For a few years now a lot of people have been spending exorbitant amounts of money on notebooks: think brands like Red ‘n’ Black, Moleskine and, more recently, the TV adverts for Oxford Notebooks. I’ve fallen for this consumerism twice, buying a Moleskine notebook, and for two Christmases in a row I’ve received another Moleskine notebook, and more generally there’s a charm here of the romanticism of classic stationary. This isn’t hyper-expensive pens or letter-writing paper but simple (yet overpriced) notebooks and niceish pens that a lot of people have been getting into.

At various points in my degree I’ve been tempted back into writing notes on paper for what are essentially romantic reasons. The idea of having all one’s notes in a notebook is appealing, because it reminds you of great authors from the past such as Wittgenstein writing his Tractatus in the trenches or a young man or woman exploring a European city and making notes and sketches, and who can forget Indiana Jones’ father’s epic notebook. The thought is that “if they managed their academic work this way, I can too” but you know, I know I have a bad memory, why not get more information down and be in a better position to make use of it?

Oxford strengthens this effect with various draconian rules on laptops: several libraries won’t let you use a laptop aside from special areas, or if they are a bit less strict they just have laptop-free zones. In Balliol’s library there are sockets but they are hidden away; the library is a mezzanine so there are railings around the edge because the windows are the height of the original room, and the plug sockets and ethernet ports are hidden over the edge. Or they were, until the library realised that almost everyone uses a laptop so they needed more sockets and replaced these with massive socket enclosures in the middle of the (really nice) tables.

All this dropped away from me at some point last year and I realised that actually, modernity is the way to go on this one. In almost all situations electronic paper, if you like, is ten times better than real paper, and we should realise this. Most students can type faster than they can write, and the two big advantages are that electronic copies can be re-organised and better stored: you can move text around, you can backup your stuff, and barely take up any space.

There are some exceptions. When taking notes with other people around in a class or talk, using a computer can be off-putting: it can suggest that you’re not fully concentrating and it can make you write down too much because you can, and you probably don’t need to because that is not what classes are for. And obviously Maths and Science will need paper for their calculations, which is different.

Here’s an extreme of this: Going Paper-Free for $220 / Steve Losh

Here’s another link I catagorised with this post; not sure why. I think it’s got the wrong end of the stick: Bufr Overflow: Please, make yourself uncomfortable. The discussion on Hacker News is really interesting, showing all sides.

Posted Thu 01 Sep 2011 17:07:00 UTC Tags:

Yesterday’s Dinosaur Comics comic claims that if you live forever yet have an infinite natural life span but can still die from, say, falling down the stairs, you are guaranteed to die because in an infinite lifespan you have an infinity of opportunities to fall down the stairs so at some point you will eventually do so. Suppose this occurs at time t. Then there is a finite amount of time between your birth and time t, so only a finite number of events can happen in your life because events take up time and there is only so much of that available.

Now take any event, e, that does not result in your death. We can safely say that there are infinitely many such events so we can’t run out of them: if not, then if you happened to fall down the stairs at time t + 1 you would potentially have nothing to do for that extra slot of time because you’d used up all the events. Keep re-choosing e until e does not occur before time $t$—but then the event can never happen because you’re dead. Contradiction, so this whole method of reasoning doesn’t work, so there is no guarantee that you fall down the stairs.

This is why I hate infinity, so why I hate analysis. How the heck am I going to survive set theory where you have “bigger” infinities?

Posted Thu 01 Sep 2011 17:14:00 UTC Tags:

Every year lots of us try and set some plans up for when we’re going to work, how many hours we’re going to do, how much reading up of lecture notes after lectures we are going to do. These are usually unrealistic and unfollowed. A first year friend of mine says that she’s going to work 9–6 each day and that’ll be enough, but (no offense Anna if you’re reading) I don’t have particularly high hopes for this because Things crop up. There are talks or social events or unexpected meetings and we all want to—and should—take advantage of our position as students controlling our own schedules which makes this sort of things possible.

That said, I’m going to be a third year and so I feel I should know enough to put some plans in place to make things better. I have a lot of stuff I want to do this term: do a lot of work, look after freshers, actually read non-academic stuff, write blog posts, play StarCraft, my (final term of my) JCR role, and see my friends. It’s impossible to do all of these of course so I’ve got to consider what’s valuable. A big driving force here is that I want to be better at relaxing because I’m not good at this and I think it’s probably bad for me. This is why I have StarCraft as an actual planned thing: it’s really fun, and not vegetative, and also social (lots of people in Balliol play it) which is great. The big thing I’m going to drop, then, is ‘researching’ random things online (Wikipedia-ing) and messing about with my computer setup. Amazingly I think I do these during term, basically as procrastination activities, but I’m deciding to cut them out right now. They’re great, but any computer messing is basically time-wasting and the reason I know this is that my setup is ‘there’ and this is clear to me when I don’t have a task I want to avoid waiting, and Wikipedia-ing is a great thing to do but there just isn’t time for that during term and I should make the sacrifice. Why sacrifice this? Because it ends up taking up time I’m supposed to be relaxing and it’s not all that relaxing (not compared to other things anyway) so I think it’s a good choice to cut out.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to fall out of the loop on interests because I still have lots coming in via RSS.

How am I going to fit this together into the day? I prefer not to work in the evenings, but I’m no longer naïve enough to believe that it’s practical to cut out evening working. There are going to be days where it has to be done because there is a talk at, say, 5pm, cutting into my time, or because the work is hard and I need the extra time. So I’m not going to set myself something that’s unrealistic. Instead I have the following guidelines for myself. I think that they will dramatically reduce my stress levels and make me enjoy all my activities, work and play, a great deal more.

  • In general, work is 8:30–6, with frequent breaks.
  • Breaks are OUTSIDE or WITH A PIECE OF FRUIT. Take advantage of living and working (library) in college.
  • My number one productivity tip is: have everything come in by e-mail, process e-mail rapidly and efficiently at 12pm and then at some point 6–8pm, and then never touch distractions again. To this end:
    • Excluding when there’s something to go to in the early evening, do e-mail at 6 then go to Hall. Don’t work until Hall and do it after, because then e-mail eats into evening more easily.
    • Don’t let e-mail eat into lunch hour-and-a-half, because it’s not important enough. Process process in order to have a proper break.
    • It goes without saying no e-mail before 12.
  • Try to restrict going to talks and things in working day. Filter out which ones are actually good.
  • Get into a good habit of sitting down to read. E-mail will involve a lot of “send to e-reader”; make sure you don’t end up forgetting to read and build up a backlog.
  • Socialising in Oxford is normally reactive rather than proactive for everyone; this means you can lose time because you might not get to see someone otherwise, so you hang around instead of getting on. Actually get good at organising things, breaking the trend, because it’s less fun to be seeing your friend with work hanging over you than it is otherwise.

My big issue right now is having a day off. A good idea? Certainly. Practical? Will depend on how my deadlines fall.

Posted Thu 01 Sep 2011 18:17:00 UTC Tags:

Ben invited his brother James, James and I over today to play board games, and we had a really really great time. I was looking forward to Settlers of Catan, probably the most famous non-mainstream board game out there, which is cool but I don’t actually seem to end up enjoying playing it that much, because (in the approx. three games I have played) I always seem to lose and never stop losing so it’s not great for me.

In the afternoon we played Arkham Horror which is brilliant. It’s co-operative, so you strategise with each other, and while the rules seem intimidating (had twenty-four pages PDF to read before the day) they’re not actually that hard so long as you are careful about what order certain things happen in. We only just one, and only with a lot of luck, and had a great time getting to that point; heartily recommended.

Also it seems I have rejoined Twitter—not actually me…

Edit 2/ix/2011: Ben found the complete works of Lovecraft to dip into, win.

Posted Thu 01 Sep 2011 18:22:00 UTC Tags:

I’m on a massive losing streak at the moment in SC2, since I really don’t know what I’m doing; I’ve now started losing to bronze league players rather than being placed against silver league and having a fairly even chance. This is because my four gate, which was getting me my only wins, has become a bit sloppy and so I can’t even get those. Since I clearly can’t “just” win, I’m switching to actually learning how to do certain aspects of the game at a time, as Day[9] recommends. This means focusing on one particular aspect of one’s game until it is up to scratch, deprioritising everything else and crucially not trying to win. If I can’t win anyway, why not lose while learning something? Hopefully I’ll be demoted out of the entirely inappropriate gold league soon.

