Term is over and we’re onto helping with interviews down here; so far only the usual administrative inadequacies, so all okay. It’s been a busy four days. On Wednesday night I gave up with my essay, since I didn’t have to write it and I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. I felt quite bad about this because my tute partner kept reading more to try and do something better, not finishing his term’s work for an additional 24 hours after I’d signed mine off and had started having fun. Wednesday night a Hungarian maths friend was in the bar for his birthday then we went and played some DotA, he’s pretty hardcore. Thursday we went out for a Maths lunch, though there were only four of us, then it was the JCR Christmas Dinner in Hall that evening followed by a bop. The dinner was alright. We had those balloons that are designed for firing off like rockets rather than using as decoration, so it was fun to try and lodge them in the rafters. Later on the food fights started, and we found ourselves being hit by random potatoes and whatever. Dessert was a chocolate mousse pyramid with hard chocolate buried inside which was very nice, but which others decided to smear on each other instead of enjoying it, which I didn’t really understand… The bop was very fun but when the girl headlining decided to turn her one or two Christmas pop songs into an entire half hour set of them, I was a little less happy.

Here’s a picture of my bop costume, which started off as the Ghost of Christmas Past but became an angel after some design assistance from a bunch of girls:

[to be posted when it gets e-mailed to me]

On Friday afternoons this term I’ve been spending about five hours in the Philosophy Faculty, since I’ve had a tute, lecture and then work in the library (which I should write about), so Friday was my last time at this. It’s been a really nice thing to do each week, productive, and I love the environment there as I’ve probably mentioned before. As I was leaving this week the Faculty Christmas Party was just kicking off. As staff I got invited to stick around for a bit, but had to head off to the Committee Last Supper at a restaurant. They had a LOT of food and drink for the academics and grad students to get through.

After the meal it was the JdeB Pantomime/Nativity. I had a starring role as King Herod who had lost some JCR records and had to call an emergency GM—this was referencing the recent Balliol housing crisis which I was the scapegoat for, which I should write about at some point.

Friday night was Committee Lock-in. It was much nicer than last year, because Committee 2011 has had far fewer weird people on it; the story from last year that kept being referenced was one girl crying and taking her clothes off (this did actually happen, I was there). I only stayed until 3:30am, far less hardcore than last year when I was there ‘til 6 or something. Then Saturday afternoon I had some friends over to play StarCraft and then Skyrim[1] which one friend is going to be playing in my room for the next week and a half so that I am forced to go the library and work rather than sitting here. I can’t be bothered to play it myself, sadly.

So I haven’t really stopped since finishing work on Wednesday, due to some academic stuff but mainly social things. Such is the end of term. Do not want to go back to real world.

Now to the title of this post, which refers to a recent concern: am I running out of personality because I am attempting to define myself in terms of other people rather than going my own way, at the moment? This is a feeling I have been getting. Here’s an example. One group of friends I have here are three or four philosophy-obsessed second year PPEists, who I love, and have a lot of fun with. But they are somewhat alienated from mainstream Balliol, and once more this is an example of a group who I have to sit and listen to fairly cruel criticism of them from JCR types and fellow mathematicians and whatever. Now recently I realised that I developed a bit of a complex about this group, being essentially jealous and inspired of their apparent commitment, wanting myself to be more like them in terms of this, and this is my example of defining myself in terms of others. It’s kind of like a romantic crush except it’s (definitely!) not on an individual. But then this complex got shattered by various pieces of negativity I didn’t realise were around: I thought these guys were just unknown or viewed with mild amusement, not disliked, as I have now heard. But then, all I’ve done here is swing back to being defined somewhat by the combination of these friends and others’ criticisms of them. I shouldn’t be doing any of this, or rather, I shouldn’t let it affect my inner core of self so greatly, as it seems to be doing.

Day-to-day this manifests itself. I’ve noticed that habits of what individual students around here, including myself, do and say and who we see, tend to change up every three or four days: I will see, for example, some of these second year friends every day in the library for four days, then I won’t see them for a four or five days. Alternately, such as the past four days of end of term events, I will spend time talking to one or two more mainstream individuals more than others. But the point is that my priorities swing all over the place over these periods. For the first four I’m glorifying philosophy to myself. For the next four I glorify wit. So what do I actually think is important? Popularity, or at least being known by most of college, is seductive.

I think how most people avoid this is by sticking to their cliques of friends. This is what I did in first year with my third year friends. Perhaps this is something that explains cliques, this issue I am explaining, but probably not.

