For House Fans

 Posted by on 31 July 2006 at 3:36 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 312006

Fred Weiss, reckless violator of the divine NoodleFood comment protocol, just posted this announcement:

I just found out that Hugh Laurie, the star of House, M.D., will be interviewed on “Inside the Actors Studio” tonight (Monday) at 8:00PM EST. on the Bravo channel. Sorry for the short notice but I just found out about it myself.

However don’t despair if you miss it tonight. First it will be repeated again on 8/5 and Bravo also regularly repeats episodes.

If you have TIVO, put it on your “Wish List”.

For his off-topic comment, Fred is hereby ordered to say at least “Hail Meatball” prayers confessing his sinful nature to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Update: Did anyone guess that I’ve been working on notes for my class on Divine Command Theory for my fall “Introduction to Ethics” course today?

Philosophical Hors d’Oeuvre

 Posted by on 31 July 2006 at 6:30 am  Uncategorized
Jul 312006

The newsletter of the Ayn Rand Institute, Impact, does not merely report upon the ever-growing successes of the Institute. Each issue also contains some philosophic meat, whether an interview with an ARI scholar (like Dr. Ghate or Dr. Mayhew) or an extract from a recent lecture or essay. I particularly enjoyed the two extracts from Dr. Tara Smith’s recent ARI lecture “Passing Judgment: Ayn Rand’s View of Justice” in the most recent issue. (That lecture is available for free to registered users on the ARI web site. The full lecture plus Q&A is available for purchase from the Ayn Rand Bookstore.)

The first extract, quoted below, concerns the importance of moral judgment — a topic near and dear to my heart. The second is a discussion of the ways in which egalitarianism subverts the proper demands of justice. Of course, both of these issues are covered in Dr. Smith new book Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. However, I haven’t read the chapter on justice yet: I was too busy to read anything at OCON, so I’m still in the middle of rationality. Moreover, I enjoy reading the isolated tidbits, since then I can more easily mull them over than if I’m plowing my way through a full book or lecture.

So here’s what Dr. Smith says about the importance of moral judgment, as extracted in Impact:

We are normally told that it’s wrong to judge. There’s an acute taboo against judging people; “judgmental” has become a dirty word. Yet the need for justice shows that you must exercise your judgment on other people in order to figure out how to deal with them.

One way of failing to be just is by deliberately depriving others of their deserts–stealing their money, violating contracts, rigging elections, or passing over a deserving candidate to give a promotion to a friend. These are the most conspicuous sorts of injustice. But another way of being unjust is by simply sitting back and never passing judgment in the first place. While this may not look as ugly or smell as foul, it is every bit as unjust and every bit as destructive.

Adopting a policy of being non-judgmental–” who am I to judge?”–or fence-sitting as an agnostic is incompatible with the demands of justice. As a statement, such a posture is a lie, and as an action (or more accurately, as a default on action), it is self-defeating. That policy would be dishonest insofar as it ignores the reality that individuals are different from one another and that those differences matter to your life. Such a policy would be self-defeating insofar as, by not condemning a person’s bad character or negative traits, you are lending those traits shelter, lending them oxygen–you are helping to sustain things that work against your interests. By the same token, by failing to acknowledge and encourage the good in others, you are depriving it of oxygen, of support that can help to sustain it.

Ayn Rand herself put this eloquently. Speaking of judging people’s moral character, she wrote: “When your impartial attitude declares, in effect, that neither the good nor the evil may expect anything from you–whom do you betray and whom do you encourage?” She proceeded to explain that to retreat into a “judge not” posture “is an abdication of moral responsibility; it is a moral blank check one gives to others in exchange for a moral blank check one expects for oneself.” (“How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?” from The Virtue of Selfishness) The fact is, we need to be discriminating. We need to judge others objectively, to be sure, but emphatically: we need to judge.

Ayn Rand denounced neutrality even more vividly: “To withhold your contempt from men’s vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement…” (Atlas Shrugged) Failing to condemn those who deserve it is counterfeiting insofar as it pretends that these people are better than they are, that they offer value–just as a person passing out counterfeit currency pretends that it has value. Correlatively, to withhold admiration from men’s virtues is embezzlement. It is taking something for nothing, without paying: you benefit from their virtues, but you offer nothing in exchange–not even your acknowledgment of their virtue. That is what a moocher does–a sponge, a freeloader; not a trader, who gives value for value.