The skill I’ve chosen to work on is “the tap”, which is the practice of cycling through production structure hotkeys, whenever not actively doing something else, to make sure that all said buildings are producing at all times. Suppose you’re marching a squad of units across the map, keeping an eye on their progress. With no enemy units in sight right now you don’t need to be giving them commands, so you can do a tap: 4 check for probe production, 5 check for units ready to warp in, 6 check the robotics facilities are doing something and occasionally 0 check the forges/twilight council are upgrading, and then finally take a look at the minimap, because this is another good habit. This should also help with maintaining pylon production because I am trying to look at my supply count whenever I hit the key to produce another unit out of any of the structures I tap my way through; if it’s getting close, I can build another pylon.

Keeping my money low with enough production structures? Pah! Attacking/counter-attacking at the right moments? Meh. Expanding when I should be doing? Don’t care. I’m just getting this background activity fixed in my head. It’s actually not that pleasant because it feels a bit artificial, but I need something going for me if I’m going to start winning games, and this is a good thing to develop. Hopefully I’ve not tried to work on too many things at once…

Posted Sat 03 Sep 2011 13:48:00 UTC Tags:

Just fixed up my MySQL backup cronjob which has been broken for months and wanted to record it here. A Debian upgrade from Lenny to Squeeze broke it, iirc, so I imagine it was a change to dash or something that caught out my sloppy escaping.

I believe this originally came from Robert.

0 3 * * * /bin/bash -c "mysql -e 'show databases' | /bin/sed -n
'2,\$p' | egrep -v 'information_schema|mysql50' | xargs -L1 -I DB
mysqldump -r /home/swhitton/local/sqlbk/DB.sql DB;chown
swhitton.swhitton /home/swhitton/local/sqlbk/*.sql;chmod 600
Posted Sat 03 Sep 2011 14:13:00 UTC Tags:

The foundational/coherentism dichotomy comes into my head a lot at the moment; I haven’t done this for ages but let’s see if I can remember it, off the top of my head so probably inarticulate: there are the two main competing theories of justification. The only other such theory that occurs to me is reliabilism but I’ve yet to find an adherent of that. Foundationalism says that our beliefs are justified by being based on other beliefs, which are justified by being based on others and back and back we go, until we reach a belief that is self-evidently true—it’s true in and of itself with no further justification required. This really isn’t, though, how we tend to justify things. Coherentism is a more attractive model: something is justified if it fits in with all our other knowledge. This is nice cos it fits with Science: scientific theories are kept given support by fitting with other theories etc.etc. you can go on.

My thought is that actually, foundationalism is something we seem to fall back on a lot. I remember back in A-level when I was making my arguments for extreme scepticism—sadly people don’t want to hear them anymore…—I would say, well this is why you can’t rely on ‘logic’ to bring you knowledge either, and the response would be ‘you just used logic to get that conclusion so it’s useless’. My response was that it didn’t matter because to me, this argument left us with nothing left and from that I saw no knowledge, or an infinite regress or something which amounts to no knowledge either. Were they relying on foundationalism there? Or was I just making a circular argument which is never okay?

Another one is Maths. My studies so far lead me to the belief that there aren’t any sure foundations for Maths because those we construct in predicate calculus and set theory courses have precious little relation to the magic-logic we actually use when doing Maths. Perhaps I’ll change my view after doing philosophy of Maths this upcoming term, but it seems like we’re all foundationalist here because we want these foundations. I mean this makes sense—just look at written Maths, building theorems upon lemmas and the like—how could this possibly fit a model of coherentism? Perhaps the foundationalism/coherentism debate doesn’t actually have anything to do with this hrm.

I remember our very first essay in A-level philosophy was on foundationalism.

Posted Sat 03 Sep 2011 14:30:00 UTC Tags:

Today has been a day off (end of week) so I’ve spent it alternating between reading and playing StarCraft II, primarily experimenting with grid hotkeys. Mechanics is really interesting to me as an Emacs user who finds keystroke efficiency an interesting topic, but most are entirely irrelevant to me as a wood league player. One thing though is hotkeys, where it makes sense to customise things now while I’m still learning before I find it impossible to change later on. So I thought I’d try out the major alternative to the standard hotkeys, the grid hotkey setup. This means that your command card of buttons that cause a building or unit to do things is mapped spatially to the keyboard: the card is a 5×3 grid, and so the 5×3 grid of buttons qwert,asdfg,zxcvb on the keyboard are mapped to the three rows—for example the second button on the top row is mapped to w. The standard setup uses mainly first letters, so z builds a Zealot, but there are exceptions where there are collisions or the first letters are too far to the right on the keyboard; an observer is built with a b.

This approach attracted me because it keeps hotkeys tightly on the left of the keyboard. I rebound the control groups 6–9 down the side of the grid, along the keys y, h and n, to create a square I thought I could easily touch-type my way through. The other motivation for trying this out is that it is race-neutral which appeals to me because I don’t want to be tied to one race forever just because it is a way to win lots; I’d like to eventually play random.

Turns out grid hotkeys don’t work for me. I think this is because I learnt the standard hotkeys (those that I know…) in terms of letters and words not spatially; I don’t think about the command card at all and have to search it for an icon when I need to click one—I know the hotkeys better than the card. When I want a probe, pylon or sentry, I think ‘e is for utility/support’ and build it like that. So grid is nice but not appropriate for the way my brain processes this sort of thing.

What I have learnt from this experiment is some useful moving around of hotkeys. I’ve been convinced at last that using the warp gate hotkey is a good idea; gates are automatically ‘added’ to it, you can’t accidentally switch the camera to over your gates (pointless), and it doesn’t use up one of the precious in-easy-finger-reach hotkeys available. Fine, but the problem I have with the default, w, is that it’s not easy to include it in a sequence of taps from four or five through your production structures, so I’ve moved warp in to the spacebar: this way it can be included as my thumb can hit it at the end of a tap. Also it’s easy to reach if all is going to pot and I need to warp in really quickly.

I intend to move things like observers and immortals around, away from the far right of the keyboard, too. There should be enough spare letters.

I’m also trying to habitutate starting buildings hotkeys from five up rather than from four because that gives you a few extra precious low number hotkeys for splitting your army.

Finally I’ve come across the excellent base cycle hotkey, which cycles your camera between bases without selecting anything. This is great for shift-queuing probes back to the mineral line, and also much better than minimap clicking when, say, moving to your expansion to do a warp in. I’ve bound this to Shift-Spacebar. This is because so often I’ll be using it to queue back probes, so I can just hold shift, then space-click and it’s done.

While I was researching this stuff (reddit), and pasting links to a chat window with Ben who got me into SC2, Ben gave me the impression that he thinks I’m wasting my time with this and should get better at winning games at my level, i.e. making stuff and being aggressive with it, because that’s fun. Let me be clear—trying to actually practice these mechanics is really boring and mildly stressful; I don’t enjoy having to try so hard. But I really enjoy thinking these things through and considering alternatives and reading what other people have to say; this, I think, is a sign of me being in for the long haul with this and being quite willing to take my time to walk before I can run, so that I can start winning well at some point in the future once my macro and mechanics are at a decent stage.

I find this attitude mirrored in watching Day[9]’s Newbie Tuesday series, where he tries to help people below the Diamond League. His attitude is entirely unforgiving about this basic stuff. He always talks about how easy it is to start winning instead, but of course that is only a temporary kind of winning, not actually playing well. I want to play well, so this stuff is sorted so I can do some strategy and micro and be epic! I seem to be sufficiently interested in this game that that’s okay. I tend to agree with him and find it fun to hammer out these things, so that’s what I’ve do.

Posted Sun 04 Sep 2011 19:13:00 UTC Tags:

When I was in Y12 and was studying Maths, History, Physics and Philosophy the subject I didn’t like was History, because I found it very difficult in similar ways to the parts of studying Philosophy that I find difficult now, though I did like the subject matter; come Y13 after I’d dropped History, my hated subject was Physics. Again no massive problem with the subject matter but didn’t enjoy studying it at all, and was very glad to leave it behind. Now I am at university (Y16, wow) and only two of those four subjects remain, and the one I dislike is Maths. It seems that I always have to have one to ‘hate on’, at any stage, while the other(s) end up glorified way beyond what they deserve.

