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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen


This makes me think of some special people out there. You know who you are.

Face punches!

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Semantics has no place in code

Semantics has no place in code. Ideally, code would have exactly one way of doing any given thing. In the world of data, we strive to be complete, unambiguous and exact. The world, as far as my code is concerned, is exactly as big as I tell it to be, and could only be so. What I define exists only insofar as I have defined it. The code expresses the sum-total of that world. To allow any sort of semantic nuance, we undermine the Platonic perfection of that world. I think the ideal should be to have a one-to-one relationship between virtual entities and the code that expresses them. This way, we can point at the code and say: "This is what it is."

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This was just too perfect not to post. The latest from Tatsuya Ishida's Sinfest:

I will elaborate once the "debate" over the bailout bill has been resolved. Congress is like an old dog and it knows just one trick: roll over.

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Friday Free Game: Bloons Tower Defense 3

It's been about two years since I recommended a tower defense game, and in that time, it has surprisingly become a genre in its own right. There are a hoarde of these games, now, primarily since they're very simple to build, and relatively easy to balance. If you've never played one of these games, it's really just a twist on the RPG grind: kill stuff, get stuff, kill bigger stuff, get better stuff, ad infinitum. As a matter of fact, the main difference between a tower defense game and a dungeon crawl is that in a dungeon crawl, you find the monsters and in tower defense, the monsters come to you.

But don't listen to me, because I'm sitting here telling you how banal these games are and yet I can't stop playing them. Much like the old RPG grind, there is something very satisfying about the power-up cycle. My latest tower defense obsession is called Bloons Tower Defense 3, and is the inheritor of the name of a clever little game about a monkey popping b(a)lloons by throwing darts. So, not surprisingly, this game is about positioning various types of monkeys around the board so that they can pop balloons.

But it's not just darts. It's spiked balls thrown by catapults, spinning blades, ice balls, cannons, and superhero monkeys with plasma beams that shoot out of their eyes. Okay, so it may not be particularly coherent, but the game is a lot of fun, mainly because the difficulty curve is really well-designed. Several times, I was humming along, kicking butt, and then all of the sudden, the stupid metal balloons would show up and ruin my game. I'd try it again, this time with a rocket launcher in place, only to have the MOAB – a nigh-indestructible blimp carrying tons of other balloons – show up and ruin it all again. My best advice is to ramp up gradually, starting with a monkey, then adding tack-throwers, then saving up for cannons. The super monkey is definitely worth it!

Sur this isn't the prettiest game around, and there are more original tower defense titles, but the playability and variety kept me coming back, and I'm sure it will do the same for you. Go on. Touch the monkey. You know you wanna.

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An Ongoing Discussion

I'm having a pretty lively discussion in the comments section of another blog about liberalism versus conservatism. I thought I'd cross-post here, because I can.

It started over this video:

Tom said in his post following the video:

Maybe the very fact that life hasn't changed [liberals'] minds about issues means that they are the people in our society least capable of logic and reason. All the same though I'd love to hear what liberals think of this video. It will probably be all ad-hominem attacks and accusations of arrogance, but I'd like to hear them all the same. Send this video to liberal you know. I’m going to do the same. Ask them to watch it and give you some feedback about it. I’d be interested in what they come back with. Feel free to send me email comments or leave them here.

I watched the video and was astounded at the way it characterized the liberal position. It exactly missed the entire point. I called it a straw man attack. To which Tom said:

... I think your assumptions are so different from his, and mine, that you cannot accept the concepts he offers as even possible of being true, even though to he and I they seem perfectly self-evident.

As an example, you say the people who acted as human shield in Iraq, placing their bodies in between the US forces and the assets of an Iraqi dictator (who is described even by most liberals as running a vile and utterly repressive regime) were simply protesting the US political decision. You think that their intent is the only critical element to their actions….or at least the most important one by far.

In the meantime he and I would both say that their intent is personal and irrelevant, it's their actions which matter. And what they did with their actions was stand in opposition to an army which has done more for the cause of human freedom than any force in human history. To defend a despicable dictator who is all but universally condemned.

You say they weren't taking a side because it would be wrong to say we are "better than them" and they were only trying to prevent pointless violence. We say that whatever they meant by it they "sided with the bad guy".

That's what I mean when I say we're speaking two languages. I wasn't saying you were illiterate… you clearly are not. I was saying that your base assumptions prevent you from seeing things from our perspective. But I think the book I mention will make the same points he makes ... points which for the moment still seem to be totally invisible to you, in a way that you would better understand them.

Commenter David added:

Thomas Sowell has written two books pondering why the same people end up on the same side of issues that have no intrinsic connection. In “A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles,” he writes that this is because they operate from two different “visions” of how the world works, indeed of human nature. In “The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy,” he argues that the prevailing vision in the press, academy and politics has become so dogmatic that it has lost touch with reality.

Mr. Sowell labels the competing visions “constrained” and “unconstrained.” The constrained vision argues that perfection is impossible, that social policy consists of structuring incentives for self-centered men, that life is a series of trade-offs. This vision is represented by the likes of Adam Smith, Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton . . . .

The unconstrained version argues that man’s imperfections are the result of bad institutions, that pure intentions matter more than actual effects, that rationality can solve problems once and for all. In the time of Smith and Burke, this tradition was epitomized by William Godwin, whose “Enquiry Concerning Political Justice” was popular in Great Britain until the public started to witness the excesses of the French Revolution.

