Matthew's Big Blog of Adventure!

Sunday, April 28

Forgetting the public good

Libertarians have become unhealthily enamored with Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Her benediction of selfishness has transformed many critical thinkers into uncritically zealous propagandists.

Rand's Objectivism is a polar reaction to Russia's totalitarian state control when she was a girl in the early 20th century. Objectivism asserts that "the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (or rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism." (Wikipedia: Objectivism)

People often invoke Adam Smith's observation of the Invisible Hand in justification of the premise "selfish behavior benefits everyone." However, this premise is an over-extension of Smith's idea. His use of the Hand was to observe that in spite of the selfish behavior of the rich, some benefit did still trickle to the poor. He did not believe that selfishness itself was a virtue, nor the mechanism through which the world should operate. (Spectrum Magazine: Adam Smith: Selfishness or Self-Interest?)

A republic is one of the most libertarian forms of government, due to its emphasis of personal rights and putting the power of government into the hands of people regardless of social standing or wealth. Yet the Republic in its very etymology is defined as promoting the good of the state: res publica "public interest, the state," from res "affair, matter, thing" + publica, fem. of publicus "public"

In Thucydides's "Funeral Oration of Pericles," he asserts the success of the Athenian state is its moderation between personal freedom and responsibility to the state:

 "There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, [emphasis mine] particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace."

Jefferson's ideal government "which governs least" still governs. Abuses of the state do not imply the state itself is evil or unnecessary. We should not trust government to act unmonitored. The untried amoral faith of Rand should not overwrite our understanding of human nature. Like Thucydides and Jefferson, Libertarians should reject philosophical absolutist extremism and cultivate a deep ambivalence.

Saturday, October 23

How to Write a Paper


An introductory paragraph with a story or an example or an attention-getting statement is appropriate here. Next, we transition into briefly describing the main parts of the paper. This leads almost naturally into a combination clincher/thesis statement which says the main point of the paper along with an encapsulation of the main points.

The first sentence of the first content paragraph clearly states the first idea. Subsequent sentences provide supporting information for the main point. Examples and illustrations fall naturally into place after these explanation statements. By interspersing examples and statements, the paper will become more readable. Rephrasing the main point of the first idea in a rousing clincher sentence should be the last thing the reader see in a paragraph, giving the reader a solid sense of finishing a thought.

Not only should the first idea be clearly stated and set up in a nice paragraph all its own, in the first sentence of the next paragraph, you should have a transition statement that relates the next idea to the previous in some way. After that introduction, include supporting material. Then additional examples, then more sub-points, etc. End, again, with a nice “clincher” sentence.

The main thesis is restated in the first sentence of the final paragraph to remind the reader of the whole point of the research paper. This gives a sense of closure and through all the highs and lows of amazing prose which you have written (and they have enjoyed) they will feel like they have gone through a journey with you, and have come out a richer, more knowledgeable person from it. They will love you, they will forget your minor sins of shoddy research and grammar, and thanks to a rousing final sentence, give you an A in the class.

Monday, September 13

Converting PNG to GIF with Gimp's Script-fu

After wrestling for an hour with The GNU Image Manipulation Program's Script-fu system, and Googling aimlessly for an existing png2gif conversion script, I finally managed to cobble one together.

To run the script, right-click anywhere on an image in the Gimp to get the context menu. Then, Filters -> Script-Fu -> Console. Paste this script in with the path to the directory of files you want to convert:

(let* ((filelist (cadr (file-glob "C:\\directory\\*.png" 1))))
(while (not (null? filelist))
(let* (
(filename (car filelist))
(image (car (gimp-file-load RUN-NONINTERACTIVE filename filename)))
(drawable (car (gimp-image-get-active-layer image)))
(gimp-convert-indexed image 0 0 128 0 1 "")
(gimp-file-save 1 image drawable (string-append filename ".gif") (string-append filename ".gif"))
(set! filelist (cdr filelist))


Sunday, August 29

General Counsel's Last Lecture

As the general counsel for our company left, he gave a great speech on what the common attributes of a star are. These notes are valuable to me, so they might be to you too.

  1. Emotional intelligence

    • You need other people to help you

    • Ability to know others' needs and fears

      • What are people thinking about and feeling and where are they coming from

      • Imposter complex - everyone is afraid of being exposed in a group

      • You constantly have to communicate to people that they are safe

      • Confession of weakness

  2. Judgment

    • Moving an answer around in time and space. How would this decision look in a year? In front of Congress?

    • Figuring out what things mean

    • Gained by screwing up and remembering the effects of your mistakes

    • You must step away from what you do to maintain perspective. Judgmnt requires perspective.

    • Sleep a lot. It helps your brain interconnect everything you learned.

    • Keep up hobbies, family activities.

  3. Effective Communication

    • All knowledge is wasted that is not communicated to someone else.

    • People need to breathe

      • make your messages easily digestible

    • You need someone who loves you to give you honest feedback in order to improve your public speaking skills.

    • Presentations are not the time to be cool; it's distracting

    • Don't let your equipment and materials distract from you: you are the show

  4. Dare to Be Dumb

    • Ask the "dumb" questions when no one else will.

    • People appreciate it that they didn't have to reveal their own ignorance and need the knowledge

  5. Building Reputation

    • It's built all the time with every encounter with every person you meet

    • There's no time off

    • There's no difference between the person who empties the trash and the CEO

Tuesday, August 3

How To Obfuscate Something

Uncyclopedia, on the topic of Obfuscation offers this wisdom:

The art of obfuscation has only one requirement, that is for the obfuscator to be a bit of a [jerk].... The following will be a step by step guide to obfuscation.

  1. Let's begin with a simple sentence: "Gramma stole my axe."

  2. Next we must identify our object, axe, our verb, stole, and our intellect pronoun, Gramma.

  3. Now we will identify the intention of the sentence. In this case, the intention is to frame Gramma for a murder we have recently committed by placing the key evidence in her possession.

  4. We are now ready to obfuscate.

  5. Take a break, have some casserole.

  6. First we will obfuscate the first word, Gramma, the woman who is of a most considerable age, but in good health nontheless, but who has had trouble in situations that involve (or in some very rare cases involving time and space, don't) one or more variables, and who has had a persistent outward dislike of the newspaper delivery boy, stole my axe."

  7. Repeat this process for each newly introduced subject in the sentence until you run out of paper to write it on.

  8. Visit Gramma in prison to gloat about your superior intellect.