There are times when I don’t feel this about Maths, when I really like what’s going on, rather than just a mild appreciation for it after much explanation, which is what happens the rest of the time. But these times are always when the work is comparatively easy: when the only reason I haven’t got it before is because I’ve been scared off or whatever and not looked at it properly. I’ll say, that’s really cool, and my fellow Math/Phils will say “yeah well it’s easy”. On those occasions I really surprise myself, because I’m like “why does this feel so different, is this what it used to be like when I liked this subject?” Now, this enjoyment is unlike what I might have from other disciplines which I like just because I like learning. For example I enjoy popular and not-so-popular science and History and whatever because I like learning, but the Maths enjoyment I’m talking about here is definitely of a higher level, the kind of level you might expect if I chose to do this subject at university.

Essentially my realisation over the past few months has been that I’m cut off from enjoying Maths by my lack of ability—or by what is a too hard (for me) degree course, I suppose you could say. I don’t care enough about the subject matter to enjoy it after a lot of effort; my enthusiasm is drained by the time I get to the point where it’s interesting. It’s hard to say whether or not this is because I don’t like pure Maths problem solving, because I do tend to like problem solving and enjoy that kind of thinking, so it might just purely be the difficulty or also I might not actually like the process, even if I’m interested in the results or watching someone else do the process.

The situation is very different with Philosophy. It is as hard if not harder as a subject; the lack of a methodology (perhaps its defining feature) means that however pure-clever you are, you’re never going to have an easy ride. In Maths, if you add IQ you basically add Maths. But I find this difficulty and challenge thrilling and great to be a part of, which is definitely missing in Maths: it’s a case of “hmm, this is hard, it’s going to take me ages to get to grips with the basics of the problem and what everyone has said about it—great!” in Philosophy versus “oh great, another question I will struggle with for five hours and maybe, maybe make some progress on, but maybe I’ll achieve nothing, how boring” in Maths.

So I think that I should probably have done a straight Philosophy degree if enjoyment was all that mattered; on the other hand, Maths is definitely good for your mind so maybe it’ll turn out better in the long run that I did it. I’ve got one year left of Maths (and another two of Philosophy), and I think that’ll be enough brain-improvement for now.

A problem with all this is the Maths-fatigue I get. My friend James, doing a straight-up Maths degree over in tabland, often wants to show me some Maths he’s been doing when he comes to visit or I meet him somewhere or visit his house, and generally I just don’t care that much because I immediately think “*sigh* another problem I won’t be able to solve”. This is sad because if he came to me with, to use the same examples again, some interesting Physics or History—at a much lower level because neither of us do degrees in those—I’d be interested, I think, and I would like to be similarly interested in Maths again but I’ve just been burnt out by not enjoying it enough to do the difficult stuff I have signed up for.

There’s an inconsistency in this post over whether or not I actually like Maths more than I like learning in general. Note that I explained earlier how when Maths is easy enough for me to get it all, I like it more than I would like some History or Physics, but then I’ve just said that I end up liking it less than those due to burn out. This is because I don’t actually know if I like Maths anymore, basically, due to all this. What I do know is that I don’t enjoy the process of studying it formally, so I’m glad to see an end to that in a year’s time, and I can only hope that my general interest in the subject and in the problem-solving style associated to it will revive itself as the years go by.

While writing about academic things I should note a gradual decline in my belief I can do very well in exams next year, and I gradual lowering of aspirations for where I’ll end up for graduate study. This could be bad, as I need the motivation, or it could be good because I’m pressuring myself less and will therefore end up achieving more; no idea atm.

Posted Mon 05 Sep 2011 14:38:00 UTC Tags:
This page was originally a static page on my website. I have incorporated it into my blog, entry dated the last time the page was edited, as a more appropriate place to archive old things like this.

Here’s my top ten computer and video games.

Skies of Arcadia: Legends


Everyone has their limits, their codes, their morals. But everyone also has a weakness. If you find that weakness and exploit it, those limits, codes, and morals seem to fade away. —Belleza

Impossible is just a word to let people feel good about themselves when they quit. —Vyse

Maybe losing hope because you’re afraid of the future is the same as living life with your eyes closed because you’re afraid to see the truth. —Old lady

Skies of Arcadia is a proper old-fashioned turn-based RPG, in the style, tone and feel of games like Final Fantasy VII. The world draws you in and while the combat has a number of flaws, it does require you to think a bit in some of the harder fights. A fascinating world with engaging characters; I have so many good memories from this game.

The music is very good; the Dreamcast version of the game had better music that got made worse for the GameCube release, but you can get the Dreamcast music on a CD/find it online.

As well as turn-based hand-to-hand combat there is also ship-to-ship combat which is pretty broken, but slots really well into the story.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind


They have taken you to the Imperial City’s prison, first by carraige, and now by boat. To the east, to Morrowind. Fear not, for I am watchful. You have been chosen. —Azura

Make it quick outlander, I haven’t much time. —Citizen

Go on about your business. —Ordinator

It’s hard to talk about Morrowind without also talking about Oblivion, it’s successor. Both feature massive worlds with a myriad of quests and factions, okayish main quests with along with the infinitely more interesting task of developing a powerful character and rising in standing in society.

Oblivion fixes Morrowind’s shoddy combat, which swiftly breaks if you know just a little about what you’re doing. Yet, it doesn’t get this quite right: the levelled monsters make the world seem a lot less threatening, whereas Morrowind there was no guarantee that what you faced would be appropriate for your character’s power level.

Oblivion’s great failure is how utterly generic the world is, compared to Morrowind’s imaginative spleadour. Without fast travel, just moving between towns in Morrowind was a real experience. You’d be given vague directions talking about rocks to turn left at; some routes had signposts, but not all of them did. There was a great wonder in moving slowly (oh so slowly until you levelled) through the world, waiting for that glimpse of towers of the settlement in the distance that you crunched into as dusk fell, to a cool reception as an outlander—and with such variety of cultures and architecture to greet you. Oblivion comes nowhere close to this.

Also stunning music.

Diablo II


Stay a while and listen! —Deckard Cain

Hi there, I’m Charsi, the blacksmith here in camp. —Charsi

You have quite a treasure there in that Horadric Cube. —Deckard Cain

Not even death can save you from me. —Diablo

Tyreal was a fool to have trusted me! You see, it was I who told Diablo and his brothers about the soulstones, and how to corrupt them. It was I who helped the Prime Evils mastermind their own exile to your world. The plan we set in motion so long ago cannot be stopped by any mortal agency. Hell, itself, is poised to spill forth into your world like a tidal wave of blood and nightmares. You and all your kind… are doomed. —Izual

Stop! The beast contained herein shall not be set free, not even by you. —Tyrael

We travelled together into the east. Always into the east. —Marius

My brothers, at long last we stand re-united. The infernal gate has been prepared, while the time of our final victory is at hand. Let the way to hell be open … and the evil that was once vanquished shall rise anew. Wrapped in the guise of man shall you walk amongst the innocent, and terror shall consume they that dwell upon earth. The sky shall rain fire, and the seas will become as blood. The righteous shall fall before the wicked. And all creation shall tremble before the burning standards of Hell. —Mephisto

I stood in the doorway between light and dark. What was left of my sanity implored me not to enter. But that voice was just a whisper now. —Marius

The game of my generation? Diablo II drew us all into a dark world of heroes and monsters, keeping us their for so many hours. And without a doubt the best cinematics I have ever seen in a game. I can probably quote the third word for word.

Great music too (noticing a pattern?).

Final Fantasy VI


People seem to only want power. Do they truly want to be like me? —Tina

This little hamlet has too much boring and not enough burning… TORCH EVERYTHING! —Kefka

Why do you build, knowing destruction is inevitable? Why do you yearn to live, knowing all things must die?

Life…Dreams…Hope…Where do they come from? And where do they go? None of that junk is enough to fulfill your hearts! Destruction…Destruction is what makes life worth living! Destroy! Destroy! Destroy! Let’s destroy everything! —Kefka

What can I say, it’s Final Fantasy VI! This is a game that immersed me despite me playing it much later than most of the others on this list. A solid turn-based RPG with interesting combat, what makes this game stand out for me is certain sequences that it does so well. The opening, with the three mechs walking in the snowstorm. Tina’s theme when you step out into the overworld: to me, the best piece of video game music ever composed. The opera sequence! An experience not to be missed.

