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I went on a reading binge.

People have made ice as early as 1755 (William Cullen) or 1758 (Ben Franklin and friend). Jacob Perkins made a closed-cycle vapor-compression refrigerator in 1834. A commercial ice-maker dawned in 1854 Australia, with a dozen machines operating by 1861. By 1865 New Orleans was using three of Ferdinand Carre's machines to replace the trade in northern ice cut off by the Civil War. In 1882 the Dunedin sailed from NZ to Britain with a hold of frozen meat.

Basically commercial refrigeration was decades ahead of home use: units were too big and expensive and used too dangerous chemicals, so homes used iceboxes, with manufactured ice replacing harvested ice. GE pioneered a home unit in 1911, but Freon really opened the way. So safe! Except for the ozone layer, so we moved from CFC to HCFC. Which turn out to be strong greenhouse gases.

One alternative is (small amounts of) isobutane or propane: "In 2010, about one-third of all household refrigerators and freezers manufactured globally used isobutane or an isobutane/propane blend". Others are ammonia, CO2, and HFO-1234yf, which has less greenhouse power than CO2 and is hard to ignite, but releases HF if it does burn, not something you want from a flaming car wreck.

I wondered about a CO2 unit bursting and smothering nearby people, but this says the quantity is too small to be dangerous.

All this can make you wonder plaintively if we can't cool with things that are really safe. And we can! One weird option is the vortex tube, but a classic one is the Stirling engine. Famous for running decently on modest heat gradients, it can also cool by literally cranking it in reverse, and is happy using simple air as a working medium. Drawbacks? As far as I can tell, it'd be more expensive, less power-efficient, and less powerful for its weight, than standard tech. How much so, I don't know, though effective enough that Coleman sold some portable units.

Jet engines run on something called the Brayton cycle, which can also be reversed for cooling.

One Stirling note is that vapor-compression apparently runs out of usable refrigerants below -50 C; you need the right vapor/boiling properties. Stirling coolers can go down to cryonic temperatures.

Another thing to note is that while we run everything on electricity these days, the key part of a fridge is the compressor and pump, so it runs fine (and did) on steam, and in theory could be run by watermill, windmill, or muscle-powered treadmill. Yes, you can write a clockwork dystopia where slave labor is running the ice-makers... I'm not sure how many slaves. A small window A/C unit is 1465 Watts; I see numbers giving 160 Watts for the annualized power of an old 18 cubit foot fridge and 40 for a modern one -- or twice that with an ice maker running. Horsepower says a healthy human is good for 75 watts of indefinite effort and an athlete for 260 watts for some hours. "Horsepower" is almost 750 watts but you would need multiple horses to get that effort continuously.

So a large family might be able to run a fridge with voluntary effort, but not an A/C; animal power could provide a fridge and ice making but full A/C would still be expensive.

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egg costs

Recently I was sick so got eggs at the corner store. $3.99 for a dozen of large! vs. $1.79 at the closest 'supermarket'. Expensive, they're not even cage free or anything.

But... 2 of the eggs is under 70 cents, giving 140 calories and 12 g of protein. So nutritionally comparable to a chicken sausage at twice the price (and granted, more flavor.) 3 eggs is similar in calories and price to a cheaper pork sausage. And these are the expensive eggs! The regular ones are 15 cents an egg.

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filled by fillings

When I have dim sum at Hei La Moon, I tend to get 4-6 plates and take leftovers. Or just eat them all if I have four, which tends to leave me stuffed. Today I had 6 plates, or 21 pieces; I carefully stopped at 10. That was around noon, and I haven't been very hungry since, though I did add a banana and plum when I got to work, and some late snacks before leaving.

$30 for the six plates, so $15 per meal; expensive for an eating out lunch but not hugely so, and both tasty and something I'll never make on my own.

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return to Hot Eastern

Followup to https://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/492576.html

I've actually been back a couple times, but Friday was most recent. Had Szechuan pork, medium spice. Paid $2 for a tiny bowl of rice. >_< The pork itself was good, and a good spice level, and the bowl was large, if largely liquid -- was almost like spicy pork soup. I ate all the rice but took a lot of the bowl home; I just had 1/3 of it over pasta...

Astro Boy and Sakura were no longer among the posters, though there was less Mao too. I think there was a One Piece poster? I forget.

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Current earworm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjNVPO8ff84
Actually there's a whole genus of earworms, but that's in the lead.

Ongoing entertainment: episode-per-day group watch of Higurashi on reddit. It's like watching newbies watch Madoka, but four times as long!

Recent (since late April) book-length reads, selected from my CSV file:

Protection from Nargles -- Arpad Hrunta
_A Certain Droll Hivemind_ -- Earthscorpion
Enlightenment Now -- Steven Pinker
Hellas: A Portrait of Greece -- Nicholas Gage
Return to Aman -- bunn (Ao3)
Quenta Narquelion -- bunn (Ao3)
Hadrian's Wall -- Adrian Goldsworthy
_Issola_ -- Steven Brust (re)
Orca -- Steven Brust (re)
These Gifts That You Have Given Me -- arrogantemu (AO3)
Rise Again From Ashes -- Independence1776 (silmarillionwritersguild)
Lessons from the Mountain -- MithLuin (Sil Writer's Guild)
The White Devil of the Moon -- bissek (AO3)
How to talk to girls at parties -- Neil Gaiman
The world of the dark crystal -- Llewellyn and Froud
_Conflict of Honors_ -- Lee and Miller (re)
Brokedown Palace -- Steven Brust
Ada -- Vladimir Nabokov
Who we are and how we got here -- David Reich
The Will to Battle -- Ada Palmer
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil -- J. R. R. Tolkien
_A Captain and a Madman_ -- Raziel (fanfic)
Vignettes of the Blessed Realm -- Anna_Wing (AO3)
Tales From Watership Down -- Richard Adams

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item values

Used A/C: ~$1/lb
My new A/C: $3/lb
my old bike: $5/lb
very fancy bike: ~$150/lb
typical new car: $10-20/lb
cheap laptop: ~$70/lb
my laptop: $170/lb
cutting edge smartphone: ~$2000/lb

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non-contributing ancestors

I'm reading a recent book about DNA and human migration, and it raised an interesting point: many of your ancestors didn't contribute DNA to you. This can be seen by first simplifying: imagine that crossing-over didn't happen, so that each of your chromosome came unaltered from one of your parents. You have 46 chromosomes, they each have 46 chromosomes, obviously half of the parental set got lost. But consider: after one generation you have two parents, after two generations you have four grandparents... after six generations you have 64 great^4-grandparents... and only 46 chromosomes. So at least 18 ancestors from back then failed to get any chromosomes into you: there's just not enough chromosome to be mapped to all of your ancestors!

In reality crossing-over does happen, but the book says that just means a linear increase in the number of splices, so that after 10 generations you have about 700 ancestral DNA segments but 1024 ancestors -- once again, 30% of them are left out of you.

In the extreme case, you have 30,000 genes, so ignoring splices inside genes, at 16 generations (only 320-640 years!) you have 65,536 ancestors and most ancestors than genes for them to contribute.

Of course, as you go back you start having nth-cousin ancestors and thus a smaller number of unrelated ancestors in a generation, but the principle still holds.

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US Indian history, part 2.

Started here https://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/495960.html

10. Indian Warfare in the West. Discusses policies of assimilation and allotment, with even "friends" of the Indians advocating assimilation backed up by threat of violence. Total warfare that embraced massacre of non-combatants, unlike Sherman's march in the Confederacy. Some Indian perspectives of "not defeated, just agreeing to not fight."

11. America's Indigenous Reading Revolution. Memoirs of an Omaha boy's schooling (La Flesche, The Middle Five). Indian mission schools as laboratories for pedagogical experiments.

12. "Working" from the Margins. Documenting Indian participation in the New Deal. Ranges from re-intepretation of the "Migrant Mother" photograph of Florence Owens Thompson, a Cherokee woman not identified as such by the photographer, to periodicals about Indian labor in New Deal programs.

I'm running out of summarization steam.

13. Indians and the civil rights movement.

14. Indians moving to cities.

15. Indian religion.

16. Power generation on Indian reservations. Lots of coal mines and power plants located on their land; they get the mining damage and pollution, white cities get the power.

17. American history as settler colonialism. "Settler colonialism" is a framework developed by Canadian and Australian scholars, but also applicable to the USA and Israel. Nez Perce allotment.

18. Federalism. Erasure of Indian sovereignty in talking about federal and state sovereignties, and of course actual erasued by Andrew Jackson and others.

19. Indians and indigenous people elsewhere, global similarities and alliances.

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US Indian history

Why you can't teach United States History Without American Indians. Anthology of essays, aimed at college level history, about various historical topics from a more Indian perspective.

1. Borders and Borderlands. Even hunter-gatherers have a strong sense of the lands they have a right to forage in, and mobile groups like the Apache or Comanche marked their borders with cairns or forced-growth trees. There was no empty territory when the Europeans arrived, except maybe where disease had killed off all the claimants. But US history tends to describe a frontier expanding into empty or vague land, and maps reinforce this -- pre-colonial populations are perhaps marked with names -- sometimes of subsistence strategies or language families -- floating vaguely over a map, with no well-defined border or capitals marked, while maps of the post-colonial era show European colonies in bold colors, pushing into a washed out Indian or empty territory. Maps *from* the period made by Europeans, especially the French and Spanish, are much more explicit and respectful of Indian states and borders.