So there’s a few thoughts; going to refile a massive pile of paper on my shelf now so that I can head to the library this afternoon in a better-organised state.

[1] Yet again I was about to type ‘Oblivion’ there, srsly

Posted Sun 04 Dec 2011 12:33:00 UTC Tags:

Time to spam up my blog with old links I’ve been meaning to post for a while.

To start:

Floppy music DUO - Imperial march | YouTube

Posted Sun 04 Dec 2011 17:48:00 UTC Tags:
Posted Sun 04 Dec 2011 17:52:00 UTC Tags:

Found this ages ago, it’s interesting. This guy asked reddit for a new hobby, reddit said l2StarCraft, and that’s what he’s doing—very intensively.


Posted Sun 04 Dec 2011 17:56:00 UTC Tags:

Time to write about some things that happened in the second half of the term just completed that might be of interest to friends from home who read this blog. Firstly my new job at the Philosophy Faculty Library here in Oxford. This library has been my favourite library in Oxford and in fact probably my favourite building in Oxford for a long time. The atmosphere is very relaxed and friendly, whilst remaining stricter than other libraries on behaviour, very successfully merging both these attitude: there are signs saying things like “welcome, relax and read”—though relaxing with a philosophy text is seldom possible—but also laptops are restricted to small areas, and the library very successfully stops people from writing in the books, unlike my college’s library. The staff are also very friendly and helpful and while this is common with librarians, these are also very personable: they tend to know the users of the library, despite there being very many such users indeed for a department with so many students. There is a section of wall with condescending quotations from philosophers about their own subject, and a bunch of philosophy comics, many sourced from SMBC.

The building itself is a very strange department. There are some administrative offices, a computer room for graduate students and a ‘hotdesking’ area which I don’t fully understand, a medium-sized lecture room, a small lecture room (the Ryle Room, whose walls are lined with photos of the great twentieth century Oxford philosophers), a common room for everyone, the library and its stacks, and then about three offices for academics, this being one of the largest and best philosophy departments in the world, and that’s it. Almost all philosophy teaching happens elsewhere: lectures in Exam Schools, tutorials in colleges, for there isn’t the space to do very much at all in the faculty, and aside from the library the building feels strangely out of proportion with what the department might need. This has enormous charm.

Sadly the university have realised the absurdity of the department and they are closing the building down; it’s been sold off to something else university-related I believe. The philosophy and the theology libraries are in the charge of the same head librarian and deputy librarian, so they are to merge, and in fact I believe another department is merging in too but I forget which one this is. Everything is to be moved to a new temporary building in July, while the massive university building project that will house maths and a huge combined humanities library and probably other departments too is complete, which should be done in just under two years.

There are lots of sad things about this move; I am far, far from being the only person who doesn’t want it to happen. It’s far more than just sentimentality though: combined, the philosophy and theology libraries are required to lose 40% of their stock, since there will not be as much space. A lot of this will be print journals that are almost never used—there are I am told three or four complete sets of the Journal for Symbolic Logic hidden around 10 Merton Street—but they are also selling off (and giving away) a lot of other stuff. This is very sad. Much care is being taken to identify those texts that the library has become a keeper of because there are very few around. Both libraries use homegrown systems for shelfmarks, and so in order to merge they need to move to a standard system, and they’re using Library of Congress. It takes me about three times as long to reshelve books labelled this way (see below); the homegrown system down at philosophy at least is much, much easier to use from the librarians’ and the students’ points of view, because it’s designed for the subject matter, rather than being generic. I mean I’m sure that LoC is great for multi-subject libraries, that’s what it’s designed for, but it’s sad that we have to lose a system that works better for us philosophers.

Sentimentally, we all love the building. There will be a common room in the new one because the head librarian has insisted that something that is as appreciated as the current one is must be carried over, but something tells me it won’t quite be the same. The furniture, the shelves, in the library, is also going to go. It’s all hardwood, in a 20th century kind of way though not an overly fancy one like you find in colleges, and modern replacements don’t compare.

For me it’s the same with maths; I really like that building too, even if most don’t. And I like how the departments are separate and spread out across the city in different buildings and locales, which is going to disappear when things get amalgamated just like any other university.

Having liked the library for so long I was thrilled to find that they were taking applications for part-time librarians again; I have a friend who does this job and was always very jealous. I got the job near the start of this term and have been doing Friday afternoons. It’s really quite a easy role; it’s just an hour and a half at the end of the day, so it involves nothing more than serving people on the desk and reshelving all the books returned in the last two hours of the day, which takes me about twenty-five minutes at the moment.