SpellForce: The Order of Dawn

I watch over the treasures of Mulandir, until the world is ready for them again.

An entirely underappreciated RPG/RTS. A great campaign with a really interesting mix of hero, party and army combat, with a decent enough plot most of the way, and an absolutely jaw-dropping final conclusion. The concept of how your hero builds armies is effective, and there are some great moments, such as the above line which you get from a strange masked warrior atop a hill top overlooking a city overrun with demons.

The game forces you to be defensive, but not too defensive! The difficulty works well even if it varies wildly. And when you’ve got your base up, and your army is getting going, you can switch into third-person and return your main character from a scouting expedition past your defences, into the workings of the base with workers chopping down trees etc.—this is very cool, and all looks really good.

Great music. Shame the expansions and sequel aren’t so great.

Here’s a nice review.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker


Zelda is hard to beat, and for me Wind Waker is the best. Its gameplay is more sophisticated than Ocarina, and it maintains that Zelda magic that only Nintendo seem to be capable of infusing.

image source

The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Ages


Another really enjoyable Zelda game. The main theme, despite being 8bit, somehow hits me really hard. Great puzzles, an interesting adventure progression (weak plot) and a detailed world to explore.

The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time

Reputed to be the best game of all time. I’m willing to accept this, I think, but I didn’t get quite as much out of it because I came to it late, and so its lack of polish took some of it away for me.

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance

My first games were strategy games, but this is one that I keep coming back to. Take your average strategy game and blow up the scale to a map that it takes your starting unit forty-five minutes to cross, add a strategic zoom which allows you to view combat at any level, add really cool megalomaniac macro capabilities and you have the ingredients for what could be the ultimate strategy game. Unfortunately there are problems when it comes to executing this (such as totally unreasonable processor demands for hosting games), but this game allows real long-term strategic planning and plotting unlike games like StarCraft. Highly recommended; my friends and I have had so many hours out of this one.

HalfLife 2

Welcome to City 17. It’s safer here. —Dr. Breen

Yes, you did it! Come on, Gordon! We have to get out of here! Maybe we still have… —Alyx

Time, Dr. Freeman? Is it really that time again? It seems as if you only just arrived. —The G Man

The only shooter I’ll play; lots of fun as you get carried along by memorable characters and an urgent need to save the world.


Honourable mentions: Tiberian Sun, StarCraft II (maybe it will graduate up there soon), Portal, Transport Tycoon Deluxe.

Posted Sat 10 Sep 2011 00:00:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve finally finished reading Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, an essay I was told to read as an “introduction to existentialism”. It’s not, apparently, a super-technical philosophical work but instead a literary essay, so I hoped it might be an interesting introduction to continental thought. Ha, how wrong I was there: this book was almost entirely incomprehensible for me from beginning to end. I stuck with it in the hope that enough would have diffused into me by the end that I could get something from the conclusion and, armed with that, then be able to understand the rest of it better, but this wasn’t the case at all. Every sentence is an enigma I just don’t seem to have the tools to decipher.

Quite different from reading a very hard piece of analytic philosophy where I know I can get it eventually, and thus end up slowing down. I could go relatively fast through Sisyphus, as it carries you along lyrically, but I had literally no clue what he was talking about.

I’ll come back to this when I learn more in the hope that it makes more sense.

Posted Sat 10 Sep 2011 09:45:00 UTC Tags:

Spending a little time this evening clearing out a shelf on my bookcase which has a pile of unsorted first year work on it; it’s mostly revision material from the end of first year and I put it there when I got home and never sorted it out. There’s no point in filing it very meticulously as I’m not likely to look for a good while (aside from a few pertinent Philosophy of Maths topics I took a look at) so I basically just split it into Logic, essays and Maths.

The interesting thing here is looking over the essays. I love writing essays! I’m pretty decent at it, even if the philosophy lying behind them remains as undeveloped as ever, and I really enjoy it. Whenever I struggle with the more difficult parts of this subject I should rest easy with having my bases covered. Maths & Philosophy. What a degree.

Freshers’ week plans are coming together and the e-mails are starting to come in, getting me even more excited about going back. Philosophy essay collection! I’ve only had one of these before in my time at Oxford.

Posted Sat 10 Sep 2011 20:16:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve reached an interesting position with my Protoss ladder play down here in the Bronze league in that I win pretty much every match I play that lasts more than ten minutes, and lose pretty much every match that lasts less: I can’t respond well to early pressure, but my macro is good so I tend to just macro up a classic Protoss deathball and march right into their base. The build I use is either three gate expand or a forge fast expand (which I really like). I don’t know my counters very well and I essentially scout for practice, not knowing much about what to look for: but I can get that deathball out pretty effectively beyond that point. Since I seem to be able to out-macro all the bronze players I am matched against, I suspect that I would be silver league if I could stop losing to early pressure.

This has made things start to get a bit dull. Sure, I could learn how to counter cheese and I could learn when it’s a good time to do drops and such, but the way I learn means that I’m not comfortable with doing clever things until I’m super-comfortable with the basics. And while I’ve said that my macro is ‘good’, it’s probably really not that great at all, and it certainly doesn’t come naturally, and I don’t want to start using actual strategy until it is.

So I thought: I want eventually to play random—the idea attracts me—rather than having one fixed race, so why not start now? I don’t think it’ll affect improving on the basics, I thought, and it’ll add variety to the game, help me soak up more varied knowledge and allow me to get more out of watching pros play; atm, I get far less out of games with no Protoss players. Originally my plan was to switch to random once I was good with one race, but now I know more about how one improves at the low levels I’m not so sure. I made a reddit thread to see if I was completely wrong about this and it seems I wasn’t, so this is what I’m doing.

Obviously I’m now going to progress more slowly overall. But I don’t think the hit will be that great at this level, because what makes you better is your basic mechanics. I expect to hit a ceiling around gold league or so, where it’s much harder to advance while splitting your efforts between races, but that’s fine—I can always settle on a race then. It’s more fun for me not to for now.

My plan is to learn a few basic builds for each race and try them against the AI for a while rather than jumping straight into the ladder as random; I’ll probably ladder as Terran and Zerg for a while first. This is because while it’s bad to be afraid of laddering when you’re experimenting, there’s no point in laddering when you barely understand how larvae work and when you don’t realise that you need a lair before you can build hydralisks—you’re not really playing at all. So right now I’m trying to figure out how Zerg opening builds work (it’s just gas and pool timings?), and then after that I’ll probably learn a few safe Terran builds.

So tonight I’ve been playing with Zerg, before Terran, because I think they’re really cool. I love the importance of map control with both creep and overlords, slowly growing your way across the map and then releasing the swarm. And of course this means I have to learn how to larva inject, yay! I’ve got the technique for actually doing it down using the hotkey changes I already have set up, and I can inject all my hatches in less than a second, but knowing when to do it is the problem: they’re all coming off cooldowns at different times, and it’s even more brutal than missing a warp-in if you forget for ten seconds, it seems, because you can’t spend your money. Any tips on this appreciated.

I think part of this is that I think all three races are pretty ‘cool’. Protoss because of shiny deathballs, blink and forcefields, Zerg because of map control and macro’ing it up, and Terran’s stuff with marines and tanks steamrolling across the map, containing etc. Looking forward to being able to do cool things with all of these.

Posted Mon 12 Sep 2011 21:29:00 UTC Tags:

My step-father Lazar and I had a conversation this evening about conversations; I’ll briefly set this up. My mother and my step-brother Alex were talking about one of Alex’s friends giving him trouble, and my mum said “maybe it’s time to look for new friends, you can do better” and I objected, “that phrase ‘you can do better’ is really horrible because it creates a global hierarchy of people, suggesting that some are intrinsically better than others”. There did follow a brief defense of the phrase from the rest of the table, but very swiftly people started to make fun of me in order to derail things. What they like to do is pick up on an ambiguity in whatever I’ve said, an ambiguity I have almost certainly clarified by that point, and use it to make it sound like I’ve said something completely unreasonable—classic stuff, just the sort of thing you would expect in live debates between politicians or whatever, all very easy to execute; I’m sure I’ve done it to others many times myself. Tonight I objected to this treatment, because I think it’s deeply disrespectful to do every single time I say anything other than “pass the salt”.

Lazar explained to me that the issue is that I take everything seriously, and—for it is usually he who derails—he doesn’t want to take things seriously at the table at that time in the evening, so he essentially cuts me off. He also gives the impression that he thinks almost everything I say is wrong and the reason he knows this is his life experience, and that I over-intellectualise things, and he seems to just know it’s wrong without the need to start dealing with ambiguities etc..

Pre-reflectively I find myself developing a harsh caricature of them all as ditsy valley girls or something: the way my mother might interrupt with some comment about food, or her clothes or something that is designed to derail just as Lazar’s more direct attempts at humour are. Entirely comfortable in their simple little lives they have no interest in engaging with criticism—I could go on, but this is clearly a very foolish way to look at your family members. I note it, though, as my instinctive starting point.

My next thought is that we might just be having a communications problem, a sort of language barrier. I’m wrapped up in the language and method of thought of academic philosophy (or at least the language and methods of philosophy students), and this stops us from engaging because we’re just talking past each other because there is mutual uncomprehension, mutually different patterns of thought. The problem with this is that both of them have masters’ degrees, so they’ve surely had to use this language and methodology before, and my sister sits and reads degree-level History texts so I’m pretty sure she knows what I’m saying too. And considering things the other way around, it always seems to me to be very clear what it is they are saying, and how they have misinterpreted me. I said that they stretch ambiguities for fun, but I think that they often fail to make such distinctions, too.

Given all this I find it increasingly difficult to have any respect for these intelligent individuals who seem to be refusing to be intelligent, put in the most charitable way—put less charitably, they make themselves come across as really rather stupid. I think the time is past for suggesting that I can never know as much as them until I’ve lived more years. How am I to respond to this refusal? Firstly, why is it that I continually challenge like this? I come out with outlandish things, often that I only partially agree with, because it is my way of inviting discussion; it always has been. If someone then doesn’t engage with me, I appear dogmatic; indeed, Lazar tells me I am dogmatic, which I think is unfair. And the reason why I invite discussion is because I see this as something we don’t have enough of to deal with the arrogance of being human that we all share: the unexamined life is not worth living, but unfortunately our society doesn’t tend to examine enough.

Now, I’ve had some recent thoughts on this rather Socratic way of bothering people, in that I’m not sure it’s quite as clear-cut as my approach suggests. If it was the case that continually challenging people had the chance of doing good—making them think and making me think, and correcting us both, for there is no privileged role for me here aside from an awareness that Thinking Is Needed—and no chance of doing much bad, but the possibility of just being brushed off, then I think my approach would be the right one: keep at it and it’ll do good a lot and when it doesn’t, it’s only a little wasted breath. I’m not sure that the possible negative effect is quite this small, because I suspect there is an overall loss of gravitas on my part from being continually rebuffed, and this saps at my ability to spark off examination. I worry now that I am simply being vain: I mustn’t question too much, perhaps, because it’ll make me look bad and lower my standing in whatever social group we’re talking about. I don’t know what to think about this one so I’ll put it aside for now.

I’ll localise this to the situation of my family again. If I’m genuinely never going to be listened to, and want an easier time of things for myself, I could choose to just stay quiet. But this feels like I am essentially leeching food and board off my parents, being quiet and reclusive and trying to pretend I’m not there for my own sake which feels so wrong towards them, so selfish of me. Surely I must be myself, because if there’s any justification at all for parents supporting their children and no-one else, it’s got something to do with the fact that each side has shaped the other’s life and self, and that self must remain if you don’t want either side to think of living arrangements as some kind of accord, which is the kind of thinking I reckon I’d be engaging in if I were to be selfish and keep myself to myself.

There is one other interesting thing to note in the reaction of my step-brother Alex to all this. Alex idolises his father, and my mother finds him very difficult to live with because Lazar doesn’t encourage Alex to do anything and ends up contradicting my mother on practical stuff. For example my mother might ask him not to do something very trivial such as put a particular sized plate in the top layer rather than the bottom layer of the dishwasher or something, and Lazar will give him the impression it doesn’t matter and he’ll get cross with my mother. In the situations round the table that I am describing, Alex interprets the situation as Sean ‘being told off’ or something equivalent, because his sense of sibling rivalry is very strong, and he certainly doesn’t have the capacity to understand what we’re discussing, not knowing what words like ‘equality’ mean. So Alex will sit there, laughing at particular moments, and smirking throughout. And the thing is, this actually affects me. I want to (verbally) lash out at him in his ignorance—I end up drawn into his world of sibling rivalries. It is challenging to ignore it because my sister and I have long been pretty aggressive with each other, and old habits die hard.

This post is nowhere near as cohesive as I wanted. Post title comes from fact that I used the word ‘mechanising’ this evening and was told that this was a very long word.

Posted Tue 13 Sep 2011 19:27:00 UTC Tags:

I thought that my e-reader, an Amazon Kindle 3, would let me sync up the snippets and notes I make with the Internet so I could read them easily. It turns out that while these are just pasted into a simple plain text file, which is a neat way of doing it, they aren’t synced anywhere and you have to transfer them off by USB. Not realising this has left me with a backlog of news articles to briefly blog my comments to. I find this worthwhile for myself, as a kind of personal scrapbook, and don’t really expect anyone else to be too interested. Time to get that backlog cleared.

Harsh riot sentences could cause appeals logjam, say rights groups | UK news | The Guardian

According to the Sentencing Council’s standard list of the five purposes of sentencing, “the reduction of crime (including its reduction by deterrence)” comes second after “punishment of offenders”.

I’m quite surprised that ‘punishment of offenders’ is top, I didn’t think we were that backwards in this country.

Looting with the lights on | Naomi Klein | Comment is free | The Guardian

I liked this.

The right has chosen its scapegoat – the single mum. And she will bleed | Tanya Gold | Comment is free | The Guardian

The single mother is no more work-shy than any other mother: 57% of single parents work, an increase of 12 percentage points since 1997, which explodes the rightwing lie that New Labour did nothing but harm. As soon as their children reach the age of 12, this figure rises to 71%, which is the also the national average for mothers in relationships. These are the facts. They read nothing like the righteous narrative. But the scapegoat has been chosen, and she will bleed.

UK riots were product of consumerism and will hit economy, says City broker | Business | The Guardian

As the dream of economic growth dies, a new plan awaits testing | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

It points out that the financial crisis was caused not by isolated malpractice but by the systematic deregulation of the banks by governments, in order to stimulate economic growth by issuing more debt. Growth and the need to encourage it is the problem, and in the rich world it no longer bears any relationship to prosperity.

The New Atheism | Books | The Guardian

I can’t be the only reader who finds himself in broad agreement with the conclusions of the New Atheists, while disliking some of the ways they reach them.

This article gave me some more thoughts for my planned writing on militant atheism; the article used this very term, which is great cos I thought I might have just made it up myself.

At war with World of Warcraft: an addict tells his story | Technology | The Guardian

There has been a flurry of activity around extraordinary rendition recently and whether Britain was involved, which it seems it was. I’ve noticed an interesting effect of this on me: I get very, very angry about it, about the UK engaging in torture, but I don’t feel a similar thing about China doing it—Scott’s response does not chime with me at all. Why is this? I never feel at all patriotic, I do not think very much of the UK—consciously, anyway.

How Google Dominates Us by James Gleick | The New York Review of Books

Search and advertising thus become the matched edges of a sharp sword. The perfect search engine, as Sergey and Larry imagine it, reads your mind and produces the answer you want. The perfect advertising engine does the same: it shows you the ads you want. Anything else wastes your attention, the advertiser’s money, and the world’s bandwidth. The dream is virtuous advertising, matching up buyers and sellers to the benefit of all. But virtuous advertising in this sense is a contradiction in terms. … [T]he modern corporation is an amoral creature by definition …

Jo Glanville · ‘Auntie Mabel doesn’t give a toss about Serbia’: The World Service · LRB 25 August 2011

I should start tuning in.

Can the United States move beyond the narcissism of 9/11? | Gary Younge | Comment is free | The Guardian

It’s a narcissism best exemplified by former vice-president Dick Cheney’s answer when asked just last week on what grounds he would object to Iran waterboarding Americans when he maintained his support for America’s right to use waterboarding. “We have obligations towards our citizens,” he said. “And we do everything to protect our citizens.”

However perverse that seems now …

Tony Blair calls for regime change in Iran and Syria | Politics | The Guardian

The threat is still from the same ideology and the same narrative which is based on a perverted view of religion and which regards cultures and faiths as in fundamental conflict with each other.

Paradox of liberalism?

Climate change: summer in the city | Editorial | Comment is free | The Guardian

In the US, according to a Rasmussen poll, seven out of 10 Americans now think that climate scientists – and that term embraces the meteorologists, oceanographers and glaciologists of competing institutions and academies in Europe, Asia and America – are likely to have faked their research data to support a belief in global warming.

We’re screwed.

Posted Wed 14 Sep 2011 09:24:00 UTC Tags:

What is /dev/shm and its practical usage

Interesting to compare this with tmpfs other examples of filesystems kept in RAM.

Posted Wed 14 Sep 2011 09:30:00 UTC Tags:

Oxford Open Doors home page - about the event

This looks great; Balliol was involved. I always think that the only justification for continuing to have the university in buildings everyone wants to look at is to let people look at them.

Posted Wed 14 Sep 2011 09:31:00 UTC Tags:
Posted Wed 14 Sep 2011 11:44:00 UTC Tags:

From: Google Friends Newsletter <> Subject: Changing the way you get your Google news To: Google Friends <> Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2011 11:18:54 -0700 (PDT) Reply-To:

Greetings to our Google Friends,

It’s hard to believe, but this monthly missive is now 13 years old. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading it over time, and wanted you to know that we are retiring it in its current form.

As you may know, the Google Friends Newsletter was created by Larry Page in April 1998, when Google was still on Stanford servers. In the early days, the Friends notes offered newsy details like “We are gearing up to do another crawl. We should start within a few weeks” and tips on tweaking your search queries.

Obviously a lot has happened since then, including changes in how we communicate updates to all of you. So this will be our last Google Friends Newsletter. We started the Official Google Blog in 2004 and joined Twitter in 2009, and we’ve seen dramatic growth on those channels. Meanwhile, the number of subscribers to this newsletter has remained flat, so we’ve concluded that this format is no longer the best way for us to get the word out about new Google products and services.

You can still get updates and power tips from Google in several ways:

The Official Google Blog - Our main blog features the widest range of our biggest news and announcements. Subscribe to our blog posts by email—no more than one per day—by scrolling to the “Subscribe” box on the right-hand side of the blog. You can also subscribe to the blog in an RSS reader, or pick and choose which subject(s) you’d like to get news about by subscribing to a topical label (look on the right-hand side for this list).

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We hope you enjoy whichever channels you choose. You’re always a Google friend to us!

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I appreciate this is old news now, but it’s been sitting flagged in my inbox for some weeks waiting for me to blog it. I used to love this newsletter, which I’ve been subscribed to for years and years, but less and less as time went on as cool items tended to be replaced with evil items… I think the demise of the newsletter reflects well the change of Google that we’ve seen over the past few years as web usage has changed so much.

Posted Wed 14 Sep 2011 12:02:00 UTC Tags:

Windows 8 Has A Friendlier Blue Screen Of Death | TechCrunch

Take a look at the BSOD; fascinating how things like :) have become so mainstream. I guess it’s still something computer-related. Interesting how you are immediately told to search; it should have added “on Bing”.

Posted Wed 14 Sep 2011 18:21:00 UTC Tags:

My old secondary school, Silverdale, (a comprehensive) encourages its brighter pupils to study science subjects, and generally there is a culture that the humanities are the soft, easy option. This goes right through to A-level; when it comes to applying to university, of those who apply to Oxbridge maybe 90% apply to Cambridge because it is viewed as being better for science. The brightest GCSE students do triple science, getting a GCSE in each of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and to fit this in they only have one hour of R.E. a month and one hour of P.S.H.E. a month too, alternating between these two in a one hour slot on the school’s biweekly timetable. This is actually illegal, as they’re supposed to have I believe an hour a week of R.E.

My old philosophy teacher was discussing these lessons with me, and his hopes that since they’re not doing an R.E. GCSE (the best GCSE), he might as well teach them some philosophy, and he’s been doing ethics and the like, but it’s viewed as a soft subject again and he wanted to engage them with something that would appeal to them. We came up with Logic, something I’ve already gone into the school to talk about before (but to sixth formers), and so today I went in to talk to a Y11 class about premises, conclusions and validity.

It went pretty well and a good few of them really did get what we were talking about, which was great, and the majority certainly had some idea. The most difficult thing is how you can tell people what validity is. Explaining how you can write an argument as consisting of premises and a conclusion is fine, but then to tell them what validity is you have to give a fairly formal definition, and formal definitions are scary and, coming all at once as they tend to do, overwhelming. But neither Paul or I could come up with a way to tell them what validity is other than defining it, repeating it over and over and writing it up on the board.

The hope was to get some non-science into them and we probably succeeded. One example one girl came up with involved humans being 70% water, Jesus walking on water and her being capable of walking on humans, which leads to the conclusion that the girl was 70% Jesus. Pretty sure it’s invalid.

Here’s our lesson plan notes:

Ridiculous symbols on the board.

Theatre: Money exchange

What is wrong with Sean’s sentence: “Some bank notes are forgeries. So, for all we know, they all are forgeries.” ? (on board) Write up suggestions.

Answer: if all bank notes are forgeries then there can’t actually be any bank notes.

Actually Sean is making an argument - note the “if…then”. Are there other arguments where something like this happens? Wouldn’t it be great if we had tools to detect when this sort of thing happens? Anxiety-inducing. Similar mistakes in other cases. Teachers might make mistakes like this and no-one would notice and people would learn the wrong things.

This is the study of the logic of the argument. PMB bigs it up.

Basic tools to help us do this: premises and conclusions. Circles on the board. Then write up Socrates syllogism.

Validity tells us if an argument is okay.

An argument is valid is when; if the premises are true, the conclusion must also be true.

It is raining outside. If I do not wish to get wet when it is raining, I need an umbrella. I do not wish to get wet, I need an umbrella.

Some vampires are bloodthirsty. Some werewolves are bloodthirsty. Therefore, some vampires are werewolves.

THINK OF SOME VALID AND INVALID ARGUMENTS in pairs. Write on board, vote valid/invalid.

Need 10 minutes for this. Gosh isn’t this brilliant. Surely we can apply this to every single argument and it’ll work. BUT THEN (Sean), I’ve a final example for you: The moon is white. Anything white is made of cheese. We conclude that the moon is made of cheese.

Every good argument is valid but not every valid argument is good.

Everything we’ve done today is philosophy. Also underpins computing.

Posted Thu 15 Sep 2011 15:36:00 UTC Tags:

All dogs cock their heads to the side when listening intently but my mother’s dog Chilli does it a lot more than most: she tilts when you use words that she knows, such as ‘cheese’, ‘where’s Annie?’, ‘biscuit’ etc. When she was younger she also tilted at high sounds but that’s worn off now, but the other day we were at a wedding anniversary and someone had got their clarinet out, as you do, and before launching into his piece he was playing some scales—that had her tilting away.

For the first time ever we manged to capture Chilli tilting on camera:

Here’s another of her that I like; she’s a lot younger here, as you can see by the way her nose hasn’t turned pink yet:

Posted Thu 15 Sep 2011 15:39:00 UTC Tags:

At Ben’s (personal) and Day[9]’s (impersonal) persuasion. Improvement is fun, and I shouldn’t have conflated that with playing to win—definitely different things. Deathball time.

Posted Thu 15 Sep 2011 18:09:00 UTC Tags:

No Beatles for you! EU adds 20 years to music copyrights

A comment on reddit:

[T]here’s not a chance in hell that any rock and roll will be in the public domain in 20 years. The music industry now has 20 years to lobby for an even longer copyright. I suspect we’ll find that copyright length is actually likely to extend indefinitely. This 20 year extension is nothing, copyright lost its original purpose many years ago.

Posted Fri 16 Sep 2011 15:56:00 UTC Tags:

emacs-fu pointed me towards Deft, an attempt to clone the Notational Velocity program for Macintosh computers into Emacs, and therefore (the author’s intention) into GNU/Linux.

I can see how this would be better suited than my current Org setup for quick notes, which is usually set up as something temporary, for future blogging and then my blog is my reference, but this doesn’t always work. Since it’s so trivial to setup, I’ve installed Deft to see if it’s of to use to be as something smoother, but I doubt it will be tbh.

Edit: Forget this—the whole point of deft is that it uses file modification times, which are very hard to maintain properly with git, so not much use to me. I’ll just keep creating nodes in

Posted Sat 17 Sep 2011 11:48:00 UTC Tags:

Some years ago I received a copy of 50 Philosophy Ideas you really need to know by Ben Dupré and then I received another copy, and I read neither—well, finally I read one of them, and thought it was pretty decent for a book with such a strange title. Most of the fifty ideas I already knew about, so I felt like I was reading it to review essentially, and I regret not reading it earlier when I might have learnt something. I recommend it though; even if it looks like it’s going to, it doesn’t skimp on rigour yet remains very accessible.

Posted Sat 17 Sep 2011 22:05:00 UTC Tags:

Hume shows us that induction can’t be justified by reason—i.e. by deduction or induction—so us undergraduates like to put induction and deduction side by side as the two fundamental ways of reasoning. Fine. It seems clear that we can’t reduce induction to deduction; people have tried but it doesn’t tend to work. But I think it might be possible to reduce our reliance upon deduction to induction: we have this magical faculty that makes mistakes but generally only feels certain when it’s actually got things right, and we learn to judge this throughout our school Maths lessons, and inductively conclude that it’s going to work again in the future.

Since induction is this automatic thing that we do so habitually, it’s legitimate to claim that deduction is this separate faculty like this, I think, rather like how Descartes sees the imagination as sort of separate from the ‘core’ mind, to be studied like a crystal ball.

Then again we don’t treat deductive truths like this at all.

Posted Tue 20 Sep 2011 15:11:00 UTC Tags:

Seem to have reduced my life to academic work and StarCraft the past few days, falling behind on things like reading e-mails and the news etc., which has been fun. I’ve spent some time between actual games collecting achievements and this has had me playing outside the 1v1 ladder, in a couple of team games, a FFA and a number of Co-op games. These are full of casual RTS players—I think they’re sort of like I was when I played loads of strategy games (we didn’t have the term ‘RTS’ back then) when I was younger. I’ve only been playing them to try it out and for the sake of the achievements though, since I really don’t find that style of play very much fun anymore: if I’m not going to try and optimise and win hard, I’d rather play something like Supreme Commander, I think, or if it’s just for fun (and it’s not multiplayer with IRL friends), I’d rather play a non-RTS.

Back in the 1v1 league I’m feeling rather forever bronze, and starting to learn how much I have to learn, if you like: instead of not knowing much and just playing naïvely, I’m seeing areas where I have no idea what to do. For example when I forge fast expand I get hit with a load of Mutas and I’m not sure when I should start building Phoenixes (or if I should just get cannons or spread my stalkers instead or whatever); one can find answers though. I lost against Protoss early pressure and in the replay saw that my opening was probably better executed than his, and apparently my mistake was to expand early which you should never do in a PvP. Time to learn Day[9]’s 2 gate robo.

In terms of what I’m trying to learn, I’m trying to sort out getting supply blocked. By this I mean learning how fast I need to build pylons relative to my production; as well as just forgetting, I frequently misjudge how much supply I’m using up per warp-in and end up not producing for ages while my pylons catch up. Oh and I’m getting better at warp-ins: I’m starting to get a sense for it, where I’m like “hmm I bet there’s a warp in due within the next five seconds” and sure enough, there is, which is sweet. After this I want to work on probe production, which I generally do fine but I think I need to expand more in order to not be wasting my supply on probes.

This is brilliant, even if you don’t play/like StarCraft:

NERD ALERT - Banelings - (Justin Bieber - Baby PARODY) ft HuskyStarcraft / KurtHugoSchneider - YouTube

Their SCV Love Song and Void Rays Rebecca Black parody are also very good.

Posted Tue 20 Sep 2011 22:10:00 UTC Tags:

Unproductive day so far as I went for a hair cut this morning—the hair dressers is the better part of an hour’s walk away—and then I’ve been watching Day[9]’s Diablo III beta gameplay that replaced the usual StarCraft II Newbie Tuesday yesterday. It looks like a reasonably fun game, and it’s cool to see they’ve kept the basic gameplay model from Diablo II because it was and is so good. Fun to have some of the same sound effects too. Now, Diablo III isn’t a spectator game so it’s hard to judge from here, but it does appear more than a little mindless. Sure you’ll be able to turn up the difficulty, presumably, but it didn’t really feel like Day[9] was adventuring: he was killing monsters but with instant sell from anywhere, infinite town portals and a button called ‘auto-equip’ and things like a ghost telling you to collect three orbs and place them somewhere, it really didn’t feel like action-RPG adventuring, more WoW style adventuring—i.e. rather shallow. Hopefully they’ll improve on that for the game’s release.

Edit 22/ix/2011: Also love the way Day[9] clears out everything before heading on to the next area, making sure he walks over every bit of ground etc.etc., just like I do. HalfLife 2 is a continual stream of breaking open boxes.

Posted Wed 21 Sep 2011 15:07:00 UTC Tags:

Came across vip.swf the other day; the controls don’t work for me though. Shuffling video game music.

Posted Thu 22 Sep 2011 12:35:00 UTC Tags:

Eastern Sun 3.00 Database

A Diablo II mod, apparently, anyone tried it? Balancing and UI improvements I think.

Posted Thu 22 Sep 2011 12:38:00 UTC Tags:

An interesting analysis (lots of Maths) of macro across the leagues: Do you macro like a pro?

Some good comments on a reddit thread:

“fookhar comments on {Theorycraft} How to Get Better at Starcraft; or: Why You Should Practice Your Macro”, CryHav0c comments on {Theorycraft} How to Get Better at Starcraft; or: Why You Should Practice Your Macro

I particularly like the first one, aside from the problem that stalkers on their own are not that great.

Posted Thu 22 Sep 2011 12:39:00 UTC Tags:


Had this on my wallpaper on a Windows partition I rarely used for years. (source)

Posted Thu 22 Sep 2011 12:43:00 UTC Tags:

But there seem to be little to choose among the [possible set-theoretic models for the natural numbers]. Relative to our purposes in giving an account of these matters, one will do as well as another, stylistic preferences aside. There is no way connected with the reference of number words that will allow us to choose among them, /for the accounts differ at places where there is no connection whatever between features of the accounts and our uses of the words in question/. If all the above is cogent, then there is little to conclude except that any feature of an account that identified 3 with a set is a superflous one – and that therefore 3, and its fellow numbers, could not be sets at all.


There is another reason to deny that it would be legitimate to use the reducibility of arithmetic to set theory as a reason to assert that numbers are really sets after all. Gaisi Takeuti has shown that the Gödel–von Neumann–Bernays set theory is in a strong sense reducible to the theory of ordinal numbers less than the least inaccessible number (1954). No wonder numbers are sets; sets are really (ordinal) numbers, after all. But now, which is really which?

Posted Thu 22 Sep 2011 15:27:00 UTC Tags:

Went to see Othello last night at the Crucible here in Sheffield with my family; we particularly wanted to go because Othello and Iago are played by Clarke Peters and Dominic West respectively, two of the main characters from The Wire. I have never studied the play at school that I recall, but my sister did it for AS. Personally I enjoy books and plays more once I’ve done them at school, not the opposite as many say. The performance was very good, especially their use of lighting and simple props. It’s great to have the traditional theatrical symbolism of things like a simple sash marking someone as being a soldier of one side or the other or whatever. I really love the theatre and should go more often, especially living somewhere like Oxford.

I found it really hard to get into last night’s performance, though, thanks to the behaviour of the audience. Firstly I thought that the theatre was sacred in terms of behaviour: no sweets that have even the slightest chance of making a noise, no coughing, and absolutely no talking. Wherever this perception of mine came from—perhaps I’d got lucky with audiences in the past—it proved to be completely wrong. There was some talking, plenty of rustling and several nose-blows. There was also someone behind us breathing with the aid of a tank of oxygen; mildly annoying but obviously not in any way blameable. But the other annoyance is of a different nature: many members of the audience were tittering at every other line. Obviously there were jokes in both Shakespeare’s lines and the director’s interpretation for this production, but there were definitely not as many jokes as the audience would have you believe. To me, a play like this is a serious matter, trying to use art to get at the root of some important questions about the human condition, and without ever having the studied the play, which might have helped, I was totally unable to appreciate very much of what was going on for the entire first half and most of the second because of these constant reactions reminding me that I was in a theatre. Not just laughing at things that aren’t funny to me, but this constant mild tittering at things that definitely weren’t. Things improved for the final scene (a long one) at least.

Today my father moved house from the house he’s had for most of the time he’s been divorced from my mother to one half an hour’s walk away on a road right next to my old secondary school. This is because he is moving in with his new fiancé, who is still in the process of selling her house; things are looking good right now, but it had all fallen through. The house used to be occupied by an old man living alone and while he’s kept it clean and tidy it’s decor is pretty awful. Also the loft needs converting so that Elaine’s (his fiancé) son has a bedroom. But the point is that almost all of the money from selling Elaine’s house isn’t needed to buy this one so it’s all available to do it up. We had some fun today when we had most of the road commandeered with two removal lorries and my dad’s car and trailer. Already we were forcing every single driver in either direction to alter their route, but then the end of the school day happened, and the buses started pouring in and it was pretty funny to have caused so much disruption to so many people.

My father wants to use my room as a study while I’m away at university and also for an extra wardrobe. This has caused some consternation because it’s a very tight fit (if it’s even going to be possible) and his use of my old room for masses and masses of storage was one of the many reasons I’ve barely ever spent any time at his house since becoming a student. So I said look, all I want is a desk that isn’t under my bed—I have a cabin bed, which means a desk underneath gets really dusty—a bed, and for you not to switch to ADSL from your cable Internet connection. The cable Internet in fact comes right into my upstairs room which is great because I can then have wired access, and can plug my NSLU2 in. I’m going to make an effort to actually spend time at my father’s because his presence is going to be powerfully diluted by Elaine. Previously the main reason aside from him is that I never want to move my books and papers back and forth to a dusty, dark little room that never had any air because the window was painted shut etc. and it’s nice that that won’t be an issue anymore.

As for computing, I’ve given up on getting my father and sister to use his old desktop computer and adopted it into my room. My sister’s got her modern laptop and my Dad has his ancient one with a PCMCIA wireless card that can do 802.11b but not g or n, but the desktop was intolerably slow under Windows and neither could be bothered to use it under the Linux Mint installation I put on. It’s got a Celeron D and 256MB of RAM and not much else, and under Mint I can get Emacs and a web browser running simultaneously but woe betide I try to sync my e-mail or also play music while these are happening. I’m hoping that installing CRUX on it will make it possible to do all these three things at once, but I’m not super-hopeful because I’m using 744MB to do that now here on my desktop at my mother’s. I’m surprised my desktop is as bloated as it is; maybe I can slim it down.

One consequence of wanting to get some use out of old hardware rather than parking my laptop at my father’s for the vac is that I can’t play StarCraft a lot of the time, since I plan to spend more at my father’s. I may eventually crack and take my laptop there, rather than packing it away in the loft where it usually spends the vac, but otherwise, I think this is probably good for getting other things done. This is not to say that StarCraft interferes with academic work or anything like that, but what it does do is stop me from emptying my inbox or reading. Interestingly I don’t have to spend long away before this effect lessens. With being out all day today moving and with not playing yesterday due to Othello, I’m already not so bothered about laddering, which is interesting.

I never normally write about my father’s house positively so hopefully things will be better with Elaine around and a non-dusty desk.

Posted Fri 23 Sep 2011 18:25:00 UTC Tags:

Today I decided to remove my e-mail signatures and also stop feeding my blog to Facebook. Here are my old signatures:

Sean Whitton / <sean // AT NO SPAM PLEASE \\>
OpenPGP KeyID: 0x3B6D411B

Sean Whitton /

for my main e-mail address and my university address respectively. Actually almost all this information is superfluous. My GPG key is because the message is signed so you can extract it from that, and if you actually want the info you are probably someone who looks for the signature out of habit and/or knows how to use a keyserver. And I’m not making a political point because I don’t use GPG (by e-mail that is) very often; I just sign my e-mails and very occasionally encrypt one.

My name and e-mail are obviously superfluous. And if it’s just to make sure you get labelled when quoted—it doesn’t really make much difference, people will do it or they won’t. And no-one actually quotes me.

So the URL of my personal website and its mirror on the university web servers is the only thing worth keeping, but I don’t really like the idea of advertising the site. Firstly because there is almost no actual content on it, aside from maybe my blog, and because a personal website is inevitably one’s preferred image to the world which isn’t so great, and shoving it in people’s faces as a mail signature only furthers this. So I’m dropping the self-important signatures. However hard it is to ignore all the work I did to get neat signature switching working in Gnus.

I’m also stopping the feed of this blog to Facebook. I think I only really did it because I wanted hits; this is bad. It’s also changed my willingness to write things even though it’s all public anyway. This is bad and not like me so I shouldn’t let it happen.

Posted Sat 24 Sep 2011 14:27:00 UTC Tags:
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Posted Mon 26 Sep 2011 09:36:00 UTC Tags:

Now that I’ve come to terms with my results from the end of last year I’m developing a new attitude towards my work that I’ll try to briefly record here. What has not worked is expecting lots of myself. Saying that I am just being lazy and should just do it. Telling myself I can do more, believing tutors and parents who tell me to just do it, clearly hasn’t worked. Realistically, what I do do is all I am capable of doing, it seems, and I should accept that.

My attitude is made different by the fact that I now can’t do the very best thing I wanted to do, which is to stay at Oxford to do a masters, and that means that I don’t need a first anymore: going somewhere else, I think a decent 2:1 will be fine. I might get a first if I worked amazingly well but realistically I can’t do that, it’s outside of my ability range, and I should accept that. The result is the same and I end up happier for the lack of self-pressure. Oxford graduate study has plenty of disadvantages (orthodoxy being the biggest), so it’s not all that bad.

Is this giving up? No, it’s accepting the truth about my abilities. I’m going forward far more relaxed about things. Cheered, maybe I’ll do better after all. Hope I have expressed myself well here.

Posted Mon 26 Sep 2011 10:20:00 UTC Tags:

Currently on a nine win streak (admitted one left in the first few mins of game) and this has given me enough points to get me up into the top 8 of my Bronze league division. The top two people with their masses of points look rather forever bronze, if my understanding of the Blizzard ranking system (sketchy) is correct—I’m more likely to get promoted to silver before amassing that many points.

Pleased to have finally got the five win streak achievement but kind of want off the streak now because it is giving me ladder anxiety which I don’t usually get.

Edit: Got to 14 wins before losing to a 3 rax random player. Total two of those were immediate quits.

Posted Mon 26 Sep 2011 14:25:00 UTC Tags:

Wish I had this at school (though admittedly probably wouldn’t have run on my model). Good luck with dat micro.

StarCraft on a TI84 - YouTube

Here’s one running on my model:

Zelda TI-83+ - YouTube

And here’s some exciting news about HotS:

“Just noticed this when tried to change keybinds. New units in hotkey selection, are they bringing the scourge back? : starcraft”

Posted Tue 27 Sep 2011 10:48:00 UTC Tags:

Faster than light particles found, claim scientists | Science | The Guardian

Scientists at the Gran Sasso facility will unveil evidence on Friday that raises the troubling possibility of a way to send information back in time, blurring the line between past and present and wreaking havoc with the fundamental principle of cause and effect.

I wonder what Hume would have to say about this. For him reliance on causality is an animal instinct that we have no choice about; does this disprove him because we’re capable of conceiving otherwise on this occasion or is it just the case that we are applying our induction at a higher level?

Posted Tue 27 Sep 2011 10:57:00 UTC Tags:

Cage-fight children: club licence to be reviewed after alarm at ‘barbarity’ | Society | The Guardian

“Getting more young people doing sport is great but I do ask myself whether it really does have to be in a cage,” Hunt told the BBC. “It feels very barbaric and I know there are concerns about children that young doing a sport like that. I think if adults choose to do it, that’s one thing … I suppose I do share some of the shock that I think many of your viewers will feel.”

When I first read this paragraph I couldn’t help but think: how perfectly posh Tory those words are, it fits the stereotype perfectly.

Posted Tue 27 Sep 2011 10:59:00 UTC Tags: