Strange Spirals – turtle graphics

The first programming language I ever learned (assuming you don’t count HTML) was MSWLogo, so recently I decided to give turtle graphics another visit, to see if I could “draw” something interesting

I would have instal MSWlogo, but sadly I’m on linux at the moment. I went on to shelly.dev, which, to be fair, I think is better than scratch at teaching kids to program. However, it turns out variables are all constants in shelly, which meant I couldn’t try what I had in mind. In the end, I caved and wrote this up in python:

from turtle import *
import time

foo = 1
zoom = 1 # 1 minimum
steps = 200

speed(0)
for i in range(0, steps):
    forward(int(foo/zoom))
    right(foo % 360)
    
    foo+=1
    
time.sleep(1000)

All it really does, is move forward a bit, then move right a bit, then do both a bit more, both a bit more, etc.

This draws what initially looks to me like an ugly germ of some kind:

If I let the program carry on. It spirals out, and it roodly crosses right over the original circle:

Zoom a little further out (50) and you realise things It was building another one

Then a third (notice the crossover):

And they keep on getting bigger

The bigger they get, the more they seem to interfere with each other:

And so on. I thought it was pretty cool!

Are all technologies good?

People sometimes catastrophize about how we would rebuild technology after an apocalypse, but have you ever wondered whether we would want to?

A common argument present in American politics is on whether or not a gun is a reasonable weapon for a normal person to own, but few disagree that a normal person shouldn’t own a powerful bomb. Yet there are non-fatal cases where a powerful bomb might be helpful, like clearing way for a road. But the risk in letting every person have a bomb isn’t worth the reward gained from the few times he needs to clear way for a road. Not all technology is a good idea, and we can reasonably avoid a technology that, though it has some benefits, costs too much to justify them.

In the same way that we critically evaluate the road-clearing bomb, and need not feel “backwards” or “blind” for banning it. Perhaps we should also look at other technologies with a similar approach: Is the benefit gained from this really worth the cost?


  • Is the connections the internet provides a suitable gain from the cost of the superficial ‘signal’ with which we connect to them?
  • Is the wealth of information the internet provides a suitable benefit for the lack of personal competence that it trains one to have?
  • Is the death (and financial cost) caused by cars suitable offset by their usefullness?
  • Is the pleasure of TV worth the cost of the habits it encourages?

Of course, these questions need not be answered by destroying or removing a technology on a societal level, but maybe there are less radical answers (like altering one’s personal life a smidge). It’s worth realising that not all technology is neccessarily good, or unquestionable.

n.b. This whole train of thought came from this article: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/36Dhz325MZNq3Cs6B/the-amish-and-strategic-norms-around-technology

Should one read the news?

Until I read NN Taleb’s The Black Swan (related article linked), I thought of not reading the news as a way to stay sane, or cool off – but never as an intentional long term strategy. On reading it, I’ve began to wonder whether it may end up giving one a less warped view of the world.

Why do we read the news?

We read the news to understand what’s going on in the wider world. It is, in some sense, an extension of turning the light on – you do it so that you don’t bump into things. It’s not always clear just by looking out the window in what direction the world is currently going. So you read the news out of prudence.

It’s worth considering what pecentage of the things that the news reports actually affect one. Does knowing that Borris Johnson is going to fund more infrastructure next year visibly affect you? I suppose it could affect you invisibly – the kind of thing you only see if you know it’s there. Perhaps it would be a good self-experiment to pick the top 10 articles on a news source and consider how informative they are to you.

Note that this assumes that there was no other way of finding said facts out. You could also do this by relying on other people who read the news. This would make the amount of time you waste on filtering out the useful news much shorter, assuming your friends are equal to, or better at that. However, you might consider this leeching and not actually contributing.

Of course, if you actually derive pleasure from reading the news, then you are affected positively anyway. Pure interest could be used to justify almost any pursuit.

Harp Insurance

Let’s say that the most expensive thing in your house was a harp. That harp costs £11,000 or a year of your pay. There is a man offering a policy that costs £10 a month to insure said harp gainst theft.

There is a very low chance that this will happen, say 1/200. You live in a fairly trustworhty neighbourhood, and lock doors when you go out. However, if it does happen, you’ve lost a years pay of value (not to mention how attached you were to that harp). So, despite the low probability, becuase said theft is so damaging, you might very well pay that ten pound a month, in fear of that ever happening. [1]

So, can we argue that the news is an example of a small loss, but potential big save? If you read the news every day, is there a fractional chance that it can save your life, or maybe even a quarter of your life (here I’m using a broad definition of “life”).

However, as with the harp, you may think harder about insurance for £100 or £1000 a month. At some point, you lose more potential value than you gain. Assuming you reckon the news is worth anything, at what point (1 hour, 2 hours) are you actually making a “net loss” in terms of value gained?

It’s also worth noting that no metter how much you value this potential gain, you do get diminishing returns from each minute of time used reading the news (assuming you start with the most relevant articles first).

The problem of warping

If I understand Taleb correctly, which I’m never quite sure I do (one reason why he’s so fun to read), there isn’t even a question of initial value from reading the news. News is highly selective based on it’s very nature – so presents a very real warped image of the world. The worst modern tragedies, like abortion, or starvation in 3rd world countries, are replaced by political arguments. One begin’s to form the impression that “MP X accusing MP Y of being a mysoginist” is really “what’s happenning” in the world. Wehn ofcourse, it’s not what’s happenning – or what is really changing – what might really affect you in 3 years time is likely something much slower, ignored due to lack of drama.

One intersting thing about this idea is, unlike some modern arguments that reporting has become worse over the last 20 years, more biased, etc. Taleb doesn’t even consider our current circumstance. He reckons that the whole process of news-making is rotten from the core. This reminds me a little of the moral from “The pen and the Plow” episode of Little house on the prarie: https://littlehouse.fandom.com/wiki/Episode_508:_Harriet%27s_Happenings

I’d like to think that reporting isn’t rotten from the core, or atleast there’s some way to reframe it to make it less so. I like reading, and I like writing – so there you go – I be biased!

So, should we read the news?

I don’t know. I suppose I will, every so often, but hope not to make a routine of it, for the primary reason that it’s mostly a waste of time. Wasting time is all well and good for the sake of relaxation and entertainment, but I don’t find the news high on the list of things that have those qualities!


References:

  1. Note that this argument is a rewrite from NN Taleb’s Antifragile book (near the end of book 4, I think).

March 2021 Links

Greyscale for lent: https://thecatholictraveler.com/grayscale-for-lent/

A strange rant on the Guardian on Milton Kenes: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/20/50-reasons-love-milton-keynes-concrete-cows-wd-40

Cardinal Manning’s Sermons (which are quite hard to make out in their original hand): http://pitts.emory.edu/collections/digitalcollections/mss002.cfm#catholicsermons

An article on First Things “When amazon erased my book”: https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/02/when-amazon-erased-my-book

Paul Graham on being a “great hacker”: http://www.paulgraham.com/gh.html

Draughts like games

Lines of Action

An almost go-like game – one has to connect all of one’s pieces into one blob. The wierd thing about this game is you can only move relative to the number of pieces on the line in which you are moving. Like Mahjong, this is a game I love when I’ve played, but am waiting for more opportunities to play.


Amazons

For those who know it, I reckon this can be best described as reverse two player Sokoban.

For those who don’t, here is an image of Sokoban from wikipedia:

As you can probably make out, that chap is doing his best to get all the boxes in the right places, but is limited by the boxes themselves. Well Amazon’s is like that, except that every time you move, you add a blocking piece, and once added, they don’t move. You are simply trying to be the one to move last!