The reason I think it’s useful to see the issue in these stark terms is that, when a person is tempted to that neutral posture, he doesn’t normally think that what he’s considering is anything like counterfeiting or embezzling; these are felonies, after all! The person simply thinks, “This guy isn’t really so impressive, he’s not so hot”; or: “I’m just being lenient, I’m cutting somebody a little slack.” Yet in fact, this is what’s going on. When you don’t judge and treat others objectively, you are engaging in a fraud.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Dr. Smith’s work in ethics is her persistent invitation to the reader to ask himself: How does this principle apply to my own life? Am I falling into any of these traps? How can I do better? She challenges her readers without threatening them. (That’s a delicate skill!)

Just so folks know, a subscription to Impact requires only a small donation to ARI. I’d strongly recommend a larger donation than the minimum, since ARI is doing so much great work promoting Objectivism in our culture. (Oh, and did I mention that our very own Don Watkins writes for Impact? He’s the Assistant Editor!)


 Posted by on 30 July 2006 at 9:20 am  Uncategorized
Jul 302006

Medical researchers are developing a clever new drug-delivery device called the “roboscallop“:

A device that mimics a sea scallop — propelling itself by alternately sucking and blowing — could one day carry drugs to hard-to-reach parts of the human body.

“Our motor has no moving parts and can be powered remotely with no connecting wires,” says Claus-Dieter Ohl, a physicist at the University of Twente in the Netherlands who led the team that built the device.

The so-called “roboscallop” consists of a tube a few millimetres long and about 750 microns in diameter that is closed at one end and contains a bubble of air. Submerging the tube in fluid and bombarding it with sound waves causes the bubble to expand and contract, alternately sucking and blowing liquid from one end of the tube. The process generates thrust because fluid enters the tube from a wide angle but is expelled as a narrow jet.

“It’s how a scallop moves,” explains team member Rory Dijkink. “When you watch our device, it looks as if it is making two steps forward and one step back.”…

Because the roboscallop is powered by sound waves, it needs no internal power source or connecting wires. “You could drive one inside the human body by placing the skin in contact with a loudspeaker,” says Ohl. The sound needed to drive the device is loud but bearable, the researchers say.

Anyone who’s seen Greg Salmieri’s eerily realistic imitation of a value-seeking scallop at his 2006 OCON course on Objectivist epistemology will know exactly how this works.

Oddly Forthcoming

 Posted by on 29 July 2006 at 1:32 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 292006

This just-published book looks … um … odd:

Then Athena Said: Unilateral Transfers and the Transformation of Objectivist Ethics by Kathleen Touchstone

According to Objectivist David Kelley, financier Michael Milken has done more for mankind than humanitarian Mother Teresa. Working from this statement, Then Athena Said examines Objectivism, a philosophy founded by Ayn Rand, and ultimately concludes, in opposition to essential claims of Objectivism, that other people are a fundamental part of reality. In making this claim, Then Athena Said reconsiders Objectivism’s central social tenet, the Trader Principle, which dictates the bilateral exchange of value for value between independent equals; elevates “reproductivity” to be on par with productivity, Objectivism’s central virtue; and derives a “heuristic” for charitable giving. Relying, in part, upon economic theory, decision theory under uncertainty, and game theory, Then Athena Said examines unilateral transfers–including charity, childrearing, bequests, retribution, gifts, favors, forgiveness, and various infringements against persons or property–within the Objectivist framework.

Let’s just say that I’m not rushing out to Amazon to blow $50 on it. (Hat tip: Ari Armstrong.)


 Posted by on 29 July 2006 at 7:35 am  Uncategorized
Jul 292006

Late last night, Paul and I were laying in bed in the dark, talking various nonsense before going to sleep. At some point (and don’t ask how this topic came up), Paul suggested that mouthguard fetish might be a Googlewhack (i.e. a Google search for those terms would yield just one result). I thought that was an absurd suggestion: the web is brimming with pages catering to people’s bizarre sexual desires. So I suggested that the search would yield over 1,000 hits. After much negotiating about the terms of the bet, Paul fired up his lovely new Palm T/X to Google for it.

So what did the Google of mouthguard fetish yield? 1,370 results!

Ha! I win! (And what did I win? Nothing more than public bragging rights.)

Funny Product Page

 Posted by on 28 July 2006 at 6:56 pm  Funny
Jul 282006

While I was searching for laptop accessories on the web site, I ran across a very strange item called “Big Cat Hunting Stilts” (“Big cats – make sure you and your loved-ones don’t go hungry with the Proporta hunting stilts”) selling for $1,000,000.00. Really, go see for yourself. The item description is damn funny. (I particularly loved the bit about the forthcoming “Giraffe Inline Skates.”)

Crazy Story of the Day

 Posted by on 28 July 2006 at 3:15 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 282006

Katie Allison Granju offers us an amazing tale of parental misbehavior. (What kind of batshit crazy mother would drop her five year old off at a horse show as if it’s a day care center?!?)


 Posted by on 28 July 2006 at 12:17 pm  Jimmy Wales
Jul 282006

My friend Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has finally reached the pinnacle of celebrity with this merciless article from The Onion.

Dell Axim for Sale

 Posted by on 27 July 2006 at 4:14 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 272006

I’m selling my almost-new Dell Axim X51 on eBay.

Why? Personally, I hated it in comparison with the Palm for a hundred different reasons. However, if you’re looking for an Axim, you can get a barely-used one at a steep discount from a reliable seller!

The Black Hole of Memory

 Posted by on 27 July 2006 at 7:55 am  Uncategorized
Jul 272006

My memory is desperately in need of an overhaul: it’s not adequately performing its basic function of remembering particulars.

I keep myself reasonably well-organized in my tasks and appointments, largely thanks to the good advice of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. The essence of his technique is to dump the mass of stuff that you’re trying to remember to do out of your memory and into an external organizer like Outlook. That way, you can be confident of using your time well, since you’re actually aware of all that you’re choosing not to do at any given moment. So I use at little memory as possible to keep myself organized.

Mostly, I desperately need to increase my retention of intellectual material, particularly of the multitude of books and articles I read. Often, I’ll write about some particularly interesting bit of a book, whether in my “musings” file or on NoodleFood, precisely so that I’ll remember it. I’m also far more likely to remember topics discussed with Paul, so I deliberately do that with interesting tidbits too. With lectures, I’ll often note interesting ideas on my digital recorder, then transcribe those comments into my “musings” file later.

However, that’s not enough: I’m still losing way too much down the black hole of memory.

In an attempt to increase my retention of the basic ideas in my readings, I just started writing one-sentence chapter summaries of books. (That technique was suggested by Jean Moroney, if I recall correctly.) After I finish a chapter, I look it over, distill it down to an essential theme, then write that at the start of the chapter. Once I’m finished with the book, I’ll type all those chapter headings into a “books” file, not only so that they’re reviewable and searchable, but also so as to further solidify them into memory.

I’ve already noticed an interesting benefit to that technique: as I read a chapter, I’m far more aware of the relationship between the various parts of the material. Knowing that I’ll need to condense the chapter, I ask myself: How does this point fit with what was discussed earlier? How it is related to the subject of the chapter? In other words, I’m consciously integrating the material as I read.

I think I’ll be able to use this technique retroactively. I plan to skim the books that I’ve read over the past year and some, essentializing each chapter, then typing it into a file. In general, I probably also ought to take notes of interesting points (e.g. examples of philosophic principles) on my digital recorder as I read. I can include those in the same file as my chapter summaries.

I’d also like to strengthen my capacity for rote memorizing. I need to more easily memorize the names of my students, key dates, places, and people in history, and vocabulary and grammar in foreign languages. Right now, I suck at all of that — and I’m sure some clever techniques would help me retain that material.

Oh, and in my teaching and lecturing, I’d like to be able to rely less upon notes than I currently do. For example, this comment upon memorization from Steve Pavlina intrigued me:

These techniques [i.e. the visualization techniques of pegging and chaining] will allow you to memorize information very rapidly. For example, with pegging I could usually memorize a list of 20 items in about 90 seconds with perfect recall even weeks later. Experts at this are faster. Anyone can do it — it’s just a matter of training yourself.

I still use these techniques today. Chaining allows me to memorize my speeches visually. When I give a speech, my imagination runs through the visual movie I’ve created while I select words on the fly to fit the images. It’s like narrating a movie. My speech isn’t memorized word for word, so it sounds natural and spontaneous and can be adapted on the fly to fit the situation. Memorizing visually is much faster and more robust than trying to memorize words. If you memorize a speech word for word and forget a line, it can really throw you off. But with a series of images, it’s easier to jump ahead to the next frame if make a mistake.

Intriguingly, those techniques sound very similar to those used by the mnemonist in Aleksandr Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist. To learn them, Mr. Pavlina recommends The Memory Book. Since that’s also very highly rated on Amazon, I’ve already bought that; it’s on its way. (He also recommends this “Memory Master” site. I haven’t looked at that yet.)

However, I’d be interested to hear any suggestions that my readers might have for increasing the efficiency and capacity of memory. Since The Memory Book seems to deal mostly with rote memorization, I’d be particularly interested in techniques for remembering conceptual material.

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