The thing I really like, aside from something which is a nice thing to do in the evening, is seeing the library and the librarians from the other side, and talking to them. Because they are among the small group of people who are always in the building, they are the centre of departmental gossip, so we can share stories about tutors and lecturers and graduate students and the like. In a department like philosophy there are plenty of characters. For example one of the few people with an office in the building is Daniel Isaacson, a philosophy of maths guy, who taught me this term for the Philosophy of Maths paper. He’s been in the building for about twenty-five years and has the librarians are aware of his hidden stacks of stuff in various places. He possesses what looks like most of the philosophy of maths canon and more besides in his room, and so there isn’t space for all the spare complete sets of journals he has, things only about three or four academics in the university have any interest in, if that, so they are squirreled away around the building. The other night Dan came upstairs to the library, trying to print off an ebook, which unfortunately the university has a load of, and so the librarian and I struggled with the DRM for a while to try and print it out (we failed). From time to time you’ll see famous philosophers or my own Balliol tutors in the building, and there’s always something to say about them all.

A recent change in the department has been the introduction of an online lecture questionnaire, instead of having one handed out on paper by the lecturer sometime around 6th week each term. It was amusing to see how different lecturers reacted to this. Ralph Walker, Oxford’s Kant expert, who is perhaps the tutor/lecturer I most respect in my university experience so far, spent a good few minutes attempting to copy the URL onto the whiteboard for us, figuring out where the slashes and colons are meant to go. His lectures this term have been the highlight of my week. No distracting overheads or overly detailed notes, just the occasional German word on the board that we might want to see the spelling of, and a summary handout to guide you through the lecture, and then the rest is just an expert talking, which is by far the best way to do it. And what lectures they have been. I won’t go into the philosophical details here.

A contrast is the philosophy of maths lectures from Alex Paseau. He stated that “the philosophy faculty has finally moved into the 21st century and the lecture questionnaire is now online”. With academics in their posts for so long (in fact Ralph is technically retired) you get massive age differences like this.

I learned from the head librarian some history of the library on my first shift. Philosophy was for a very long time just a small part of classics; eventually it became a sub-faculty, and very recently it became a faculty in its own right. So there was no philosophy library for a very long time. Now, in the mid-twentieth century, Gilbert Ryle was at some point simultaneously the editor of Mind and one of the university proctors, the latter of which gave him the right to any book published by OUP during his year. These two things combined meant that he amassed rather a lot of philosophy books, and they ended up in a room in the Bodleian. The Bodleian didn’t want this so eventually a library got established at 12 Merton Street, which later moved to the current 10 Merton Street.

So there’s some thoughts on the philosophy faculty and its library. At some point before the maths and philosophy buildings close down, I plan to go round and photograph them, so if I do that I’ll post the pictures on here.

Posted Mon 05 Dec 2011 12:42:00 UTC Tags:

From Wikizine #130:

= Did you know … =

… what protocol relative URLs are?

Normal URLs look like: http://test.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page or https://test.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page.

Both of these URLs define the protocol that will be used. Protocol relative URLs look like this: //test.wikipedia.org/wiki/MainPage. Dropping the protocol from the URL allows the browser to assign the current protocol to the URL. So, if you are visiting the site in HTTPS mode, links will point to HTTPS, and if you are visiting the site in HTTP mode, links will point to HTTP.

:* http://blog.wikimedia.org/2011/07/19/protocol-relative-urls-enabled-on-test-wikipedia-org – full post about this by Ryan Lane :* http://blog.wikimedia.org/2011/09/27/protocol-relative-urls-enabled-on-all-wikimedia-foundation-wikis/ – protocol relative URLs are now live

Posted Mon 05 Dec 2011 15:08:00 UTC Tags:

Time to write about some things that happened in the second half of the term just completed that might be of interest to friends from home who read this blog. Secondly, the housing crisis a few weeks ago. Here’s an e-mail I sent round all undergraduates on 23rd November:

Okay so people seem to be pretty confused about what it was that went wrong with the main site housing ballot this week and the reason why we’re having a EGM, and to what level this is my fault (and, accordingly, to what extent I’m a twat). Here’s an explanation so that people are better informed at the GM, so PLEASE READ IT.

