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In 2018, I have discovered the most harmful fallacy in the world. This logic error is worse than others, because its problem is not glaringly obvious, and has resulted in a lot of bad policy. I'm not talking about the good old standbys like ad hominem (insulting your opponent to prove him wrong), nor straw man (arguing against a caricature), even though these are very popular. It's something better (worse).

What do all these claims (made by serious people) have in common? OK, most of them are on political topics, but not that.

  1. Nazis made lists of Jewish people. You made a list of Jewish people. Obviously, you're a Nazi.
  2. Good software passes tests. This software passes tests. Thus it's good software.
  3. Bad people have guns. You have a gun. So, you are a bad person.
  4. Killing is bad. Weapons are designed to kill. Therefore, weapons are bad.
  5. Discrimination can chase away women from STEM black people in mathematics. There are not many women in STEM black people in maths. Discrimination did it.

It's the same mistake over and over again: the affirming the consequent fallacy. In mathematical notation, the logic is:

if P then Q
therefore P

This is wrong, terribly wrong, because there can be other causes for Q. Stopping at the first possible cause P is a cognitive shortcut - and sometimes a powerful weapon.

Let's go through each of these examples.

  1. Nazis & lists. Yes, obviously Nazis are/were bad. But that was not simply because they made lists. Anyone can make lists, for all kinds of purposes. Somewhere around here, I have a list of my favorite Jewish musicians, but don't want to do away with them. But the accusation of "you're a nazi!!11!" is sufficiently toxic these days that defending oneself with elementary retorts like ... "Nazis drank water ... don't you drink water too?" can get one into trouble.

  2. Software & tests. Yes, obviously it is good for software to pass tests. But it is neither strictly necessary, and definitely not sufficient. The tests may be fictional, provide poor coverage, or even contain & enshrine errors. Focusing on testing may detract from gathering actual deployment experience. Seeing good test results may produce a false confidence of actual quality. Software quality can be better measured with success of the user base & their bug reports.

  3. Guns are bad, m'kay. Yes, obviously it sucks if criminals are armed. But many non-criminals also have guns, some millions of people here in Canada and perhaps a hundred million in the States. The worst thing they may do is cause accidents or suicides, but that's a tiny share. Most of them are just plain good reasonable people, and it is completely unfair to taint them with the crimes of, well, criminals. But, for a leftie politician, it is easier to punish this whole mostly-innocent class of people.

  4. Another gun one, sorry: Yes, they are "designed to kill". Except they really aren't: guns are designed so that they CAN kill. They are also designed to shoot holes into paper targets. They are designed to hold their value by being robust and long-lasting. They are also designed to be able to provide some protection even if just brandishing them. They are designed to make people be ABLE to do all those things, most of them fine and legal. (Even killing is sometimes legal - for example in self-defence.) I christen this particular variety as the inverse teleological fallacy, after teleology (explaining something by reference to their design / purpose), and inverting capability into mandate. You heard it here first.

  5. Yes, obviously unjustifiable discrimination is bad. But to assume that discrimination is the sole or primary cause of outcome disparities is simply wrong. There can be many other reasons, but in the present corporate/political atmosphere, even just to discuss the possibilities leads to fainting couches and firings. Worse, it leaves the other causes unexplored and thus unfixed (if they can/should be fixed at all).

The common thread is the lack of imagination to look for and quantify other causes. The danger is the tyrant's satisfaction with simplistic & weaponizable answers. Please let's try to do better, and call out others to do the same. Here's where you, cherished reader, come in. Please think of an example or two you have seen, and add a comment.

Posted Tue Jan 1 22:18:55 2019

My email addresses have been public for years - almost three decades actually. I'm not anyone important, but spammers don't give a damn. They just want someone to send to.

On a lark, boy #2 and I went digging through my saved spam folder. (I don't outsource spam detection to gmail, no, I run spamassassin and other stuff right here in the house. google delenda est.) We came across this darling of a post:

Subject: Your immediate response is required if you are alive

Whoa, what a hook! I had to investigate immediately - well, four months after receiving it:

Dear Client,

Please confirm if you are still alive because two gentle men
walked into my office this morning to claim your inheritance
funds with our bank. They said that you are dead and that they
are your
representative. I got your email from the file of your relative
who is yet to be paid for the Contract he has executed before his
death several years ago.You the beneficiary of this fund has
not been in contact with the bank to claim your fund. The
gentlemen submitted an address where they want your VISA DEBIT
ATM CARD sent.

