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Journal: 2021-12-15 14:09:57.949362

It's been a little more than a month since I last checked in with my reading. Maybe the 15th of the month would be a good, regular day to do that. Right, as if I could keep up a habit like that… well, it's good to dream.


Russell's The Problems of Philosophy continues to be moderately entertaining. I'm not exactly sure how Russell is going to build a useful theory of knowledge on the back of acquaintance, but we'll see how it goes. Should get clearer in the next few chapters.


I'm making slow progress on the Trek project. Gerrold's The Galactic Whirlpool was fun, but Sky's Death's Angel wasn't so good. Unless you're a completionist, I'd skip both of Sky's contributions to the Trek universe.

“We Owe It to Them to Interfere”: Star Trek and U.S. Statecraft in the 1960s and the 1990s offers an interesting perspective on the Federation's treatment of 'more primitive' cultures as a metaphor for the US's treatment of developing nations.

Language acquisition

An extensive reading program is unlikely to provide sufficient contact with words beyond the 2000 most common families (Cobb, 2007). However, there are some possibilities for finding or deliberately constructing texts that will work better. An example is given of software that allows the reader to click a word and get a set of KWIC-style lines showing other uses of the word, either from some large corpus or, potentially, from a restricted one–the current text alone, perhaps, or a set of selected texts such as graded readers.

Swaffar (1985) observes that readers' knowledge of the genre of foreign-language text is important to their ability to understand it.

Person-first language


Mangiron (2017) provies a huge list of interesting-sounding references related to game localization, which I intend to work my way through.


Cobb, T. (2007). Computing the vocabulary demands of L2 reading. Language Learning & Technology, 11(3), 38–63.
Mangiron, C. (2017). Research in game localisation: An overview. The Journal of Internationalization and Localization, 4(2), 74–99.
Swaffar, J. K. (1985). Reading authentic texts in a foreign language: A cognitive model. The Modern Language Journal, 69(1), 15–35.

Journal: 2021-12-09 17:21:14.291738


A couple of years ago, I wrote about "The Business, as Usual, during Altercations" that it was "simply unbelievable that the dilithium shortage could have reached such a critical stage galaxy-wide before anyone noticed", now it's 2021 and there's a chip shortage, caused by unexpected demand, and here we all are suffering for it. Sometimes sf is more realistic than expected, I guess.

Journal: 2021-11-10 20:37:50.897083

Recent reading


Context matters for learning. We remember better when we are in the same context as we were when we learned. What exactly counts as context? The visual and auditory environment, our state of mind (including mind-altering substances), even the color of the paper used for studying and testing. It's not clear what all the contributing factors are, or to what extent each factor impacts learning. However, since we will often, in real situations, not have the original context available, we will achieve better results by varying the context, contrary to the usual advice to always study according to an exacting routine with as little variation as possible (Carey, 2014).

This doesn't take into account student affect, though it's plausible that, for at least some people, varied study environments will also have a positive impact on that.

Language learning

Extensive reading could be reasonably effective for vocabulary acquisition, providing exposure to the most common 1000-2000 words a useful number of times, but it becomes less practical for rarer words. News articles seem to give the best variety of words, as compared with fiction and academic articles (Cobb, 2007).


Mozi, a Chinese philosopher from around the fifth century B.C., suggested a set of three criteria for testing claims:

  1. Examine it by examining "the affairs of the first sages and great kings". What was accepted by authorities in the past has reason to be accepted now.
  2. Examine its origins by "look[ing] at the evidence from the ears and eyes of the multitude". If people can judge the claim for themselves, then their judgments are evidence of the claim's acceptability.
  3. Put it to use: "use it in governing the state, considering its effect on the ten thousand people". An acceptable claim should be beneficial.

These criteria don't necessarily get at truth, but Mozi may not have distinguished between what we would call truth and merely 'beneficial opinion' (Melchert & Morrow, 2018, pp. 77–80).


Carey, B. (2014). How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens. Random House.
Cobb, T. (2007). Computing the vocabulary demands of L2 reading. Language Learning & Technology, 11(3), 38–63.
Melchert, N., & Morrow, D. R. (2018). The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy (Eighth Edition). Oxford University Press.

Journal: 2021-10-05 16:35:54

Recent reading


Carey (2014) writes about the importance of forgetting in learning. He describes the forgetting curve and the spacing effect, as documented by Ebbinghaus (Carey, 2014, paras. 7.25).

Philip Boswood Ballard repeated performed an experiment in the early 1900s on more than ten thousand schoolchildren, documenting their ability to recall a poem. He found that the students' performance actually improved over the first four days or so, and then plateaued (Carey, 2014, paras. 7.62). This effect is observed when the material to be recalled involves imagery, but not for mere nonsense syllables, such as Ebbinghaus used.

Robert and Elizabeth Bjork describe a "new theory of disuse" which separates memory into two quantities: storage strength and retrieval strength (Bjork & Bjork, 1992). The former increases as the memory is used, but does not decrease. The latter decreases over time, and is strengthened by use. It is the behavior of the retrieval strength that is responsible for the spacing effect.

Language acquisition

Traditional measures of vocabulary knowledge, such as Wesche and Paribakht's (1996) vocabulary knowledge scale (VKS), probably underestimate "hidden learning", when a word becomes more familiar to the reader, but not enough to count as fully known. A system such as described by Horst (2000, pp. 149–150) may be used to estimate this learning (Cobb, 2007, pp. 39–41).

Swaffar (1985) writes that it is important that the reader of a foreign-language text understand the purpose of the text and the cultural environment. She describes an experiment: two groups read one of two letters describing the marriage of a Hindu and Christian couple, each group (Indian and American) reading the letter in their native language. Both groups made significant misinterpretations, which are attributed to the unfamiliarity of readers with cultural elements.


Landow (2006, pp. 13–22) describes the different types of links that may be used in hypertext, and questions whether there is really any difference between an active reader pausing to perform searches for related material and a system automatically generating links to related material on demand, giving the example of such menus of links generated by Microcosm, or dictionary integration in Intermedia.

Artificial Intelligence

Haugeland (1985, pp. 48–52) writes on formal games, such as Chess or tic-tac-toe. In such a game, what counts are (only) the rules and the state of the game. This discussion is working toward a definition of a computer as an "interpreted automatic formal system".

Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. (1992). A New Theory of Disuse and an Old Theory of Stimulus Fluctuation. In A. Healy, S. Kosslyn, & R. Shiffrin (Eds.), Learning Processes to Cognitive Processes: Essays in Honor of William K. Estes (Vol. 2, pp. 35–67). Erlbaum.
Carey, B. (2014). How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens. Random House.
Cobb, T. (2007). Computing the vocabulary demands of L2 reading. Language Learning & Technology, 11(3), 38–63.
Haugeland, J. (1985). Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea. Bradford Books.
Horst, M. E. (2000). Text Encounters of the Frequent Kind: Learning L2 Vocabulary through Reading [Ph.D., University of Wales Swansea].
Landow, G. P. (2006). Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Swaffar, J. K. (1985). Reading authentic texts in a foreign language: A cognitive model. The Modern Language Journal, 69(1), 15–35.
Wesche, M., & Paribakht, T. S. (1996). Assessing Second Language Vocabulary Knowledge: Depth Versus Breadth. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 53(1), 13–40.

Current note-taking strategy

2021-08-20 17:35:29

When reading books, I take notes on the book--brief notes indicating points of interest as well as longer notes, especially if I disagree with some point. The typical direct product of these is a chapter-by-chapter summary, with a greater or lesser degree of detail depending on my interest.

For ebooks, my notes are often organized around highlights:

Each night, a cronjob runs that extracts my highlights and comments from calibre and imports them into my database:

The imported annotations are automatically tagged inbox, and I have a weekly repeating item on my schedule to process items from this inbox. These are presented to me in a simple list, with highlights from the same source sorted together:

If those annotations are citations to some other book or article, I add the article to zotero, in an inbox collection, which I also work through weekly (removing the inbox tag from the quotation, but retaining it as a record). Otherwise, I use them to construct my notes--either the summaries mentioned, or topical notes.