In Hilary 2010 the then Dr WHOs brought a motion to change how the ballot worked, and Seb Fassam (who has now graduated) brought an amendment to change some more things. Seb’s amendment on the night included the principles behind the ballot change, and he promised to write up a detailed procedure explaining how to do the ballot, and e-mail this round the JCR. He did this the morning following the GM, and no-one disagreed with what he had written. I’ve attached Seb’s document.

When Alex and Alice ran the ballot this week, they essentially followed Seb’s procedure. The thing that they got wrong was that they interpreted the word ‘college’ to mean ‘main site or Jowett Walk’ when it should have only meant ‘main site’—this meant that some people who should have received an advantage in the ballot didn’t get this advantage because of this misinterpretation of ‘college’. So the ballot was illegal.

The reason that Alex and Alice made this mistake was that the standing orders on the JCR website were either ambiguous, or hadn’t been updated to include the result of Seb’s motion, or both: it’s not quite clear what was wrong. And secondly, Seb’s document detailing the procedure was in a folder in the JCR office but it wasn’t on the website, so Alex and Alice didn’t have it. This is the part that is my fault. When Seb’s procedure was passed it was my responsibility to update the website, and clearly I didn’t do this properly.

At the EGM on Thursday the motion being brought basically just re-instates Seb’s procedure into Standing Orders, getting rid of the old, confusing text. Then we redo the ballot with the correct rules. That’s all.

A further complication is that it seems that the JCR Committee at the time of Seb’s amendment didn’t pass the new procedure through College’s exec committee, a fact which has only just been realised by both College and the JCR. This has to happen for the ballot to go ahead, so we need to run the policy we are re-instating on Thursday through them.

There is only one more exec meeting this term and it is on Wednesday, which means that the GM on Thursday isn’t really an appropriate place to change our balloting policy through amendments. If we did this, the new policy would have to go for approval again, but this couldn’t happen until the beginning of next term.

But then the main site ballot and the Jowett ballot both get pushed back until next term, which would mean that if Jowett is oversubscribed, those who don’t get in will have even less time to find houses. So if you want to change the ballot procedure away from Seb’s scheme, please please please bring a motion to do that next term rather than this week.

Hope that’s clear, feel free to reply with any questions.


I think that explains what went on and how we resolved it, but I should explain my use of ‘twat’: following on from when a legendary former committee member locked the DVD player and TV remote in a cupboard and then forgot the combination to the padlock and was thus put in Standing Policy as a twat, the JCR President & Secretary said they were going to do the same to me; my first reaction was amusement. My view of it was always just amusement. But a lot of people in Balliol were unhappy and saw it as bullying. Over the course of a couple of days, the President and Secretary received e-mail after e-mail from students and tutors alike, including people on their years abroad who were only seeing it all by e-mail, complaining that I was being victimised.

The next day someone who lost to me in the recent JCR elections for a semi-serious position started gathering signatures for a vote of no confidence. I signed it. The point of the twat thing and the no con was to bring any anger at me into the open, rather than seething underground. There was no expectation I would actually get no con’d.

Several of my friends got very upset over the two motions, saying that I was just saying I was okay with it, just playing along, that I shouldn’t be okay with it and that my reputation among non-JCR people would be seriously damaged. While I appreciated the concern, as I told them, I felt like I was being seriously patronised. I genuinely didn’t mind about the motions, but people still weren’t happy. It was seen as a JCR in-joke that shouldn’t have been going on because ‘twat”s special meaning (the TV remote guy) isn’t well known outside of those involved in the JCR.

In the end an amendment was brought to remove most of the bad stuff about me (an amendment I voted in opposition to) and it passed overwhelmingly, lots and lots of people complaining at the GM about how I was being blamed when it wasn’t actually my fault at all (it wasn’t, really).

It is difficult to say whether this was okay. The JCR is only as successful as it is, the very last one with any bite left really, because it toes close to the line, so I suppose there will always be divisive things like this from time to time. Glad housing got sorted out though.

Posted Mon 05 Dec 2011 15:27:00 UTC Tags:

A second year friend of mine is still around in Oxford and he doesn’t his gaming computer with him to avoid distractions during term—indeed he has no computer of his own at all, it’s quite wonderful—so for the past three or four days he’s been playing Skyrim in my room with the idea being that it forces me out of my room into the library. This hasn’t worked so well and I have spent many hours watching, and a small number playing. There are some very cool killing blow animations, and nice environments, and I am loving watching these; the gameplay is boring though and I’m like, groan, a dungeon, can’t we just advance the plot?