And now for a game I’ve never played. Listed in Sid Sackson’s Gamit is a game called Crossings – which looks to my like a suitable replacement for draughts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossings_(game)

Unlike draughts, it takes 16 pieces per side. It’s movement rule sounds a little like Lines of Action (above) in that it’s relative.


That’s all for now. I’ve not played as many strange draughts variants as I have chess variants.

If you’re looking for a longer list of draughtsy games, this one looks good: https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/224241/games-you-can-play-just-unmodified-americanenglish

Also it turns out all the Games in Sid Sackson’s Gamut are also listed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Gamut_of_Games

What I will miss about the lockdowns

What I will miss

The common plight

It was a change having something in common with everybody I saw walking down the street. It did mean that "the world" wasn’t the world anymore, but the world with the corona filter on. The other day, I was talking to a chap about his ironing board. He mentioned how he bought it before he "started working from home". I barely knew this guy, but we both knew what that meant and what it was like. I’m not saying "working from home" was that dramatic – just that it’s nice to have a shared experience with random strangers.

Enjoying a crowd

Two years ago, I would walk to town on a Saturday, and sometimes avoided the high street. I guess it was nothing like London, but I think I avoided it for similar reasons that people avoid the underground there. Now, I appreciate the crowd. I enjoy listening to people talking around me, walking around, entertaining themselves; not being too busy. It feels human. Perhaps this pleasure in a crowd will fade. But hopefully, I’ve learned a certain sympathy for humanity in general. I feel like CS Lewis (Four Loves) probably had a word for that. Perhaps something like "philanthropy", in the old sense anyway.

The absences

The lack of a thing can make life simpler – it helps you make room for something else which you may have been missing. Perhaps it can make life better. To some degree, this coronatide was like a long lent; A lent from going to the office; a lent from the cinema, the pub, the societies – It simplified life, and made some things hard, but it also improved a sense of "taste" – an appreciation for things. May we never forget the good things!

I was originally going to add a section of things here that I won’t miss, but those aren’t yet distant enough for me to bit them good riddance (mid March 2021). I’m sure you can imagine one or two things :)

Of course, a large event like this is unlikely to not have long term effects. Some of this stuff may be around for a while yet, and may even alter the odd long term thing. Ah well!

Solitaire Board games I’d recommend

Playing board games with other people is generally preferable, but in case that isn’t an option, and you also don’t want to play video games or learn to juggle, perhaps you will find the following list helpful.


Endless Nightmare – This is one of those print and play games. It also seems a little pointless, at first. The idea of a game you can never win. However, there’s somethign fascinating about playing it anyway. Perhaps it’s just the writing, but I found it very immersive. The terror of the random nightmare I was facing seemed real.

Perhaps this game can be a resource for somebody trying to find non-fatal ways of learning to face fear. I haven’t really explored that idea yet, but the game is good nonetheless.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/148450/endless-nightmare


Delve – the Dice Game – A solid yahtzee-like game with a good adventure theme. I love engine building games, and I love dice. I have yet to play a multiplayer dice builder that I enjoy as much as Dominion, but that solution has near been found in the solitaire realm. There are of course various non-fantasy reskins of this game (like the mec one) but I didn’t bump into one with such good art work, and I reckon aesthetics counts for a lot in a game.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/43691/delve-dice-game


Calculation Solitaire – For some reason, I thought of the most traditional of the three last. Calculation solitaire is a game you can play with a normal deck of cards. It consist in counting in ones, twos, threes, and fours. I like how it uses clocking even if it’s in a very straightfoward way. It’s also quite hard. I’m not sure I’ve ever won it.

https://www.semicolon.com/Solitaire/Rules/Calculation.html


If you find the list rather short – that makes two of us!

Why Structure in Poetry Matters

If you were about to be teleported to a desert island, and you could only bring one book, what would it be? Two more constraints: No purely pragmatic answers (like SAS 101), or the books that are actually multiple books (like the bible).

Perhaps you should consider bringing an old book of poetry.

I recently listened to a speaker who pointed out that books don’t only feel like they have more in them than blog posts, or talk shows – they also technically do. If you count the number of hours that an author and editor (typically) spend on a book, and compare it to that of a blog post, even if you adjust it for word count, you’ll notice that more time went into the former. The sentences may look the same, but more care has gone into them – they are probably better sentences.

With old poetry, there was the problem that very few could read, but they could still benefit from hearing poems. They could further benefit from knowing poems, and sharing them. They are a form of entertainment, and potential source of wisdom. So naturally, because memory is so finite, and slow to input, one would take more care to arrange the words of a poem. The composition would become denser.

More clearly, the poem would have been arranged in a way that makes it easier to remember. This can be done with shortcuts within the poem – links between lines that give one clues as to what the next line is. Rhyming is an example of one of these links. Syllable count, rythm, alliteration, etc. – All these structural cues help memory – and make for a longer lasting poem.

It could be argued that due to the advent of literacy, this memorisation is no longer neccessarry, and neither is the structure that it relies on. To a degree this is true. Good, interesting, modern poems exist in free verse that provide entertainment and wisdom. However, it is worth suggesting to those who completely discount memory to actually try memorising a poem. You quickly realise that you never really read the poem deeply. Forced by the challenge, you notice every single word, and how it contributes to the poem. The argument for memorising poetry should be sat the shelf next to the argument for wearing glasses – it sharpens your vision.

12 Rules for Life – chapter thoughts

This isn’t a review of Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life. I already rate the book highly, and encourage those who are interested to read it. Instead, these are some thoughts on each chapter of the book.

1 – Stand Straight With Your Shoulders back

I think he has a point – how you carry yourself is important – but this is not my favorite chapter. It does make human beings come across as very animistic. Of course, we are, to a degree – and I do encourage anybody with bad posture to start finding small ways to improve it (n.b. don’t forget to keep your shoulders back and relaxed, and breathe with your stomach!)

2 – Treat yourself as somebody who you’re responsible for helping

Although I think this is a solid rule, it is also the trickiest in the book. Perhaps this is more of a modern problem, but I think there is a common understanding that one should only care for others (and not for oneself).

It’s useful to point out that “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” [Matthew 22:39] is not a quantity, but an equation. One should love one’s neighbor as much as oneself, and oneself as much as one’s neighbor.

Then, of course, there are quotes like this: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” [John 15:13]. This isn’t a contradiction of the golden rule, but it does contrast. One could lay ones life down for one’s friend – simply because you can’t both be laying your life down for each other (now there’s a thought). It’s also worth pointing out that the word “friend” is used here, and not just “neighbor”. Perhaps one shouldn’t be laying down one’s life for one’s enemies? But isn’t that what Christ did? And what about returning good for bad (as a way of “heaping coals on people’s head” – an expression I always found a bit odd) ?

I’m sure there is a balanced way of viewing this principle, that does result in the kind of psychological damage Peterson finds in people who’ve seemingly lived for others but, instead of becoming saint like, have become pale, weak and broken people. Peterson has a point. There’s a sense in which not telling somebody “Stop burning the brocolli. It makes me sick” (not a personal example, I might add!) is cowardice. Perhaps it’s because the people who “do charity” wrong forget to let go of the sorrow, and let it fester and become passive aggresiveness, or just resentment in general.

3. Make friends with people who want the best for you

This sounds nice, but it’s worth noting that it also means not making friends with people who don’t want the best for you. I reckon this is fair enough. You can “will the good of” (i.e. love) somebody and spend time caring for them, without being a friend. A friend is somebody you trust, who trusts you. And you can’t trust everybody – that’s just foolish; nor can you keep track of too many people to trust.

This quote reminds me a little of “You Can’t Soar Like An Eagle When You Surround Yourself With Turkeys” (which I first heard from Andrew Price, Blender Guru). That quote was presented as a way to grow as an artist. It’s a harsh quote. Sometimes one’s friends are turkeys. One can relate to the turkeys. The “eagles” of the art world may seem like a bunch of workaholics in comparison. However, Peterson’s phrasing of this principle is really a bit more thoughtful. “Those who want the best for you” are not necessarily on the same level of competence as you. Competence isn’t even brought up. It’s just people who care about you, and want you to grow. This makes the people who you don’t make friends with, because they don’t want the best for you sound worse. They either want you to stay as unfinished as you are, or get worse. So, they are not simply unfortunate, like the turkeys may be. They chose ill will. So fair enough: Don’t befriend them – though one can “will their good”.

4. Compare yourself with who you were yesterday (and not other people)

It’s funny, really. There is an understanding that one of the problems with the modern era is how self-serving people have become. But the demand for Peterson’s ideas, the antidote he is providing, seems to be for people who have quite the opposite problem – people who have begun to despair, either in their own lives or in the world. Maybe this is because with the loss of structure, people have gone to all sorts of extremes, not just that of overconfident egoism.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” ― CS Lewis

The above doesn’t quite contradict rule 4, but it does make it smaller. If one thinks of oneself less, then one has less time to compare oneself with who one was yesterday. However, it doesn’t make sense to become totally blind to oneself. After all, one isn’t guaranteed to end up good, so it seems prudent to keep track of oneself and at least ensure that one is growing, and not slipping.

Another quote I like to turn to is the old:

“know thyself” (Greek: γνῶθι σεαυτόν, transliterated: gnauthi seauton)

So perhaps the saints who eventually become so not-self-aware as to fatally injure themselves by riding into a tree (i.e. Thomas Aquinas) started with a degree of self-awareness. Though I get the impression, in Aquinas’s case, that he probably ended up acting out the Lewis quote more than “gnauthi seauton”.

Here’s a contrasting article that suggests that comparing one’s-self with others is actually a demonstrable way of improving: Art of manliness on the value of competing with others

5. Don’t let your kids do things that makes you dislike them

This is possibly my favorite chapter in the book – it’s full of enjoyable anecdotes of Peterson’s adventures in parenting – my favorite involves a malicious kid on a climbing frame, in a park that Peterson was visiting with his daughter. I’ll leave you to look up the ending.

6 – Set your house in order before you set out to change the world

This chapter isn’t really talking about that rule as much as: Humanity has it’s dark side, and one should be careful to avoid the kind of thing that leads to that. It’s also a bit of a strange rule, because one’s house is never really in order – and Peterson also criticizes the draconic coaster-waving housewife, who keeps her house so orderly, that said it’s oppressive to be in.

I agree that both extremes should be avoided, but does that mean that one should never set out to change the world? Probably. Perhaps a better strategy would be to, when one’s domain becomes peaceful, to raise one’s sights just a little, and slowly grow one’s domain. And sure, some may eventually end up expanding said domain so much that they effectively “change the world” (like Peterson himself) – but this must be difficult to do whilst keeping ones house in check.

7 – Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient

I’m still not really sure what these words mean. Expedient seems to be defined as “convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral”. Okay, so don’t be immoral. Pursue what is meaningful? So I guess “don’t be a miser”?

I find a clearer way of phrasing this is “do things that are good in the long term, and not only in the short term”. Of course, a thing might be good in the short term and in the long term – but I can’t think of any examples right now.

This idea lends itself well to learning to pursue delayed gratification strategies. Not drinking tea for a day really makes the next tea one drinks taste a lot better. I like the idea of the new “fasting diet” fad which is going around, at least but for the psychological effect of growing ones willpower.

It also lends itself to having a hard but helpful job, saving money, physical exercise, and brushing one’s teeth – all of examples of activities considered to be responsible things to do.

8 – Tell the truth (or at least don’t lie)

As a principle, this rule is my favorite in the book. Lying is easy, and even small lies slowly grow, reaching to infect more of one’s thoughts and words. Pruning these lies out of one’s life is a hard, long process. However, slowly clearing this out does make things simpler, and thus clearer. I might add that I don’t think being blunt is the same as being perfectly truthful. Sure, being slapped with the truth is better than being kissed with a lie, but being patted with the truth, if at all possible, is better still.

When I was a little boy, I was told to “think twice before speaking”. The thing is, I’m not sure I remember even thinking the first time, let alone scheduling a second in! I wasn’t able to do much with this thread of wisdom, no matter how guilty I felt when I forgot to use it. I wonder if this approach isn’t really too helpful for children. Maybe they need to be told the specific truth they were missing which made everything sound so off.

“I admire that honesty, Nattie. That’s a noble quality. Never lose that” – Mrs. Doubtfire (Robin Williams)

9. Assume that whoever you’re listening to knows something you don’t

This chapter starts by talking about types of conversations that don’t work. I find this kind of thing is incredibly useful. Conversation is not just talking – it is a skill more complex than dancing, that can be developed. I recommend Brett McKay’s various attempt to break this art down, like this article.

10. Be Precise in your speech

Really, this is a continuation of rule eight. Telling the truth in a better way consists of telling it in the small strokes as well as the big ones. For example: Learning how to write well is a mentally rewarding process, even if you never intend to be a writer – you really do sharpen your thought, sometimes finding and resolving contradictions one never knew were there. For those who still haven’t done it, I continue to recommend Peterson’s self authoring course, a structured way to order ones thoughts about one’s own past, present and future – or at least some of the big ones.

11 – Don’t bother children when they are skateboarding

This chapter starts by talking about the utility of danger in the development of a child. When I was two years old, my dad used to throw me up in the air. For some reason, it’s generally the father who feels the draw to play with babies this way. Mothers are more protective, and also focus on developing different aspects of a child’s character. In a similar vein, this chapter continues this train of thought by delving into the differences between men and women.

I might also add that I recently tried skateboarding a little. Nothing too extravagant, just tic-tac-ing, and ollie, and slowly going higher on a ramp – it’s good fun. I can see why Peterson picked skateboarding. It’s definitely dangerous, even at its primitive level. But it is also quite exhilarating. The awareness of the danger coupled with the drive to keep going really does make one sharp – a sharpness that can be hard to find elsewhere in modern life.

12 – Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

I have a bit of a thing against pets, mainly because I see them as modern (or millennial) replacements for children, which I find really sad. However, pets are nice to have. Feeding a baby lamb is really rather nice. I also like the idea that dogs help retired elderly stay able, by forcing them to get up and go for walks.

There is something about petting a cat or a dog that brings one “down to earth”. I have a high opinion of “down to earth” people – they are understandable and clear – and less apt to make the end up in the kind of messes that abstracted people end up in. So I agree: Pet a cat dog when you encounter one in the street :)


Needless to say, I’m looking forward to March when Jordan Peterson’s next book comes out. I’ll be satisfied if it contains at least half of the wisdom that this one offers.

My favorite fiction books

I found this list surprisingly hard to write. I don’t read as much fiction as I’d like, and the fiction I do read, I rarely like enough to consider it a favourite. However, the following are:


Dracula – Bram Stoker – I aggree with the criticism that vapires are one of the more cringy teenage obsessions of the late 00’s. However, this is not that kind of vampire. The thing that struck me the most about this book is that it was somehow both very old, and a page turner. I love the fact that it’s all framed in letters, from multiple perspectives.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen – I rarely laugh out loud when reading (though I also did with Jennings), but this has many a laugh out loud moment. It’s fun, witty, and somewhat wise too.

Till we Have Faces – by CS Lewis – A very strange story. It takes place in an alien (not ET) pagan society with cultural mores that don’t make much sense. I’ll leave it at that, but it’s a favourite for a reason.


I know – ’tis a short list!