £5 for Saturday morning delivery, which I think is £1 cheaper than Sainsbury’s, though I only really pay that because I have Delivery Pass and therefore don’t actually pay it.

It was a good experience. When the delivery driver arrived he noted that this was my first delivery and went through the receipt with me. He then explained that each of the bags was colour coded into fridge, freezer and cupboard.

I also get a text a few hours before to let me know my delivery was on the way and it even confirmed that there were no missing items.

The food seems quite good too. My aubergine came wrapped in a polystyrene netting to prevent it bruising and they had the good BBQ sauce and a better selection of yogurts. That sounds really sad now I come to write it…

They also gave me a welcome gingerbread man. That is a real winner.

gingerbread man

Anna Karenina

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 | Books

Good novel. I really enjoyed the sections on Levin’s farm management. There was also some stuff with someone called Anna, shagging around, which was less interesting, but she did provide an important message that you should always follow your heart. You know, until the train scene.

I finished it inside a week. This replaces finishing War and Peace as the greatest achievement of my life.

anna-karenina

Consciousness Explained

Monday, January 19th, 2015 | Books

In Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett puts forwards his theory of consciousness. Below, I have done my best to explain my understanding of the concept idea, and several other interesting ideas that he puts forward. However, that is assuming I have understood it correctly, and I would not want to bet a significant amount on that.

Consciousness

Take two dots that take it on turn to go on and off, each one a different colour. If you watch this you will see the dots changing from one colour to the other. However, they don’t. They just take it in turn to go on and off. It’s known as “colour phi phenomenon”.

There is an online demonstration here, though I have to admit that I was completely unable to recreate the effect.

Lets assume the demo does work though. What is going on here? The continuous motion the brain sees must be invited by the brain. In a traditional Cartesian theatre model in which Descartes suggests there is a mind inside our head watching everything, we have two options.

It could be a Orwellian revision. That is to say our body sees the two spots separately but then goes back and tampers with the memory to add the motion. Just as in 1984, they went back and re-wrote history. It could also be a Stalinesque revision. Much like Stalin’s show trials, our brain never sees the truth, but merely a fakery concocted by the brain for the purposes of the mind.

Dennett puts forward the Multiple Drafts model. This replaces the Cartesian theatre all together and suggests that nobody is actually looking. We record it, but don’t have consciousness until we actually look, at which point our brain has made a conclusion without actually filling the rest in. There is no tampering, our brain simply takes in the information of the two dots and assumes that it must be motion because there is no evidence to contradict this.

Taste

We taste with our nose as tongues can only detect the basic five tastes (four according to Dennett). The rest is with the nose.

Hallucinations

Strong hallucinations are impossible. You cannot touch a ghost for example. This is important because it is good evidence the mind makes it up. Simply seeing a ghost is easy for the mind to make up. However, to actually touch, get feedback, would be far more difficult for the mind to do.

Beer

Beer is not an acquired taste. If the taste remained as bad as the first time you try it, you would never drink it. What happens is that the taste changes to you. A subtle but important difference.

Pain

Pain is evolutionary useful, but not all pain. What is the point of being pain from gallstones for example? However, in general, pain is a result of evolution because it serves a useful purpose. It tells us to avoid harmful activities.

For this reason, it may be sensible to assume that trees do not feel pain. As they cannot run away, there seems to evolutionary purpose for developing the ability to feel pain.

It is also worth noting that ideas cannot cause physical pain. Imagine yourself being kicked in the shins. It feels uncomfortable, but not physically painful. This is interesting because people often call anxiety “uncomfortable”. Whereas any anxiety suffer knows, it causes physical pain. And there is a distinct difference, as this mental exercise shows.

consciousness-explained

A Hat Full of Sky

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 | Books

I have never been a huge fan of the Tiffany Aching Discworld novels. Probably because I am no longer a young adult, despite what the barman at the Squinting Cat insists. Still, it was readable and the Nac Mac Feegle are cool characters.

Most excitingly, that makes the next Discworld novel Going Postal. Which, has now been built up so much in my mind that it can only be a huge disappointment…

A_Hat_Full_of_Sky

On Liberty

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Books

The 1859 essay (very long essay) by John Stuart Mill sets forth his views on liberty. It contains a lot of things we take for granted in discourse today, but back then was probably original and challenging thought.

Below, I have picked out some of the thoughts I found most interesting.

On the persecution of truth. Mill suggests that maybe we should persecute it, because it cannot do truth any harm, but will weed out nonsense. However, he then counters by pointing out that there are lots of historical example of when truth was successfully dismissed. “Men are not more zealous for truth, than they are for error”. However, like a good trick in evolution (as Daniel Dennett would say), a correct idea will eventually be discovered time and time again.

On the origin of morals in Christianity, Mill points out that Christians have both Christian morals and societal morals, and only follow the Christian morals that match those of society. They don’t for example avoid shellfish or sell all their possessions to give the money to the poor.

He also argues Christianity is also inherently negative. Thou shall not, rather than thou shall. Then backing it up with the Heaven-Hell carrot-stick.

How do we balance individual liberty with the interests of society? Mill argues that we should basically be allowed to do whatever we want as long as it does not harm others. The “harm others” could be a broad church though. If the actions of a man harm his duty to his family for example, we could arguably interfere.

He also notes that you do not need to enforce everything through law. Social rules and conventions can also be used to police behaviour.

Mill argues for universal education, but only that the state should require parents to provide education for their child. He is against the state providing such an education because the state could use it to educate everyone to their own will.

On-Liberty

Nietzsche: Philosophy in an Hour

Monday, January 12th, 2015 | Books

If a Very Short Introduction lacked any context to Nietzsche’s work, Philosophy in an Hour provides the opposite. It is a 50 minute biography of Nietzsche’s life, with almost no discussion of what his work was about. It was entertaining and easy to follow though.

After that it moves on to a 20 minute afterword in which there is some discussion of Nietzsche’s ideas and even, crazy as it sounds, some quotes from Nietzsche’s work. Much better, but still not brilliant.

philosophy-in-an-hour