The point is that the plot of the main quest has grabbed me. Why? Because of the sudden storm of references to Morrowind and Oblivion, zomg I don’t want to spoil them for you, but wow this is too cool. The politics game is starting to kick off, with the Thalmor, Greybeards and ??? all vying for positions, which is great. I’m loving it. I desperately want to know what’s going on with the Empire and the Dominion.

But as I say I’m so bored with dungeons and fighting. I’m not very good at the combat, and aside from the pretty parts, am not too interested. I don’t mind suffering a bit though in order to find out more about what’s going to happen with the plot.

My friend and I are sort of playing co-op in that our characters are doing different quest lines; for example, he just finished the Fighter’s Guild, which had an AMAZING surprise early on, but had a completely boring ending. He’s joining the Imperials, I interrupted the execution in Solitude like a true Stormcloak. I’m doing the main quest. Unfortunately he’s going home tomorrow so this partnership cannot continue.

Posted Tue 06 Dec 2011 23:26:00 UTC Tags:

I have realised that over the past six months or so my view of intellectual discussion and what kinds I want to participate in has changed. My interest in pre-theoretical discussion is much lower than it was, especially as concerns politics, and by pre-theoretical I do not just mean ‘current affairs’, but discussion of political principles and ideals as well: I’ll discuss political philosophy, but am less interested in classic left vs. right than I am in current affairs.

One possible reason for this is becoming more dogmatic about my political views. I’m economically (very) left-wing and socially liberal, and lots of other people aren’t, and I don’t really care all that much about trying to convince them of my point of view anymore—but also I’m not bothered about entering discussion because I sort of know I won’t change my mind. Such dogmatism is really really bad but this way of looking at it may not be the right one. An alternative is that I’m just being very sceptical about politics and non-commital, and I’m undecided as to whether that is appropriate on something as real and as important as politics.

I had a friend to visit me at university recently and we went to a friend’s house for dinner, with a number of philosophy and politics students, and since both of us were a little bored of the pre-theoretical political discussion, we were discussing this lack of interest that we were both feeling to some extent though perhaps for entirely different reasons. My friend levelled at me a criticism of his that he has brought up before, which is that I am too cautious about arguing for things now, and I often defer making points to writing them out more carefully on this blog, or something, too cautious to engage in discussion right then and there.

I think this is something that I have absorbed as a university humanities student, and I think it’s defensible (my friend here is a maths student so he won’t have seen the same thing). Academics around here are always very cautious about having points of view, in general, preferring to discuss the precise view at hand and if there’s anything obviously right or wrong with it, leaving it to the papers and books to stand their ground on things. It’s sometimes then a bit jarring to recall that these papers and books are written by academics just like one’s tutor or lecturer. I think there’s something similar going on here. When they are in a position to set something down very carefully and clearly, they do so, and then they can be rather forceful about it, but these things are hard and you can’t just do this verbally a lot of the time. My unwillingness then comes from a certain amount of passive absorption of the attitudes of tutors, a realisation that writing things down clearly is already very hard, so saying it on the spot is going to be even harder, and also my experience of noticing how much rubbish people say in such debates: how many things they say that aren’t precise, how much ambiguity there is in what they actually mean, and how this is actually important and significant and gets people confused. As I learn more I notice such speech more and more.

Something positive is that I’m certainly detaching my ego from this sort of activity, which is good, as defining oneself as verbally opinionated is not such a good thing to do. I’m confident that I can think these things out and remain sceptical if that’s the way it goes, rather than having to talk about them out loud to boost my self-esteem.

Posted Wed 07 Dec 2011 11:46:00 UTC Tags:

RichiH has written a new version of vcsh, a script I use for my keep-all-your-config-files-in-git setup, described here. It’s been discussed a lot recently on the vcs-home mailing list. I’m not switching over because my current setup Works For Me but I thought it was worth linking too; looks like a great way forward.

DVCS-autosync is a cool Dropbox replacement worth checking out too; a different aim to the above though.

Posted Wed 07 Dec 2011 11:53:00 UTC Tags:

I used to cite all my sources in essays but have become lazy this term and my tutor has been (very politely) complaining, so I resolved to learn BiBTeX over this vac to automate the process. Five hours later and I have everything in place and can forget about this.

Wanted to share the code for getting the citation style used in academic philosophy papers, since this is the kind useful to me, and it took me a while to find the information I needed. This isn’t quite perfect: there is a full stop at the end of the citation I can’t remove (it is implied by the ‘oxford’ style, apparently), and I can’t get an ampersand between editor names. Not going to worry about that now; I now have an easy way to obsessively cite everything which is what I wanted.