2. Encounter and Trade in the Early Atlantic World. We don't know much about 1500s North Atlantic America, but there was a lot of European contact and trade, first driven by the cod fishery, with fishermen buying medicine and fresh food. Then the fur trade, with furs bought with cloth and metal goods, and cloth made specifically for Indian tastes, probably driven by Indian women. 60-70% of fur trader expenditures went to buying cloth, dwarfing alcohol (5%) and firearms.

3. Rethinking the American Paradox, Bacon's Rebellion. I don't remember ever hearing about Bacon's Rebellion, but apparently historians have considered it really important, with the usual story focusing on a rebellion by lower class whites against the elites. The essay places it in the context of a long-burning war between Indian nations, and talks about the trade in Indian slaves (which I first really heard about from Charles Mann). The supply of white indentures contracted around 1660, and Virginia planters got more access to African slaves around 1700; enslaved Indians bridged the gap, though many were also exported to the West Indies. Between 1670 and 1700, 40% of slaves on the upper James river were Indians.

4. Recentering Indian Women in the American Revolution. Role of Indian women in owning land and making political decisions. George "Town Destroyer" Washington's 1779 orders to wage total war on the Iroquois, destroying houses and crops and taking women and children as hostages. An odd incident when General Sullivan ran across an old woman in an abandoned village and left her there, against orders.

5. The Empty Continent. Another map about how Indians are erased from maps.

6. The Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and American Indians. An essay about rather infuriating and indefensible European concepts that 'discovering' land gave them right over the land and inhabitants, with discussion of the discovery rituals Europeans would engage in to mark the territory. The later "Manifest Destiny" of US thought is largely claiming to sweep away existing European rights from discovery, as well as any surviving Indian title.

7. Indiana and the California Gold Rush. Gold was found by white and Indian laborers on Sutter's colony; Sutter made a claim to the governor backed by some local Indian chiefs; Indians workers left for gold mines themselves, leaving Sutter's colony starved of labor. White miners hunted Indians for sport. An 1850 law legalized the enslavement of California Indians.

8. Why you can't teach the history of US slavery Without American Indians. Discussion of slavery by and of Indians. The Carolinas exporting Indian slaves to fund buying African slaves (reflecting a desire to have non-local slaves who wouldn't be able to run away as easily.)

9. American Indians and the Civil War. The Dakota War in 1862 Minnesota. Lincoln signing the Homestead Act in 1862, in gross violation of US treaties with Indian nations. Corruption stealing the annuities promised to reservation Indians. Confederate soldiers treated as POWs, Dakota fighters treated as criminals guilty of capital crimes, with Lincoln authorizing the largest mass execution in US history. Kit Carson's ethnic cleansing of the Navajo. The Sand Creek Massacre.

Continued here: https://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/496129.html

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diary thoughts

Etymology from Wikipedia:

'The word diary comes from the Latin diarium ("daily allowance," from dies "day").[1] The word journal comes from the same root (diurnus "of the day") through Old French jurnal (modern French for day is jour).[2]'


Logging is very different in origin, from the logbook on a ship, that records the ship's speed, as measured by throwing a log overboard.

There's debate as to what to call various things. Some say a diary is a daily record of your life, while your journal is more personal thoughts and ideas. I'd have said a diary is more personal, while a journal is more specific, like a scientific or writing journal. The show "Roswell" had one precious line for me, from a scientist-wannabe girl:

"I keep this diary, or really more of a journal, because journals are what scientists call their diaries."

I ostensibly kept a diary as a kid, but the entries were very sparse and minimal. I re-read it last year and was not particularly enlightened. Late in college I started writing down the books I read, and my expenses, and the former grew into a general life log. More of an event-record log or journal than an emotional reflections diary, though some of those.

The Diary of Anne Frank probably influenced what I thought a diary should be, and I've never kept up such a "Dear Diary" format, though it's tempting to practice writing "real letters" more than the abbreviated sentences of my log. Re-reading recently, I am in awe of her foresight in doing an initial infodump of her life and the people in it.

Logging or journaling seems to come naturally to me now. I kept a log at my old full-time job, and keep one at my current job. I took notes during various RPGs I've played in, one set of which I made public which helped the GM and other players.

