Random Opinions

§    People programming

Do not develop a program for people that same way you would develop for computers. Unlike computers, people can help you avoid mistakes. If you think you never make mistakes, then you will only see people as buggy computers. And your program will crash.

Only recently has it seemed necessary to say this explicitly.

§    Do not buy an espresso machine

The only reason to own an espresso machine is because you need to make your coffee in one minute or less. If you can wait ten minutes, then buy an espresso moka pot. Cafes use machines because they have many customers. At home you will waste more time than you save cleaning and maintaining a machine. A pot comes in all sizes for single and multiple shots. The classic model from Bialetti is hour-glass aluminum or stainless steel, with two halves that screw together in the middle. These are found in practically every Italian home. Water goes in the bottom and coffee in a metal basket in the middle. The coffee is forced by steam to the top, where you pour. You will discover over time how much heat to use and how quickly or slowly you prefer the coffee to be made. You will make better coffee than a machine because you have more control, and tastes differ. It is best to rinse only with water, because soap might leave a residue.

§    On Layoffs

Layoffs are a disturbing reminder that everyone's career is at the mercy of arbitrary forces. Not everyone has equal membership in the organization. Some members can have other members ejected at any time. Only integrity and respect allow them to work together productively after such events. Rational employees are as honest and as loyal to their company as their company is to them.

§    What is ownership?

Ownership is a fetish. Ultimately you only need access to material things. You need ownership when your access must be exclusive. If your access is already unlimited, then you do not need ownership. Naturally you want to own your toothbrush, so you do not have to share with anyone. But there is no need to own a private park, when you can share a bigger public park with everyone else in town. Ownership allows you to deny access to others. Of course, we do not want anyone else walking in our home and trying on our clothes. But too often ownership becomes neurotic. Someone who likes a movie feels a need to "own" a digital copy. Someone buys a boat when it would be vastly cheaper, and more convenient, to rent one a few times a year. They are victims of an abstraction.

--- 1998

§    Futile arguments about generalities

I find the most futile arguments arise from attempts to apply convenient general categories to specific unambiguous cases.

Does country X have a Y political system? Well, if we know exactly what kind of political system X has, then we no longer need the general term of Y.

So is it misrepresentation to describe X as Y? Or an omission not to? No, we use the art of successive approximations. There is no need to deliberately reintroduce error once you have narrowed the scope of your search.

Yes, clarifying categories like Y with X might help us understand other instances of Y. Too often you find the real argument is implicit. Being a Y is better or worse than not being a Y. Categories become ideology, and the comparisons become invidious.

There is a good reason we do not get in arguments about the definition of a stick, for example. There is no implicit praise or denigration of other sticks.

I encountered this idea first while reading Bertrand Russell's discussion of Alfred Ayer's "Language, Truth, and Logic."

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