In the preamble:

% human,%



\renewcommand{\jbbtasep}{ \& }
\renewcommand{\jbbstasep}{ \& }
\renewcommand{\jbbtesep}{ \& }
\renewcommand{\jbbstesep}{ \& }
\renewcommand{\bibbtasep}{ \& }
\renewcommand{\bibbstasep}{ \& }
\renewcommand{\bibbtesep}{ \& }
\renewcommand{\bibbstesep}{ \& }

and at the end of the document:


A useful resource I used in building this:

Survey about all jurabib options

It’s possible to integrate Org-mode, RefTeX and ebib to make it easy to edit .bib reference databases and to insert citations. Here is my code, and the relevant pages I’ve found it:

LaTeX Export | Worg

Research Paper Management with Emacs, org-mode and RefTeX | Mathletic

;;; ebib for editing BiBTeX databases

(autoload 'ebib "ebib" "Ebib, a BiBTeX database manager." t)
(setq ebib-preload-bib-files '("~/doc/swhittonfhs.bib"))

;; BiBTeX stuff
;; mainly from http://orgmode.org/worg/org-tutorials/org-latex-export.html

(org-add-link-type "ebib" 'ebib)

 "cite" 'ebib
 (lambda (path desc format)
    ((eq format 'html)
     (format "(<cite>%s</cite>)" path))
    ((eq format 'latex)
     (if (or (not desc) (equal 0 (search "cite:" desc)))
         (format "\\cite{%s}" path)
       (format "\\cite[%s][%s]{%s}"
               (cadr (split-string desc ";"))
               (car (split-string desc ";"))  path))))))

(setq org-latex-to-pdf-process '( "pdflatex -interaction nonstopmode -output-directory %o %f" "bibtex %f" "pdflatex -interaction nonstopmode -output-directory %o %f" "pdflatex -interaction nonstopmode -output-directory %o %f" "pdflatex -interaction nonstopmode -output-directory %o %f" ))

;; from http://tincman.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/research-paper-management-with-emacs-org-mode-and-reftex/

(setq reftex-default-bibliography

(defun org-mode-reftex-setup ()
  (load-library "reftex")
  (and (buffer-file-name) (file-exists-p (buffer-file-name))
                                        ;enable auto-revert-mode to update reftex when bibtex file changes on disk
         (global-auto-revert-mode t)
                                        ;add a custom reftex cite format to insert links
  (define-key org-mode-map (kbd "C-c )") 'reftex-citation)

(add-hook 'org-mode-hook 'org-mode-reftex-setup)

Edit 11/xii/2011: Surprisingly, since I assumed that only sites for science journals would have this, JSTOR can export articles to .bib for you to include easily.

Posted Sat 10 Dec 2011 23:12:00 UTC Tags:

How a Computer Game Is Reinventing the Science of Expertise | Scientific American

Interesting read. I think you’d need to know a lot about the game for this to be useful, for example measuring ‘… the distances between the locations where actions occurred across the map’ but how is that a factor, I mean the number of places where things are happening might be relevant to multi-tasking but in a virtual world surely distance isn’t an issue, you can jump around as much as you like?

Posted Sun 11 Dec 2011 12:52:00 UTC Tags:

Users who share their computer resources are not recognised as System Administrators and may not act in that privileged position in respect of the University Security and Privacy Policy.

Posted Mon 12 Dec 2011 20:06:00 UTC Tags:

Ralph Walker in a lecture this term suggested people who wanted to know about the various lines in free will (compatibilist, incompatibilist, hard determinist etc.) recommended a look at Gary Watson’s famous-to-undergraduates Free Will collection. He said (paraphrased): ‘it’s a good introduction to a range of possible theories, but it’s a philosophy book so it’s largely giving a range of impossible theories, as all philosophy books do.’ It struck me that Ralph wasn’t just making a joke about his profession here but instead seemed to be making a serious point, being anti-theorising perhaps—my view is that building theories is a vital part of the process of doing philosophy, but on its own it is guaranteed to get us nowhere, because no one theory will ever do.

Posted Tue 13 Dec 2011 13:43:00 UTC Tags:

I don’t like this author very much but there were some nice parts to this:

How To Stop Caring So Much | Thought Catalog

Posted Tue 13 Dec 2011 21:07:00 UTC Tags:

Sheffield Students’ Union: Lip-Dub {Take That & Queen} | YouTube

My mother just sent me this and I was quite astonished by just how much students all look the same, I mean, this could have been a bunch of Oxford students no problem. I do not mean by this to suggest that Oxford students should look different, more I’m drawing a contrast between students in general, which I didn’t realise were quite so unified in physical appearance and mannerisms, and the general population of 18–25 year olds.