If you are still alive, please indicate by sending your full
contact details within 7 day of receiving this message, faliure
to do so, I will send the card to the address submitted by your



Derek, if you're still out there, you can REST EASY! I am indeed alive. All of my relatives are alive. All of my ancestors are alive. There is no one in my entire family history, going right back to the primordial slime creature in the volcano-lake of Gumzablobia who is not hiding somewhere on our property, in deep freeze.

So, sorry, better luck next time with a mere mortal, Derek.

Posted Sun Nov 18 20:17:27 2018

Sunset and/or flying photos might be a dime a dozen. This one stands out to me because of the way the horizon reflects on the propeller spinner & engine cowling.

Posted Sun Jul 29 19:42:38 2018 Tags:

This is what happens if a 13-year-old takes flight controls with "steep turns please!" on the agenda. Good thing there are no airborne cops pulling people over for suspected intoxication! (Don't worry, our airspace was clear, and neither of us got queasy enough to stop before sunset ... somehow!)

Posted Sun Jul 8 23:09:10 2018 Tags:

Some days, many days, my bosom swells with pride at the accomplishments of the free software community. (Let's not talk today about the other days.) Today's reason: GPS. So many devices can record gps traces, and some of it is interesting to archive long-term. But maybe you're like I am, and are worried about the privacy / big-brother implications of uploading your .kml/.gpx files to random proprietary borg computers (lookin' at you, big G). I don't want to use someone else's computer to draw maps of my private affairs.

So, what to do? Find free software to do it on your own workstation, of course. But what? The Fedora wiki lists approximately half a gajillion of projects, many of them dead, some of them doing only a part of the basic "superimpose this KML track on a map". After a bit of searching though, I came across the big jack-of-all-trades tool QGIS. The project is alive and well, is packaged for Fedora, and can do the job.

Be sure to install both the qgis and python2-qgis packages, to get access to the numerous plugins. The OpenLayers plugin gets access to OpenStreetmap, Bing, Google, and other vector & raster data sources. Layering it all together is easy peasy, like a paint program ... except that nature & civilization are doing the painting. It looks far better than if I did it!

So, here's the final result. It looks like any other map you'd find online ... but this one's running here, works offline or on, and no big brother computer gets to track it:

Posted Sun Jul 1 19:29:32 2018 Tags:

Why, it's election season in Ontario, how exciting. You probably have a favorite party or leader. You are probably certain that the other guys / gals suck and should never be given power. That must feel really good!

But perhaps let's play a game - the same game I proposed back in 2015 with a little more thinking. Let's make predictions about what you believe will happen if candidate/party X wins or loses. Then, as before, I'll come back in 18 months or so and score them. For this to work, the predictions have to be concrete and testable, like "provincial income taxes -2% in my bracket" or "EQAO education testing cancelled" rather than something ooey and gooey like "Ontario becomes the Leading Light of diversity and inclusion". Something specific, something objective. After all, if you love or hate a candidate, you must have a tangible reason for it, right?

I don't care if you're hard left, soft left, soft right, or up here in the hard right nosebleed seats. All are welcome to consider leaving a comment below with your 18-month-horizon predictions for any of the winning/losing possibilities you care about. Prizes of indescribable value are at stake!

Posted Thu May 24 09:04:27 2018 Tags:

Normal people are there first.

What am I talking about? In the aftermath of every emergency, such as today's murderer-driver attack in Toronto, there is a parade of politicians on TV. Right after the condolences comes the obligatory and effusive praise of the police / ambulance / fire services that came on scene. In the last decade or so, the phrase "first responder" seems to have been invented as a term of honour for these people. And yes, they can do important, difficult, occasionally dangerous or terrible work.

But the term "first responder" is a lie. When tragedy strikes in a populous location, normal people are there first. They were already there. Within seconds of an accident or incident, ordinary citizens get involved. Whether it's someone doing first aid or driving to a hospital, getting in a car and chasing down a suspect, engaging an armed attacker with counter-fire with their own firearm, dragging someone out of a burning car, or just starting to direct traffic ... within seconds, normal people will engage. First.

Some time later, hopefully quickly, the heralded government professionals will arrive and take charge of the emergency. That does not make them "first responders". They are simply the first of that small minority of the population known as "government" whom we are forced to employ. But other than in a prison, they are not everywhere, cannot be everywhere, and this is a good thing.

Therefore, you, the normal person reading this, should prepare yourself for an eventuality where YOU are the real first responder. Learn first aid. Learn self defence. Learn to always monitor your surroundings in Jeff Cooper's "condition yellow". Learn anything you can, so that you can be self-sufficient. Sure, you may not get much recognition from the media and government, but they don't matter anyway. A resilient populace is many times more powerful.

Posted Mon Apr 23 23:04:02 2018

I spent my evening with a few families of friends new and old. Among the topics: the sorts of gifted education offered for their children in the public school systems in our areas (plural). It was not what one might expect: more academic, more rigorous, more advanced, but rather more loose, un-academic, personal project-oriented. It is not where I would send a kid to teach him or her more deeply - it is where I might send a smart kid to have a more fun time.

Thinking about it now though, a darker hypothesis popped up its ugly head. What if you were an education theoretician of the "social justice" mold, for whom educational inequality is a problem to solve? You would not be fond of special programming for gifted students; after all their high achievements exacerbate the "gap" you hate. What if under the guise of gifted education, you could instead subtly undermine them by directing emphasis not on academic stuff but other sorts of work? Could you perhaps do it to such an extent that the kids' academics actually end up lagging by the time they finish your school?

As long as you dress up the program with lots of pretty buzzwords, and emphasizing how different these gifted programs are, maybe the school superintendents / ministers, through to the low level teachers and parents wouldn't realize the implications. What if the earliest signs of trouble would be when/if the students apply to universities and start struggling -- by that time well out of one's jurisdiction/accountability?

Wouldn't that be a horrible cruelty?

Posted Mon Feb 12 00:18:36 2018

A brief public service announcement to internet experimenters. If your machine thinks it has a global IPv6 address, it had better work - it better be able to send & receive traffic at that address.

Because there will be some daemon (I'm looking at you, bind9 in Fedora 27), that will prefer it exclusively, even over a fully functional IPv4 interface address. And it when it tries to collect anything like, say, DNSSEC keys, this will fail with a timeout. That'll lead to unverificable DNS records, which lead to a SERVFAIL on many inquiries and/or very slow service. What fun!

So, if you dabbled in one of the Hurricane Electric IPv6 trials, and might have left a network-scripts/ifcfg-FOO file around, or an interface tagged with that address - keep it online, or clean it completely out.

Posted Mon Jan 22 11:38:02 2018 Tags:

It was a decade ago, give or take another, when it started. The fight. The loss. The covert combat for food in our family.

I struck first. My lovely wife and I were mid-snack in our house one day. I ate a banana. She ate a banana. I ate another banana. She started eating another banana, then stopped a moment to say something. I was not listening. As if driven by reflex, my body computed that the male-to-female distance was ideal. I bent forward, right over, smoothly toward her.... Hey, get your mind out of the gutter - I was aimed at hand holding the peeled fruit. Less than three syllables into her speech, my mouth was on a trajectory that perfectly enclosed her second banana. I stole a bite. A big bite, like half. All before she or I even consciously realized what happened. I straightened up. It took her a few seconds to figure it out, then ... "HEEEYYYY!!!".

My smug smile upon recalling the raid could not be chiseled away for several years.

What I did not realize is that she was plotting revenge.

It was a dish served cold. She didn't even do it herself: she subcontracted to son number one. He's almost 13 now, growing like mad and eating even madder. The wife has somehow hypnotized him into believing that taking food from me is not only forgivable, it is also proper. At least I assume she has done it, because he's so good at it and she laughs every time. Slices of ham, the occasional berry, whatever .... if it's on my plate and if Eric can reach over quietly, he does. Sometimes I get a "please" afterwards (?!). Rarer still is a "thank you". Alas, fatherhood.

Round #3 went to me. Just the other day, I deliberately stole freshly cut smoked cheese off of son number two's sandwich. Yup, he had it all set up, all ready to eat, but I distracted him. "Look out the window - there's a bird!" ... or some such manipulative lie, well-aware of Stuart's fascination with nature. Even though the boy is quite astute, he trusted me that time. And yes, I stole one cube. Then, with another distracting line, another, and then another. I was starting to feel guilty, but not guilty enough to stop. But by now, Juimiin was laughing her head off -- which tipped Stuart off about the crime in progress. "HEEEEYYYYY!"

He took it out on me later by stealing my stuffed Scouting plush wolf.

The punchline to this sorry saga occurred today at lunch. For the first time, criminal went head-to-head against criminal. I was neither: it was boy #2 vs wife #1, both pecking at a piece of chinese bakery bun. Like two pretend-starving seagulls, they poked at it with chopsticks. They ripped with hands. They bit into the piece -- then pulled it from each other's sweaty-tooth madman hands. This was all over one little delicious coconut bun. It went on for a few minutes, with crumbs all over the place, and both parties having a great time.

What they didn't realize was that I was studying their tactics the whole time. I realize I can beat them both. I have a plan for the remaining buns in the house. Kind reader, say a prayer for this once and again dominant food pirate, for the aftermath is unpredictable. If you don't hear from me in a few more days, send a rescue party. And a bag of buns.

Posted Thu Oct 5 23:17:47 2017 Tags:

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