Highlights in my database can be transcluded into other notes or blog posts, like this:

Because the slip-box is not intended to be an encyclopaedia, but a tool to think with, we don’t need to worry about completeness. We don’t need to write anything down just to bridge a gap in a note sequence. We only write if it helps us with our own thinking.

Transclusion preserves the source of the quotation automatically. For annotations that aren't to be included directly, they remain linked in my database to the source document, included in searches, so I can refer to them in the future. My topic-oriented notes then come out like these notes on Newcomb's problem. I typically write them in emacs using org-roam:

A post-save hook I've written automatically synchronizes my notes in org-roam with my database, translating org-roam links to ID links in the database, which can then be automatically exported in a form like this blog post. My database has support for making only some notes or some parts of notes public, so I can use this single system for all stages of the process.

For PDFs, I usually read either in polar or on my tablet (in Moon Reader+), manually adding the annotations to my database, since it's impractical to handle automatically. For paper books, I take notes on paper. The rest of the process is the same.

Raising Windows in GNOME 3

2021-01-27 18:29:12

Since switching from Windows to Linux as my primary OS, things have mostly been going well, but one thing has been a consistent annoyance: in GNOME 3, new windows opened by applications tend to open in the background, giving a notification that "X is ready". Very annoying.

I found advice (e.g. here) to change a setting using dconf-editor, or from the command line:

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.wm.preferences focus-new-windows 'strict'

This... didn't seem to work. Some windows would pop up as expected, but others wouldn't. To make emacs windows pop up properly, I tried some code like (progn (raise-frame) (x-focus-frame (selected-frame))), which also only sometimes seemed to work.

In the end, I found a simpler solution: the NoAnnoyance GNOME shell extension by sindex. It doesn't alter the focus-new-windows setting or anything; it hooks the window-demands-attention and window-marked-urgent events, and then calls activateWindow on them.

Simple, and it actually works.

IFComp 2020: Stand Up / Stay Silent

2020-11-22 22:24:30

The revolution begins with you.

Stand Up / Stay Silent is a brief story--about fifteen minutes for all five endings--with an agenda: to promote the idea that taking action, any action, against injustice is preferable to staying silent.

It is positioned outside the game as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, though within the game it's not clear what is being protested--some kind of unfair treatment of some people, in a far-flung future on the planet Mars. What's clear is only that the security forces are the Enemy.

There's too little story for us to become involved with the characters, and it's too on-point as a metaphor for current events. It is, for example, a little wrong in tone for the protagonist to say:

“But I want to help,” you reply, your voice hoarse. “Is there a fund I can send credits to? Somewhere I could drop off supplies?”

This to your partner, who you have just taken to a fancy restaurant for a birthday celebration. It's distant, and it's the kind of scripted "gosh, but how can I help" that you might see in a PSA. After the opening scene, there is no more life in these characters--they are defined solely in relation to the resistance. They are not real people, merely actors in a piece of propaganda.

As a work of interactive fiction, it's limited. Transitions between scenes are only a single link at the end of a page of text, and occasionally a choice, either to Stand Up or to Stay Silent. It doesn't make good use of the medium.

As a piece of protest art, it expresses a real need, but as IF, it's not sufficient.

IFComp 2020: Last House on the Block

2020-10-22 19:44:03

Mr. Harrison was a quiet old man who lived in the house at the end of the block. No one really knew him, but everyone said he was rich; anyone who lived like as much like a hermit as he did had to be a millionaire. After lunch one day when you overheard your parents talking about how the old man had died with no family and how the city was coming to take the house and everything inside you decided on the spot that they wouldn't take everything...if there was any cash in there it was coming home with you.

In this game, you wander around the departed Mr. Harrison's house, searching for any hidden treasures. For the bulk of the game, you don't find any--no gold and jewels, at any rate. Instead, you find the sort of things you'd expect: old furniture and similar clutter of a home long lived-in.

For some of these items, you are given (brief) descriptions that give you a little insight into the old man's life, but for most items there is no description given. There's something particularly disappointing about reading "You see nothing special about the unusual rock." And there is a profusion of such useless items throughout the game. For example:

You open the knitting chest, revealing eight balls of wool (red wool, green wool, yellow wool, grey wool, black wool, white wool, blue wool and olive wool) and knitting needles.

You open the tackle box, revealing five red-tasseled hooks, ten green-bobbed hooks, three blue-feathered hooks, six fish-shaped hooks, a jelly hook, seven orange-feathered hooks and a fishing line.

I'm reminded somewhat of Hill 160, which similarly included rather too many individual objects:

You open your backpack revealing:

a blanket, a bayonet, a spare pair of socks, a singlet, a bunch of underwear, a mess kit, a shovel, a canteen, a bunch of sweets, a powder jar, a cigarette tin, a cigarette lighter, a boot laces, a bunch of spare buttons, a spool of thread, a needle, some safepins, a bar of soap, a toothbrush, a pair of wirecutters, a gas mask, twelve grenades, twelve ammo clips and twelve shotshells.

Implementation aside, the puzzle design is disappointing. Most of the objects really are useless, and there's only one real puzzle in the game: how to open the trapdoor in the closet. And its solution, unfortunately, involves guessing the correct objects to stack on each other in order to climb high enough to reach it. And to do this while subject to a timer in the form of a dying cell phone battery. Not a pleasant puzzle.

The game has a nice little gimmick: at the beginning, you select a companion who accompanies you throughout the game by picking up an object associated with them. This would be great, except that the characters have very little personality and there's no way to interact with them. They're as underdescribed as the clutter in the house.

The concept of an IF game that uses the generic conventions in a realistic setting is nice. Here we have exploration, puzzle solving, a search for a treasure. This has been done better in other games, but the idea is a good one. And the final payoff at the end is suitable: fitting in with the cold war era environment, you eventually find a bunker in which a 'treasure' is stashed.

With deeper implementation and better puzzle design, the basic outline of Last House on the Block could make a very good game, but the game as it stands feels aimless and unsatisfying.

Play time: 58 minutes.

IFComp 2020: Quintessence

2020-10-09 20:10:27

The Forever Cat stalks through this universe, collapsing it when the Others come close or shiny objects are too far apart. Will you end the Forever Cat's destructive cycle and help this universe's quanta join the multiverse?

You begin the story (again and again...) as a particle in a mass of particles before time begins, and as the story proceeds--I think--you become part of larger objects, including (depending on your choices) a dog or a human, in which case you take on their perspectives. The theme of the story is pulling together or pushing apart, whether that is particles attracted by gravity or humans drawn together as a family--or separated by death.

The concept has some merit, but as a game (or interactive story) it fails. In most cases, you are presented with a little text and then two or three choices, and in many cases only one choice allows the story to proceed, the other sending you back to the start. Once you've been through the beginning and handful of times, the only thing to do is click through the early choices on the sole path that allows the story to continue, in order to get back to the point that--maybe--will allow you to proceed. This is dreadfully dull.

Additionally, for all the writing has a common theme, there's not a coherent plot. An individual scene isn't connected with any other. There's no sense of progress, and you learn nothing interesting as the story proceeds.

I reached an ending (number 2 of 5, I believe), and I did play on a bit more, but I found the repetitiveness boring and the dead-end choices frustrating, so I didn't continue to seek out the other endings.

Play time: 18 minutes. Got one ending after about 10 minutes.

Reasons and Persons, post 2 (sections 7--9)

2020-09-07 15:01:58

I'll just cover three sections in this post, in order to finish up the sequence on the Self-interest theory, S.

In these sections, Parfit argues that S might tell us to believe things that are not true. For example, S might tell us to believe that it is rational to ignore threats, even though that is not in fact true, because it will lead to better results, at least some of the time.

Parfit's final statement about S, in section 9, is that even if S told everyone to believe some other theory, this would not mean that S was not in fact the best theory:

Suppose that S told everyone to cause himself to believe some other theory. S would then be self-effacing. If we all believed S, but could also change our beliefs, S would remove itself from the scene. It would become a theory that no one believed. But to be self-effacing is not to be self-defeating. It is not the aim of a theory to be believed. If we personify theories, and pretend that they have aims, the aim of a theory is not to be believed, but to be true, or to be the best theory. That a theory is self-effacing does not show that it is not the best theory.

That's it for S. The next sections deal with Consequentialism, C.

For older posts, see the archive.