I read about bullet journals recently, and it seemed like a neat idea which isn't very relevant because I do everything electronically now. Don't need a page index when you don't have pages and can just search for things. Some of the bulleting ideas could be useful; I already have a couple of my own.

I asked on Facebook recently, and only two friends spoke up about keeping a diary. I wondered later if Facebook itself, or Twitter or Instagram, acts as a diary for various people. Though for me privacy was always a key aspect, so such an attitude doesn't come naturally; posts are about reaching an audience as much or more than musing or recording. My travel posts are an exception -- long record of stuff, little privacy needed, showing off -- where my private log just contains links to my LJ posts.

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manga romance surprises

Tonight I caught on several months of issues of a few manga titles, and come to think of it they all had romantic developments, but two were amusing.

In manga 1, Boy and Girl confessed quite some time ago, with even some kissing. They're on a very slow burn toward anything more for class reasons, though. Boy was having a cold but hiding it to avoid a fuss. Girl got them into a private space, was obviously skeptical, and said "If you don't have a fever, let's kiss." Boy doesn't want to get her sick, so bluff called. But it was amusingly direct of her... in character for any other topic, but I don't recall her being that blunt about their smoldering romance.

In manga 2, Boy and Girl had not confessed. Girl had overhead about Boy having a fiancee. Boy got tired of being in a romantic comedy, possibly in so many words, and ripped the bandaid off. In front of their intimate traveling companions. *fwoomp*

In the same manga, a different Boy and Girl are just friends, really. But the palace staff think they're lovers, which is a relief to them ("our king isn't gay! there might be an heir!") and fewer eligible women are being pushed at Boy. Honestly, Boy might be asexual for all we can tell so far.

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logging thoughts

One of the first things I did for work was implementing a better logging system, based around the Python logging library, which introduced me to the world of DEBUG, WARNING, INFO, ERROR. Useful, but something felt off from my expectations. I think I've finally pinned that down.

At my old job, which also involved multiple processes talking to each other over the network, I created my own logging system, though I'm not sure I called it that. Really it was an evolution of printf debugging, with a way to control how much output there was. I had DEBUG macros, controlled by a buglevel variable, which more precisely was a verbosity level. 0 meant nothing, 1 meant a small amount of high level output like entering functions, 4 printed from inside nested loops. I don't remember what 2 and 3 were, and it was more ad hoc than formally designed, but it seems reasonable that 2 would be top level statements after the initial entry statement, while 3 would from within loops. E.g.

int some_function(type param) {
  DEBUG(1, "Entering some_function");
  do sometthing
  DEBUG(2, "I got something %s", something);
  while(condition( {
    DEBUG(3, "loop variables");
    for (some other condition) {
      DEBUG(4, "really verbose");

What about INFO, ERROR, etc. levels? I'm guessing those were just printfs -- I had no concept that you'd ever not want to see such output, nor did I have anything like the Python logging flexibility where you can send logging to multiple outputs. So my homegrown macros were entirely for levels of DEBUG output, and really provided a trace record with varying levels of resolution (and performance hit[1].)

And I feel weird because what's become common, in Python and Apache and such, is just a single level of DEBUG.

I've already tried to address that; our logging module contains some custom methods and levels. HITRACE for my old DEBUG 1, function entry (and sometimes exit). And TRACE for "even more verbose than DEBUG", but I hadn't pinned down that that meant; now it seems like I'd have to add one more level to really match up to my old system. And then teach other people how to use it. Feh...

I've also wondered if there's a useful distinction between "statements for tracing in general" and "statements for debugging this problem in particular."

Then of course there's exactly how to split WARNING, ERROR, and CRITICAL, and how to report user errors. Currently I mostly use ERROR for "there's a problem with our code" and CRITICAL for "there's a problem with the environment" like disk full or network connection failure. ERROR gets programmers out of bed, CRITICAL gets Ops out of bed. FATAL is CRITICAL plus a built-in "we die right now." WARNING is "I'm not sure if this is a problem" or "a human should look at this soon". Errors because of bad *user* input, I'm not sure, maybe just DEBUG? Don't want bad users filling up production logs.

[1] Once Ops came to me and said "the new release is really slow!" It turned they'd pushed the code to production with a configured buglevel=4, not 1 or 0 as I instructed. (The macro was such that all that code could have been compiled away, too, but we never bothered; I think we also liked the idea that we could get more output if we needed to.)

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Thoughts on the Black Panther movie

Spoilers ahoy. Quotes are either me being snarky, or paraphrases. The movie was a fun experience, but...

* "Your form of government is bad and you should feel bad." Seriously, WTF, a technologically and kind of morally advanced country where the succession is settled by physical combat, to the point where a complete outsider can walk in and overturn things?

* Which also means that for all the political or philosophical issues raised in the movie, they're settled by a trick move in a fight.

* Not that the Electoral College is perfect, and you could talk about political questions being settled by trick moves in elections and not be wrong, but degree matters.

* And such an abolute monarchy that he can have the national treasure destroyed just like that. (No more Black Panthers?)

* "He killed his brother, how could he?" He was saving the life of his loyal underling, you were *just told this*. You want to be a good king? You're not thinking like one...

* "You shouldn't have abandoned his son." Well, the kid had a mother as well as a dead father, she might have had opinions about whisking her son off to some mystery country. Not that she was ever mentioned again.

* "Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, 'cause they knew death was better than bondage." They... probably didn't become your ancestors, strictly speaking. And if he has slave ancestors it would have to be through an Africa-American mother, which is more than we were ever told about his mother.

* Wikipedia has some snarky criticism of the movie.

Gathara highlighted the Africa that is portrayed as being divided and tribalized, with Wakanda run by a wealthy and feuding elite, centered upon "royalty and warriors", whose fortune comes not from its citizens' endeavors, skill or innate abilities, but from a "lucky meteor strike", and as a country which, despite its advanced technical abilities, does not evince any great thinkers, nor even a means of succession beyond lethal combat and primeval trials of strength... "Despite their centuries of vibranium-induced technological advancement, the Wakandans remain so remarkably unsophisticated that a 'returning' American can basically stroll in and take over, just as 19th-century Europeans did to the real Africa ... [The film] should not be mistaken for an attempt at liberating Africa from Europe. Quite the opposite. Its 'redemptive counter-mythology' entrenches the tropes that have been used to dehumanize Africans for centuries. The Wakandans, for all their technological progress, still cleanly fit into the Western molds, a dark people in a dark continent"

* Tropes mentions some idiot plot:

T'Challa makes things more difficult for himself by accepting responsibility for Klaue's escape and not attempting to defend himself by mentioning mitigating factors such as the fact that Klaue only got away because Erik helped him. If he'd mentioned that to anybody before Erik showed up, and especially if he'd mentioned it to W'Kabi, who subsequently supports Erik because he thinks Erik succeeded in capturing Klaue where T'Challa failed, things might have gone very differently.

* Tropes also clears up some murky audio I missed:

When he sends word to all of the Wakandans abroad to prepare to take up arms, the only ones who are willing to do so are the groups in London, New York, and Hong Kong, and they are spies and not warriors.

...it's still a bad form of government.

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Enlightenment Now

I finished Pinker's book a couple days ago. I liked it. There were a few things I found to quibble with, and reviews pointed out some more, which is disappointing, but I don't think they cancel out the point of the book. Like the last one, the book is a linguist/psychologist doing amateur very long form journalism, so some errors aren't a surprise. But as I see it, the gist of the book is "worrying about things in the right way actually works to make them better, look at what it's done in the past". Which I would like to think is too banal a claim to need defense, but long experience in arguments has taught me otherwise: quite a few people think the world is doomed, often with apparent glee at their supposed inside knowledge, or think wealth is a zero-sum game where the rich countries are rich only because of exploiting poor ones, or that population is still exploding without bound, or that acknowledging improvement is a betrayal and denial of existing problems. And that's the arguments I get into; then there are all the people who think crime is soaring, that terrorism is a major threat to the US, that American teens are at increasing risk of sex trafficking and whatnot.

So most of the book is lots of graphs and citations about how the world is living longer, is wealthier, is becoming more equal across countries, is more educated, is more educated between the sexes, is becoming safer in terms of wars, homicides, and accidents, etc. etc. I checked: the WHO really does say that global life expectancy at birth is now 71. The worst off countries are at 50.

Here is an old (2005) table of literacy rates over 1985-2005, selected because I found it easily. This compares total and youth literacy for some Mideast countries, in 2012 going by the URL; e.g. 47% of Yemen women being literate, but 74% of 15-24 yo women.

The first part of the book is a description and celebration of the Enlightenment itself, which he boils down to four values: reason, science, humanism, and (belief in the possibility of) progress. 'Reason' gets misused a lot -- I know an Objectivist Catholic who touts a Reason (capitalized) that apparently means listening to his gut and ignoring evidence -- but Pinker expands it as the belief that people can and should be more rational, by learning about and compensating for cognitive biases, and by building institutions (e.g. neutral judges, or scientific practices and community) that compensate as well.

One tiny bit that I really liked was his contrast of 'complacent optimism' ("things are getting better so there's no need to worry") and 'conditional optimism' ("things can get better if we worry about them and make them better"). The book is openly a big celebration of conditional optimism, but I've already seen people attacking it as if it were complacent optimism.

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On editor wars

When I was in college, I participated in vi vs. emacs editor wars. I don't recall how serious they were. My good reasons were that I was pulled into vi first, and emacs was slower to start up. At some point I'd definitely matured to finding them less interesting, and granting that emacs was probably at least as powerful as vi, or even the later vim, but I had little reason to switch.

Recently a Windows-using friend was snarking at vim as well as at git, and a bunch of good-natured ribbing ensued, but I wandered off into serious musings:

* To be honest, I'm not in a good position to say vim is 'better' than other editors, because I don't know other editors well!

* That said, vim has a lot of word-processor-like and other features which I'm fairly sure casual text editors don't. To whit:

o Macros: the ability to define or even record sequences of commands or text. I've had macros that invoked other macros.

o History: not just an unbounded undo history of text changes, but a memory for the last command and the ability to trivially repeat it, as well as a history of :commands such as replaces. I think vim also has a notion of history as a *tree*, though I've never grokked that. But the "do the last edit I did"? I use that one all the time.

o Formatting: separate commands for reformatting ordinary text and code.

o Movement: sophisticated movement commands, useful not just for moving your cursor, but for applying edit commands to (so, "delete 3 sentences", or "replace 5 paragraphs"), or (in vim) for selecting text. You could use a mouse for similar selections, but often the keyboard commands would be faster and take less arm movement.

o Marks: you can make bookmarks within files to easily jump between points, and these marks can persist across multiple files.

o IDE-like features: syntax highlighting, smart indentation, bouncing between brackets, more. A dedicated IDE is probably even better -- but if you use multiple languages, having one decent interface across them can beat having to use multiple interfaces, especially if the IDE is less sophisticated as an editor.

* Registers: if you want, you can suck text into up to 27 different clipboards.

o Completion that defaults to using the current file as a dictionary, but that can take arbitrary other dictionaries.

o And for those who can't stand funky movement keys in command mode, vim has long recognized arrow keys in editing mode, and there's a graphical vim that probably recognizes mice.

Some practical cases:

* Having to edit an IP address in lots of files:
vi *.json #edit multiple files
/192 #search for old IP
cW{new IP} #change word to new one
n. #search for next instance, and repeat last action
n. #ditto
:wn #write this file, go to the next file
n. #continue the search and replace
n. #...etc, for like a dozen files

* I've had to edit the etc/hosts file on my Windows machine between two different states. Notepad++ makes a single search and replace fairly easy, and remembers the last one done, but not the last two, and the time between changes was long enough that I wasn't keeping it open to exploit undo/redo. vim could easily remember two different replace commands to invoke.

(An alternative would have been to keep two different files around, but Windows GUI doesn't make copy-and-rename that easy either, compared to a command line.)

So how does all this compare to a good Windows text editor like Notepad++? Looking at it, it does have lots of features I haven't used. There's a Macro menu, via Recording, so that's promising -- though I wonder what its notion of commands can be. The Search menu has a couple of bracket options (find matching, select to matching), though using the % key in vi would definitely be faster; also has Bookmark. Some options I doubt vim has, like 'sort lines'. (Checks: I was wrong, vim does have it.)

Overall it's a decent set of features, and for the casual or new user, the menus will be more discoverable than reading through vim documentation. But I doubt, not just from gut feeling but from comparing myself to my boss and his IDE use, that it could ever be as fast as vim mastery. Between vim and 'screen' (for switching between windows, and for cut and paste), my hands typically never have to leave the alphanumeric keyboard, not even as far as the laptop touchpad or function keys, during coding. And personally, the lack of command history would be very nearly crippling.

I was going to give Notepad++ an advantage on spellchecking, but I looked, and hey, vim has an option for that too:
:setlocal spell spelllang=en_us

And though I've never used it, there is a GUI version of vim, with at least some menus. I just found a screenshot where its Edit menu has Undo, Redo, and Repeat, and a university guide says

"Next to every menu item is a keyboard shortcut to execute that function. gVim allows a new user to easily find common functions through the menu bar, but also gives the user the keystrokes that access the function faster, and are compatible with vim and usually vi." So even the discoverability advantage of Notepad++ fades away: between it and gvim, we have two fairly powerful editors, except that the latter allows everything to be done with the keyboard and has a potent command history.

Huh. When I started this post, I was going to avoid "my editor is better", and stick to "my editor does these cool things." And then I was checking Notepad++ features and being impressed by what it had (I hadn't known it had macros). But now I seem to have argued myself into "vim, or at least gvim, quite plausibly *is* better: it can do everything[1] yours can, *and* these things unique to it (and maybe emacs.)"

[1] Not everything a great IDE can do, but I'm fine with that; I don't need my editor to compile code for me, there's a command line for that.

Edit: All that said, I just installed gvim, and its menus do seem less complete than Notepad++'s. In particular, while Repeat is there, I don't see any menu options for creating macros, plus many of the other things N++ makes available, like "sort lines". (On the IDE front, it *does* have "make" and stuff like "find next error".) I know that you can create new menus for gvim, and maybe someone has created more comprehensive ones, but a newbie won't know that. And while there's online help, it's vimmy in navigation. So I have to give newbie friendliness back to Notepad++.

Edit 2: After some further thought and reading, I'll posit that for fast and flexible general text editing, nothing beats vim mastery, not even emacs. For general programmability beyond being an editor, nothing beats emacs. For integration with some specific language, hopefully an IDE gives features that even IDE-like features of vim don't... but it probably is inferior as a text editor, which makes it a matter of tradeoffs: what do you want to optimize for? And how much do you want to be tied to a language-specific tool?

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If a Lion Could Talk

_If a Lion Could Talk_, Stephen Budiansky, 1998.

...then probably we could understand it, but it wouldn't be a lion anymore.

I saw this book mentioned a lot in grad school, when I was doing my own reading about animal cognition and ape language experiments, but I never read it before. It's much more skeptical than most of what I read then, but fairly convincing in its own right. Independent of that is a lot of animal cognition and communication stuff I didn't know.

This isn't a comprehensive review, just a sweep through of stuff that stood out to me.


People report anecdotes of animal intelligence, but rarely animal stupidity under similar situations. People seek to prove animals are some defective version of humans, rather than attending to the impressive things animals can do, in effect denigrating what animals are actually like.

"Smart animals" often means the ones who do what we want; a "stupid horse" learns that the right behavior will avoid being made to work.

Importance of 'peripherals': it's easy to confuse a difference in sensory ability with a difference in intelligence. Rats learn smell associations better than visual ones. Then again, animals learn things that tie into their natural behaviors: dogs can easily learn a tone means food, but not which speaker means food.

If goldfish had hands to play with, would they seem any dumber than monkeys?

At a basic non-verbal general cognition level, humans aren't much different from many animals: we can learn lists, keep 7 things in memory, subitize 4 objects. One researcher claims pretty much all vertebrates have the same general intelligence. This is too strong -- apes do seem better than monkeys who are better than dogs -- but as an order of magnitude thing, maybe kind of right.

Humans special because of our own specialized learning system, language -- which just happens to be capable of unbounded levels of abstraction and reference, creating a real discontinuity of capability, of thought about thoughts, intentions about intentions about intentions.

"Unthinking intelligence" -- it takes hard work to find animal behavior that can't be explained as associative learning. It's possible, but hard.

Lots of 'intelligent', adaptive, behavior -- stalking is brilliant for predators. But puppies stalk bugs at a few weeks of age. Instinct.

Evolution is trial and error; at a faster timescale, so is learning.

Utility of intentional stance, or mock anthropomorphism: assuming a behavior or organ has intention or purpose is often productive and predictive, but that doesn't mean a behavior actually is intentional, any more than a heart is.

Many animal calls classified as "food call" or "alarm call" may at root be attention, "here I am", calls. Or for pets, "summon human". Semantics provided by context of use, not the call itself.

Chomsky: "If you want to find out about an organism you study what it's good at. If you want to study humans you study language. If you want to study pigeons you study homing instinct."

Old approach: mentalism, trying to find human thought, even syllogisms, in animals. Later approach: behaviorism, denying anything other than stimulus-response. Even later approach, inspired by computers and cybernetics: cognitivism, looking for mental representations, whatever those might be.

'animats', very simple models that can produce impressive behavior by interacting with information in the environment. "Follow a gradient, or tumble randomly until you find a gradient" for bacteria. Model frog with 3 interacting simple loops, producing complex prey-grabbing behavior. Model cricket that emulated mate-finding behavior with 100 lines of code, plus an 'ear' responsive to the right frequencies.

Horses and chimps can learn to learn, eventually getting faster at learning new discrimination tests. Chimps can transfer 'sameness' to new match-to-sample tests; pigeons can't.

Timing tests on sequential learning tasks, like ABCD, then being asked about pairs like AC or BD. Monkeys can learn 6 items, pigeons 5 and slower; monkeys also give evidence that they've learned a list they mentally run down, pigeons had learned simpler and less complete rules: A comes first, D comes last; BC baffles it.

Counting vs. rhythmic memory: people can easily repeat "Deck the Halls" 'fa la la la la la la la' without conscious knowledge of how many 'las' there are.

Ground squirrels do make different "hawk alarm" and "mammal predator" alarms. They're not semantically random, but have different acoustic properties: the hawk alarm is a high tone hard to locate, or that is even deceptive. Call benefits both receiver (there's a hawk, run) and sender (lots of running squirrels make the caller not stand out.) The mammal call is part of "look, I see you, your ambush failed, go away."

Animal esperanto: across species, high whines convey fear or appeasement, nonthreat; deep growls convey aggression and threat. Exploitation of big things making low sounds.

Key question: not what an animal is trying to 'say' but what it is trying to accomplish. The whole point is manipulation; often that means 'honest' signals, but not always.

Bird song varied because sender and receiver -- and each male bird is both -- have different goals. Receiver wants to judge how far away someone is, and respond if they're nearby. Sender has no reason to be honest, it'd be ideal to make rivals run around responding to fake threats. Songbirds can only judge distance of a song they know, creating an arms race of multiple songs per bird -- if you use a song your neighbor doesn't know, they have to worry you're intruding. Birds in less competitive areas (more resources per territorial bird) have more stable regional dialects.

Acoustically a bark is between a whine and growl, rising and falling in pitch. Many species 'bark' in a general sense, including bird chirps. Content neutral, "I'm here, now what?" Because they mean nothing, they can mean anything. "Follow me", "stranger approaches", "feed me", "let me in", "let me out". Human vowels and consonants are kind of like whines and growls, making words different kinds of barks.

Humans children use words as names, not as requests, much more obviously than any trained animal. Likewise lots of mutual attention games, with pointing and gaze, that even ape mother-infant pairs don't show.

Bunch of undermining of mirror tests of self-awareness I don't want to summarize.

Animal social intelligence often greater than nonsocial, e.g. easily learning a dominance hierarchy but not other sequential relations, or in-group membership but not arbitrary categories.

Training of child hunting behavior by adult predators is impressive in many cases: fairly good matching to the child's abilities. But it mostly seems to be setting up a learning oppotunity for the child; actual imitation is vanishingly rare. Even the famous snow macaques learning to wash potatoes seems to have been serial re-invention; for example, it didn't spread any faster even as the number of washing monkeys grew.

Infant chimps stick twigs in holes, and follow adult chimps; those combined is enough for them to learn that fishing in some holes yields termites. "stimulus enhancement": animals are drawn to places where conspecifics are finding food, putting them in the same situation in which to learn how to get food.

"The things an animal is good at generally do not require three decades of ambiguous experiments to uncover." -- an indictment of "do apes think like humans" research.

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global life expectancy

Without looking it up, what's your guess for the average estimated life expectancy of someone born today? This isn't a trick question ("3 months because WWIII will start"), just what you think the WHO statisticians would say.

mtbc you're disqualified, unless you want to post your original guess from IRC. :)

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New Golden Gate

Tried another Chinatown restaurant, this one advertising $4.95 lunch specials. I knew the odds were poor. Mostly Caucasian customers and my food coming with only a fork didn't improve them. I had shrimp with vegetables with pork fried rice, chose hot and sour soup, and added $1 for 2 "Peking ravioli". The latter were decently tasty, the rest bland. OTOH, free tea!

There were Chinese people visiting, and Chinese-language posters on the wall, so maybe there's a division between "food for residents" and "food for Caucasian lunchtime crowd". I don't think I'll repeat.

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tax efiles

Lots of places will do free efile for federal... but then demand $17-30 for state. Turbo and HR had free state offers, but expired now. OTOH I found a HR free link off an MA site, unlike their main website. Unfortunately I'd already filed federal via Turbo, so the second file via HR got rejected by the IRS, and so they won't submit MA taxes either. So I get to do that by paper.

But next year I'll probably use HR, if I still qualify; Turbo's UI is a bit better, but HR is more generous, and gives more detailed breakdown of what's going on.

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nature specificity in art

I started reading this Japan book I got from Boskone (This Country Japan [Edward Seidensticker]); turns out to be a lot of disconnected essays. First one is about the use of nature and seasons in art, especially the Tale of Genji. Japanese art tends to be very specific, with recognizable plants, not just general foliage. Likewise, for a harem story, Genji is very aware of the seasons... though people die in a suspiciously symbolic pattern. By contrast, despite characters strolling a lot, Austen and Dickens mark nature only when (in)convenient, like preventing travel or providing a good time for a picnic.

Second essay is on Japanese conservatism: they import and imitate a lot, but don't throw out their old stuff. Still reading.

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Damien Sullivan

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