Posted Wed 14 Dec 2011 15:13:00 UTC Tags:

Just inadvertently discovered that C-q, at least under my zsh setup, invokes a handy command line stashing feature: it deletes the currently entered command and let’s you type another command, and then once the second command has executed, the original input reappears ready to be used. This is so much cleaner than opening up a fresh terminal just to run git status or something.

It stacks too: if you type one command and pretty C-q, another and then press C-q, and then a third which you execute, once the third is done you’ll have the second waiting in your input, and if you press enter, once that is done, you’ll have your very first command back ready for editing in the input.

Posted Wed 14 Dec 2011 16:01:00 UTC Tags:

Since I’m quite pleased with some of the transitions I put my recent bop set online:

MT11wk5 by spwhitton on SoundCloud

This is not hosted by me because I don’t have the bandwidth.

I enjoy having sets as MP3s so that I can listen to music I like, in a mixed set. Also I can see a great deal of improvement from earlier stuff to this one.

Posted Thu 15 Dec 2011 22:00:00 UTC Tags:

I screwed up my git-annex setup and to fix it I had to revert a merge, for which this blog post was useful:

Undoing Merges | Pro Git

As I use git more it’s sort of taking the place of Mercurial as my version control software of choice; it’s really cool just how much it can do so that your development process can go forward in the most appropriate way; git is flexible enough to let you do that. Since I don’t write code most of this is irrelevant though…

Posted Sat 17 Dec 2011 20:52:00 UTC Tags:

If the main argument of this book is correct, in what sense does it provide an answer to moral scepticism? I believe that no form of scepticism, whether epistemological or moral, can be shown to be impossible. The best one can do is to raise its cost, by showing how deep and pervasive are the disturbances of thought which it involves. —T. Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), p. 143

“Moral scepticism” refers, I think, to ‘why should I be moral?’ from the likes of Thrasymachus.

Posted Tue 20 Dec 2011 16:03:00 UTC Tags:

Volker Streisand | YouTube

This is the guy in charge of my degree course.

Posted Wed 21 Dec 2011 20:12:00 UTC Tags:

I do not consider it wrong to say ‘dice’ when one means a singular object; some think it’s wrong to not say ‘die’. This is because dice means both in the English language I speak, maybe it doesn’t for some others but somehow we manage to communicate… Playing a board game at a friend’s house today and I was the only one of five to hold this view on die/dice. This is fine.

However later on I complained about a pronunciation of a word; Ben got the word wrong to my ears. So he said, what a hypocrite Sean, you claiming that is wrong is just like us saying that singular ‘dice’ is wrong. My reply was that I didn’t think he was aiming to alter/evolve the language when pronouncing this word (can’t remember what) whereas mine was with dice, so I was just helping out. Not sure this works.

Is there a distinction between these two cases? I’ve always felt the die thing is ultra-hard to argue for but this case is causing me to revise this view a little.

Posted Thu 22 Dec 2011 23:53:00 UTC Tags:

My enthusiasm for Christmas is pretty much as low as it can get. I am currently making plans to either walk to the cathedral to ring for the service or attend a service at a radical church my grandfather is obsessed with, the point being that this will get me out of the house 9am–11am i.e. I avoid present giving and receiving. Not really sure why my feelings about this period of time are as strong as they are right now.

The things I like in the build up to Christmas, before the 25th, are looking sour now that I’m at home. The problem is that I have this stupid judgmental distaste for both of my parents’ lifestyles, for different reasons, and I let it get to me, and everything else looks worse than it should—compare to at university a few weeks ago, where I was enthusiastic about carols and decorations and whatever.

Posted Fri 23 Dec 2011 20:41:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve written many times before about the motivational collapse I’ve been working through for the past year. As any person of my age would do nowadays, I searched these issues up online, and at various points I have immersed myself into a world of writing and images about self-improvement, self-help, productivity, and more—there’s an industry around it, but from what I can tell while it is in places very misguided, most involved have the right intentions; it’s not an industry in the negative sense, and those doing it for a living are nothing worse than bloggers and authors.

continue reading this entry

Posted Fri 23 Dec 2011 22:29:00 UTC Tags:

My OpenVPN setup is in scratchy notes and config snippets in a text file; this nice-looking guide popped up in my RSS reader today and I thought I’d share it:

HOWTO: Using OpenVPN on Debian GNU/Linux | Uwe Hermann

Posted Sat 24 Dec 2011 19:40:00 UTC Tags:

I don’t usually make these. I have a list of self-improvement goals and I do a couple a month; often I then lapse, so a month or two later I do the same goal again to cement it. However it’s nice to have a few new years’ resolutions that are fairly ordinary, right? Here are some easy ones, then.