For the path of the unconstrained vision ran through Rousseau, Voltaire and Thomas Paine (a defender of the French Revolution as well as a hero of the American one). Today’s academy is in thrall of descendants of these French ideas. The academically popular “deconstructionism” promoted by Jacques Derrida argues that the conception of meaning or truth is another corrupting institution, merely expressing power relationships.

Students and journalists who have never heard of Derrida reflect his influence in preoccupation with issues of gender, class and race. As Mr. Sowell writes, the “vision of the anointed” has become impervious to evidence. Rather, it’s “a badge of honor and a proclamation of identity: To affirm it is to be one of us and to oppose it is to be one of them.”

To which I replied:

I see your point, now, and thank you for the explanation. It's entirely accurate to say there are those who believe that pure intentions somehow negate human selfishness, and I think that Derrida is right to recognize that the concept of truth can be used as a cudgel.

But if I grant that it's fair to equate Sowell's "unconstrained" worldview with modern American liberalism, then it sounds like what you're against is naivete, and I'll readily grant a lot of liberals are certainly naive.

I'd agree that going to Iraq to act as a human shield is perhaps hopelessly naive. I can understand a battlefield general being insulted presented with such fools.

But your argument continues: "[W]hat they did with their actions was stand in opposition to an army which has done more for the cause of human freedom than any force in human history. To defend a despicable dictator who is all but universally condemned."

While it may be true that the American army has a great history of fighting for good reasons, this does not mean that this case and this war was, too. You've assumed it was, they believed it was not. Neither one of us made the decision to invade Iraq, so ultimately neither one of us can know for sure. We only have the government's word as to why they chose to do what they did. But we do know that they were wrong about the information they said they were acting on, and it certainly didn't go according to plan.

So some (naive) people decided it would be a good idea to protest the attack. You've repeatedly characterized it as "defending Saddam Hussein", which it clearly wasn't. "Defending Saddam Hussein" would be taking up weapons and fighting. They didn't do that. They were protesting.

Peaceful protest is the bedrock of the rule by and for the people, and consider Gandhi: peaceful resistance has transformed empires. The liberal position says that we have to engage one another's ideas, and not use force to impose our will on one another. We are all equals. This says nothing at all about belief in reason solving all problems. It's that we need to treat one another reasonably. That's democracy: self-interested people all trying to get along and build something that they believe in.

Try a thought experiment: assume that a war was unjust, and you thought you knew for sure. Imagine you felt something was being carried out in your name that you didn't agree with. Would it be right to say so? To sign a petition? To write a song about it? To rally against it? To donate your money to stop it? Throw yourself in front of a tank to stop it? It's all a matter of degree.

Let me state unequivocally: a "human shield" protest in Iraq is a criminally stupid thing to do, but like the activist who murdered the abortion doctor, it's certainly unfair to use such an extreme example as a representative case study in liberal thought.

You're arguing that liberals have an epistemological framework that presupposes the ability for human institutions to attain perfection. I don't think that's true at all. Liberals believe that by striving for perfection, we can transcend selfish interests. The government – and that includes the armed forces – is meant to work for the will of the people. If you believe that the government isn't doing that, what is the right thing to do?

I'd also like to add: if you reject the idea that human institutions are perfectible, then what? Human institutions are fallible, therefore... what? Therefore it's okay to use force against one another? Actions are all that matter, therefore... what? Therefore whatever action the government takes is the right one?

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A Truly Useful Mapping Tool

As any kid who grew up in the US knows, if you were to dig a hole and not stop digging until you reached the other side of the planet, you'd end up in China or Australia, right? Well now you can find out just how wrong you were! This is off the charts for sheer awesomeness: an interactive mapping tool for finding antipodes – that is, for finding exactly where you'd end up if you dug a tunnel to the other side of the planet from a given spot. I found it via a Discover magazine article.

And you know what? Funny... not a single spot in the lower 48 states is directly opposite any major land mass at all. Okay, that's not 100% true... a spot in northern Montana maps to a small island near Antarctica, but that's it for the continental US. Northern Alaska maps to the edge of Antarctica and a tunnel dug in Bermuda would land you just off the coast of Perth. In order to get to China, apparently you'd have to start in Argentina.

But interestingly enough, a tunnel dug in Madrid would put you right in a hamlet called Weber, New Zealand. And Weber is right near a hill named Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, which translates roughly as "The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one".

Now you know.

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Friday Free Game: Monkey Island

This week's Friday Free Game is called Monkey Island. No, not that Monkey Island – this is a simple Flash game with a clever central mechanic that's sure to engage as you navigate the Japanimated world of an island-hopping simian.

The controls are very simple: rotate the monkey using your mouse and then click and release to control your jumps. Make your way from island to island to collect all of the bananas. But careful: some of them shift, and some will even sink underneath you! By the way: the game is all in Japanese, so click on the red button on the opening screen to start the game. Happy hopping!

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Damn It Feels Good to be Banker: A Wall Street Musical

The only way this video makes sense is if you work on Wall Street, but this is one of the funniest videos I have ever seen. Consultants vs. Bankers:

Via iTulip, a voice in the economic wilderness.

The book that inspired this video, Damn, it Feels Good to Be a Banker: And Other Baller Things You Only Get to Say If You Work On Wall Street has now gone on to my must-buy list. This is a very strange world I operate in between 9 and 5 (okay, 10 and 7). Perhaps someday soon I can tell you all some of the stories.

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.