Leading H

hat, hay, hell, hint, honey, horrible words I’ve only ever heard pronounced with the h sound
historic, huge, human words I’ve almost always heard pronounced with the h sound
herb, homage words I’ve heard pronounced both ways with fair frequency
“h” (name of the letter), heir words I’ve almost always heard pronounced with a silent h
honest, hour words I’ve only ever heard pronounced with a silent h

Pretentious Sophisticated spelling tip: Use “lit half”.

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Floor

I like Floor Plans, Art, Jansen, Pi, and Zero Tunnels.

Floor Ottomen are prime entertainment.

Three Razors for Efficient Filler and Bullshit Removal

“We have robust networks of strategic assets that we own or have contractual access to, which give us greater flexibility and speed to reliably deliver widespread logistical solutions.” —Enron Annual Report a year before Enron filed for bankruptcy

A lot of people say a lot of words. Unfortunately, many people are often not conveying any substance through those words, often due to failure in communication, but sometimes on purpose, where the only reason for those words are to convince the audience of an elevated status of professionalism, morality, or other desirable trait, or to cherry-pick parts of an event to interpret in a desired light. Following is a means to filter speech to cut to actual substance in statements. In the extreme case, applying them will reveal that someone is saying nothing at all, merely flapping their lips.

When someone makes a statement for which a peer would just not voluntarily claim the opposite, no statement was actually made.

All such a person has said is what people knew someone in that position would’ve said in regards to the issue anyway.

When people make political or motivational speeches, they say many things for which they would take a certain side regardless what they actually thought; if they said that it would ruin their career or their standing, or work against their purpose. When this happens, you can’t tell whether they’re saying the such because they genuinely believe it or because they’re saying it to protect their position. The more unokay or outlandish the opposite statement is considered, the more indistinguishable the motivation for the statement is, and correspondingly the less predictable what action a person would really take or encourage is when it comes their turn to interact with the subject at hand with actions instead of words.

Here are some examples of this sort of empty statement:

We seek to carry out this operation with minimal collateral damage.

Follow your dreams; follow your passion.

We are aiming for the state of the art in technological infrastructure.

The government has no right to disallow a woman from having an abortion. (when said by a Democratic US politician)

The government has no right to require background checks on gun sales. (when said by a Republican US politician)

Note that the last two statements would not at all be empty statements if said by Republican and Democratic politicians, respectively; it would probably significantly hurt their political careers as a member of their party to claim the opposite. Thus if they did in fact make the opposite statement, then they are making a significant statement, as they apparently think the risk to their career is worth making the statement (ditto if rather than them making the opposite statement, it’s someone from across the aisle making the original statement).

The second statement among the five examples is empty contingent on the fact that the currently predominant advice to preach is to follow one’s dreams and passions. (And thus, “don’t follow your passion” is a substantial statement, and has been the core idea of several opinion articles one could find in the press.) If over time the voices of society shift such that the standard is to tell people to not follow their dreams and passions, then which statement is the empty statement could change.

In the previous US democratic presidential primary debates, when Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley endorsed a $15/hour minimum wage, but Hillary Clinton explicitly endorsed a $12/hour minimum wage in contrast to Sanders and O’Malley, Clinton was arguably making a larger statement than Sanders and O’Malley. She gave the number that is not the number most commonly heard chanted by the democratic crowd, and in doing so, she is hinting towards having reason to believe a $15/hour minimum wage is not a sound choice for the country.

Elsewhere in those debates, when Sanders claimed a differing opinion from Clinton regarding the acceptability of Henry Kissinger’s choices, Sanders was making a substantial statement, and if Clinton proceeded to defend her endorsement of Kissinger’s ideas, she would’ve also been making a substantial statement, since the goodness of Kissinger’s legacy is still a matter with substantial backing of both sides.

One doesn’t need to be able to back up one’s statement upon claiming what the crowd utters. One likely will need to when they claim against the crowd. (Or at least, they’ll need to be bluffing on an ability to back up their statement. See: conspiracy theories.)

Some people and organizations only ever say non-statements, or get quite close to that. When they do, it is important to remember that even though they may sound nice and sophisticated, you really have learned nothing about them, and you actually have no idea what they really do, so you should stay away from them.

It’s important to remember that even though pathological spewers of non-statements are usually at least in part at fault for wasting others’ time and attention, there is a substantial contribution of societal norm. An uptick in empty statements reflects a significant monolithification of society, and that people are making fewer bold claims because too much of society supports a certain idea, which usually means a substantial amount of society is providing support without awareness of the true background on context of an idea.

Here’s two similar razors with which to consider proclamations:

Someone who consistently reports on an entity taking an action and consistently does not report on that entity taking the opposite action prioritizes depicting the entity in a certain light over conveying the facts.

If the same claim would have been made regardless of the outcome of an event, there was no point in associating the claim with the event, and the real reason the claim was made was the likely effect of the association in the mind of the reader.

Two JavaScript Challenges

Challenge 0: Find a value of type number to assign to n such that

[n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n].map(parseInt);

evaluates to an array of size 12 containing 4 distinct elements: one appearing 5 times, one appearing 4 times, one appearing twice, and one appearing once.

Challenge 1: Find a value of type number to assign to n such that

[n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,\
n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,\
n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,\
n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,\
n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n].map(parseInt);

evaluates to an array of size 60 containing 14 distinct elements.

The Game of Subofniqlet

([sə’bɒfnɪˌklɛt])

Here’s a game. The challenge: try to communicate a reference to a long string of text (maybe all the elements of a certain set, or even an entire book) with only one string, such that:

  • The string consists of only letters in the text: no spaces or punctuation, or its equivalents. (for instance, the 26 letters of the English alphabet, for books or speeches in English)
  • No letter is used more than once.
  • The string is a subsequence of the text; that is, the letters appear in the text, in that order, possibly with more letters in between.

So, for a given input, someone seeks a subsequence consisting of unique letters that hopefully communicates an idea to others.

As an example,

cerimpasnodylut

is probably a fairly good string to reference the lanthanides, with ‘cerim’, ‘pas’, ‘nody’, and ‘lut’ referring respectively to the first, second, third, and last lanthanides.

Here’s some other strings you may be able to recognize.

itwasbeofm

opangmstyle

wethpolfunidsa

bulivenharmzdsqwctp

whtefuckdiyojsabm

onyfearitsl

And here’s a really far stretch:

amnplc

Jarring Lack of Theme

When one is giving creative names to a set of related entities, one tends to expect a theme. A theme in the names gives a sense of cohesion to the various parts of a unit.

Street names make a particularly good example of theme-naming. Check out, for instance, the clear naming themes going on in these two places.

astronomy

animals

Sometimes, however, a situation really looks like there should be a theme, and one can’t find one. In these cases, it’s easy to believe there’s just no theme intended or that there’s some theme one’s missing, but occasionally it just seems unsettling that a set of entities does not have a theme.

Continue reading “Jarring Lack of Theme”

Failures in Referential Nomenclature

Suppose you heard the term “inaccessible island rail”. What do you think this term refers to? When I heard it, my mind conjured an image of a train line that connected really inaccessible islands.

And that sounds weird. Did someone undertake a project just to create such a rail line? It sounds incredibly costly. And it also sounds like it’d be something cool enough that I would’ve heard about it by now. Nevertheless, what else could this term refer to?

It turns out that a rail is a type of bird. Go figure. So it’s a type of bird that only lives in really remote islands. That makes much more sense than the train situation. Okay.

Except that that isn’t even specifically what this species of bird is. It is a species of rail that only lives on one island, literally named Inaccessible Island. It’s slightly southwest of Tristan da Cunha.

So actually, I slightly lied in the text in the first paragraph, by lowercasing “inaccessible” and “island”. But here’s the thing: you don’t hear capitalization in verbal speech. The uppercase letter hints would not be available to you if someone was orally communicating the term for this bird species to you (and even if you were reading this in text, maybe you would’ve thought the capitalization was probably for other emphasis than to hint that it referred to an island literally named that way). Also note that whereas realizing ‘rail’ probably did not refer to the context of trains could have happened via considering the context of the sentence in which it is used, context would very likely not have helped hint at the ‘Inaccessible Island’ issue.

I claim that ‘Inaccessible Island’ is a poor choice of name for this island. Names should be useful, distinguishing handles, and this name is not that. It was an attempt to reference the island’s inaccessibility, but it decided to do so via a term that would naturally be used anyway to describe islands, thus vastly increasing possibilities of confounding in all terms that refer to it. Calling the sort of bird a ‘rail’ is also unhelpful, but this part is not as problematic, for the reasons stated above.

This sort of naming failure in attempting to make a reference or hint at a metaphor is pervasive in computer science. When looking back at my learning process for many ideas in computer science, I find that this was a massive reason I often got stuck or was confused. People that name tools or ideas relating to computers often try to give them names that refer to parallel entities or processes outside the world of computers, and in doing so make usage of terms often extremely ambiguous.

Continue reading “Failures in Referential Nomenclature”