  • Only drink water and fruit juice except in a pub/bar/party (restaurants not included). I.e. cut out sugary soft drinks. I don’t actually drink them anyway so this is not too hard.
  • Stop eating sweet things except: after meals, when someone else offers it, in a coffee shop, and still allowed to buy sweets since I don’t do this very often anyway (but no more than once per week, but again I do that already). Crisps certainly not included.
  • (Edit 26/xii/2011) Also stop biting nails again; I managed this some months ago but then lost it, so time to do it again.
Posted Sun 25 Dec 2011 20:03:00 UTC Tags:

Gave myself a fright this morning when I came across this blog:

Project Invictus

As far as I can tell, this is what happens to someone when they take self-improvement to its utmost extreme. This guy says things like

The vast majority of people on earth have a weak, slave morality that whatever they are is good enough and that they will be loved and accepted for who they are. I never once gave a fuck about acceptance or love. My life’s purpose is to be better, faster, stronger that it is as a simple as that. None of my friends will ever understand.

The reason this frightens me is because in a recent post I talked a lot about self-improvement, arguing that always aiming to improve oneself without actually wanting the end results is a good way to live; I do not want to end up like this guy.

Posted Mon 26 Dec 2011 12:21:00 UTC Tags:

I actually put effort into a bop costume for once but I’m not sure quite how Ghost of Christmas Past turned into Generic Angel.

Posted Tue 27 Dec 2011 17:49:00 UTC Tags:

Pyblosxom 1.5 is finally out (and in fact 1.5.1), so I’ve upgraded this blog. The main thing I’ve been waiting for is a working pagination plugin, so this site should be much easier to move around now: there are next and previous links to find older entries without digging into the archive (and some entries completely inaccessible without the permalink are now linked).

I’ve also added a search boxes across the site, which make use of the excellent DuckDuckGo, and changed the way my /writing entries are managed. They are no longer linked to from the top of every page—I think this was a bit pretentious—and I’m also truncating what gets displayed on index pages with a “read more” link. This is to avoid massive walls of text on the front page, making it harder to navigate. Unfortunately I suspect this means that my RSS feeds won’t contain the full text of articles anymore, which is annoying, so sorry about that to the three people subscribed via RSS.

Posted Fri 30 Dec 2011 14:17:00 UTC Tags:

Recently got told off for using password-less SSH keys, with the excuse that they’re all stored on an encrypted hard drive—this isn’t even true anymore, though, since my desktop HDD isn’t encrypted like it used to be.

I’ve also learned that gpg-agent can also do SSH keys. Since I run gpg-agent all the time anyway for signing e-mail messages, it’s easy to have it doing SSH keys too. Using SSH agent forwarding, only my local machine has to see any keys. Anything from Emacs to a terminal SSHing out from my local machine will pop up an X11 password entry dialog (if the key isn’t cached already), and if I ssh from a remote machine to somewhere else, the same X11 dialog will pop up as the agent gets tunneled back automatically.

With the key only stored on two local machines, there’s no need for loads of SSH keys to selectively disable in the case of compromise: one for my two trusted machines, another for use with PuTTY on friends’ machines, and another for my git server on untrusted machines.

continue reading this entry

Posted Sat 31 Dec 2011 13:27:00 UTC Tags:

Meant to post this a few days ago.

Sir Michael Dummett obituary | The Guardian

Obituary has made me want to put more effort in to understand his intuitionistic philosophy of maths.

According to a friend Dummett founded my degree course, Maths & Philosophy.

Posted Sat 31 Dec 2011 16:04:00 UTC Tags:

The stubborn include the opinionated, the ignorant, and the boorish. The opinionated are as they are because of pleasure and pain. For they find enjoyment in winning [the argument] if they are not persuaded to change their views, and they feel pain if their opinions are voided, like decrees [in the Assembly]. Hence they are more like incontinent than like continent people. —Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, bk. VII

Posted Sat 31 Dec 2011 17:13:00 UTC Tags: