Sunday, July 31, 2016
Saturday, July 23, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of the few books that I wish I bought a hard-copy of. Bennet does a decent job of describing the 300 fallacies, especially the formal ones. The examples he wrote are even-handed, so it doesn't just pick on one group that he could be ideologically against. For instance, he equally picked on both the Christian and atheist debating points. This is definitely essential reading for anyone who's interested in debates, public speaking, and controversy. It helped me see a lot of the illogical reasoning I've been relying on, and it helped me correct myself. The fallacies that I see the most in myself are "Notable Effort", "False Dilemma", and "Wishful Thinking". The most amusing one for me is the "If-by-Whisky" fallacy and the most annoying is the "reductio ad hitlerum".
Reading the book was like going through a dictionary or encyclopedia, which I don't mind. But, I can see how that would bore most people. He does try to spice it up with some witty examples, but it's about as effective as that textbook in 8th grade that tries to make grammar interesting with 'funny' practice problems. My only tip is to go through one fallacy per day, so it's kind of like the "word of the day" from a dictionary app. That way, at least most people can learn a comprehensive list of fallacies under one year.
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I do have strong opinions about macroeconomics, but I'm far from being as well-informed as I would like to be. Ideally, I would have read Milton Friedman, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and Adam Smith. However, I'm limited by my resources: time, focus, and interest. Instead, I learn more about economics from the videos I watch online. These films are more likely to favor ideology or entertainment over facts. However, most of these films don't trigger the usual red flags I have for documentaries: fear-mongering, scapegoating, lack of experts, gimmicky effects, etc. Also, they do provide clear, informative, and entertaining explanations to otherwise dull or obscure concepts. Many of these films have a stance on the government's role in economics, and these stances conflict with the other films'. I'm still trying to determine which stances are the best, and therefore should support. I hope that by recollecting all the films I've watched and how they influenced me, I can come to a better understanding.
FreakonomicsBesides being a film, it's also a book and podcast. It's much more light-hearted than the other films. It focuses on questions about human incentives and behavior. Some of the questions addressed include "Does your name influence your chances of success?", "Are crime rates and abortion related?", and "Can there be a system that people can't game?" It helped me understand that economics is more about human interactions than the exchange of money, so many economic concepts have a broader scope than I originally thought.
How the Economic Machine WorksThis is another free video on Youtube. It explains how the economy (at least a capitalist one) works on the principle that 'one man's spending is another man's earnings'. This simple statement actually leads to a lot of important implications such as how 'consumer confidence' and stock market speculation can have dramatic impacts on macroeconomics, even if it's purely based on psychology. The video gives a good explanation of how bubbles form and burst, and why inflation and deflation occur. It shows the part that loans, credit cards, and filing for bankruptcy play. It also shows the options that governments and the federal bank have for handling an economic crisis such as adjusting the interest rates, funding welfare programs, cutting spending, and raising taxes. It also shows how relying on only one of these methods have severe consequences. This film proposes that there's a possibility of a 'beautiful deflation' where the bubble bursts, but it causes the economy to stabilize instead of spiraling into a depression/recession. According to the film, this can be achieved by a balance of aforementioned methods at the government's and federal bank's disposal. This video made me think of the part that the entire population plays in economic crises, and that the ordinary citizens who acted as speculators had as much of a role as the bankers in events like the 2008 recession. However, I'm skeptical of the possibility of a 'beautiful deflation' because I have yet to find a real-life example of one.
The Big ShortThis is an obscene, but hilarious depiction of the events leading up to the 2008 housing bubble. This film follows the lives of 6 actual men who became rich off of this crisis by 'shorting' the subprime mortgage loans- meaning they made bets against those risky mortgage loans maintaining their value despite the confidence that the government and bankers had. It's another film that manages to be informative while focusing on the story-telling aspect. It explains the history behind why financial experts believe that mortgage loans are almost always low risk. The movie also has celebrities and one financial expert explaining unfamiliar financial terms in a novel way. This film is a great insider's look into the dark side of today's banking institution. At the end, it is scary that the government doesn't hold these bankers accountable for the frauds they committed. This raises the moral question about what citizens should do about this mess, especially after one of the lead characters make some dire predictions about what will happen if we let this continue.
Boom Bust BoomThis film has surprisingly little humor despite it starring a Monty Python comedian. However, Muppet lovers would not be disappointed by the songs and puppetry. This film focuses on the history of bubbles and bursts, and apparently they happen with surprising regularity. The time period covered ranges from the Tulip Mania of the 17th century to the 2008 housing crash. It explains how societies get stuck in cycles of economic 'booms and bust' due to overconfidence during times of stability and risk-aversion during times of instability. It also introduced me to another economic giant that I need to eventually read: Hyman Minsky. This film points out the limitations of the neoclassical model of economics and the problems that human irrationality can wreck in our current system. It proposes that we should create a system that accommodates human irrationality and separate speculating activities from banking. I do agree with the latter statement. However, creating a system that 'accommodates human irrationality' would mean taking away choices for consumers, usually by having policymakers draft up extra regulations. Thomas Sowell pointed out the flaws of central planning, in that a smaller group of people (even experts) are not necessarily more rational and well informed about market decisions. In fact they are more likely to be the opposite, and they can have special interests influencing them. In addition, they lack accountability for flawed policies as well as the flexibility to correct flawed policies. I'm for a government system that punishes fraud and theft, but not for one that limits people's choices under the guise of protecting them from their irrationality.
Most of these films are great for making me interested in economics and getting me to see its relevance in my life. Still, I have a lot more to learn and I realize that I need to keep an open mind. After watching some economic films, it is easy to think that I can now figure out how the financial institutions should change and how the government should act. However, I haven't looked at a wide diversity of viewpoints. I haven't touched the graphs of the rigorous math. So, I can't say I have a good understanding of economics, and I don't know how much of my time I would be willing to devote to understanding it. It's hard for me to answer, "How much do I need to know to be a well-informed citizens, as well as inform others?" Even so, learning this little about economics is enough to (hopefully) avoid stupid mistakes and not get sucked into the herd mentality that can dominate economic decisions.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My initial motivation for reading this book was to "know thy enemy". I wanted to know the mindset of radicals on both sides of the spectrum, and why politicians pander to them just because they are the vocal minority. Alinsky is very frank about the motivations behind his actions and he gives a good insight into the psychology of a radical activist. Plus, his tactics are brilliant, entertaining, and effective.
Paired with a book about the "dismal science" (economics), Rules for Radicals is a must-read of political activists and grassroots community organizers. I'd recommend reading this with a book from Thomas Sowell because these two authors fill in each other's gaps. After reading Alinsky, I realized why Sowell complains about economists failing to persuade politicians despite having greater insight. From Sowell, I learned why politicians are inept at improving economic situations. Alinsky explains how politics is a zero-sum game with power, and the implication is that the people who disagree with you are enemies. This mentality helps the activist group force people into fulfilling their demands, but-as Sowell points out- the activists often create new problems. For instance, the trade unions at Kodak fought and gained higher wages (see http://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/rbfs-b...). But this creates a surplus of job applicants (see Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell), which lead to discrimination against blacks and then Alinsky getting involved. Alinsky recounts the success of that involvement and many others, but I do suspect that his involvements have not lead to stable improvements in the black community. The black, Mexican, and Native American populations have often resorted to activism, and they are much worse off than previously marginalized groups who didn't resort to activism such as the Asian, Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants. I think Alinsky's tactics are necessary for getting political representation and battling against special interests. But, it must be paired with an understanding of economic principles in order to fix the root problem.
Still, this book is indicative of all the problems that I see in modern radicals. From reading the book, my impression of Alinsky is a manipulative scumbag who preys on disenfranchised groups and continues the cycle of people abusing power. And he does all of this with that familiar cloak of self-righteousness. For example, he had one anecdote where he incited the Back on the Yard group to aggressively demand healthcare services from an organization that was completely willing to do it anyways. He claims that it's necessary for his group to feel like they have power, but a sneaking suspicion in me asks "for what?'. Even then, I think this book is worth four stars because it's so informative and Alinsky is an entertaining author.
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Monday, July 11, 2016
- Familiarity with terminal commands and batch files
- Familiarity with basic programming concepts like IF conditionals
- Debugging skills and willingness to learn
Batch File Tips
- the colon (:) will display the following text in the terminal
- double colons (::) are comments
- keep folder and file names in quotations so the terminal reads it properly
- Add PAUSE to stop program until a key is pressed. Helpful when debugging
Don't Try To Portabilize
- Programs that need over 1 GB of space. They'll take up too much space on the flash drive unless you have lots of storage.
- Programs that install folders all over the place on your machine. If the app has to restore and backup all those folders everytime the program runs, it will quickly wear out the flash drive by using up write cycles. Plus, it takes more work to portabilize.
- Programs that use up a lot of disk space when running. You can check that on the task manager. If the program uses a lot of disk space, it will quickly wear out a flash drive by using up write cycles. Virtual machines are one example of this.
- Programs with .NET dependencies. You won't be able to run it on other computers without that .NET version.
- Programs with different installers for different windows versions. You'd have to create separate portable apps for each versions if you want to run it on many other machines.
- Programs that store necessary data on temp files. Check by opening RUN and type in %temp%. Maybe try deleting the file and running your program again. Apparently, only poorly written programs save important info there. Furthermore, it's difficult to separate the necessary vs unnecessary info and those files accumulate a lot of data. This makes it a burden to just store all the file contents with your portable program.
- Programs that need constant updates. Again, that uses up write cycles.
- Download and install the the 32-bit program, as normal. Save it on an easily accessible place such as on the Desktop
- In the program folder, create a new .bat file. Copy and paste in the code template at the bottom of this post.
- In the same folder, create a new folder called 'appinfo'
- Click Windows+R to open RUN, and type in regedit to open the registry manager. Under HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE, look for any registry keys that was created by the installer. If you find one, export the registry key path and save as a .reg file in the program folder. Add the .reg file after "REG IMPORT" on the .bat file and uncomment that line. Also, copy and paste the registry key path from the registry to the line "REG Delete".
- Run the program once by clicking the .exe file. Exit afterwards.
- Refresh or reopen registry manager. Look in the same places. Copy and Paste any new program-related paths after "REG DELETE" on the .bat file
- Using Run, type in %localappdata%. Then, try to judge if the data in those folder are valuable. Usually, folders containing logs can be safely deleted. Just type in "%LOCALAPPDATA%/program_folder" after "RMDIR /q /s". Otherwise copy and paste the folder name into the two conditionals in the .bat file. Then, move these folders to the appinfo folder on your flash drive.
- Repeat the step above for %temp%,%appdata%, and %userprofile%.
- Look up the .exe file that starts the program in the program folder. Copy and paste the name after "START /wait" on .bat file
- Modify the text after ":" to change the message that gets displayed on the terminal
- Save the .bat file and test it out by running it. Debug if necessary.
- Optional: Integrate it onto a portable launcher by following the steps on my post "Integrating Portable Apps into Launcher"
- Optional: Use compression tools such as PortableApps.com AppCompactor to save space.
- Move the entire folder onto a flashdrive. Try testing it out on many different computers
Portable App template
: This script will launch (Insert Program Name). : When (Insert Program Name) is closed, it will delete temp : directories and registry keys if any : For this script to work, this script must be in the same directory as :the program folder which contains the executables that run this program @ECHO OFF ECHO Please leave this window open. ECHO IGNORE ANY "Profile Storage Space" MESSAGES YOU SEE! ECHO. PAUSE CD /d %~dp0 :: The line above changes directory to directory of batch file ::Below Lines restore any files or registry keys that are usually installed on computer when program runs ::ECHO Restoring previous registry keys and important files CD appinfo ::REG IMPORT file.reg ::uncomment and modify above line if the installer adds the registry paths :: IF EXIST "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" ( :: ROBOCOPY "program_folder" "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" /E /IS /MOVE ::) ELSE ( :: MKDIR "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" :: ROBOCOPY "program_folder" "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" /E /IS /MOVE ::) ECHO Now launching (Insert Program Name)... CD /d %~dp0 CD (Insert Program folder name) START /wait (Insert Application.exe file) ::ECHO Deleting Registry keys and Temp folders ::Copy and paste any registry key paths created by the .exe file REG DELETE Registry_path /f ::only uncomment and modify if folders are unimportant ::RMDIR /q /s "%LOCALAPPDATA%\folder_name" ::Below lines for moving files onto drive. Starts when app closes ::ECHO Backing up files CD /d %~dp0 CD appinfo :: IF EXIST "program_folder" ( :: ROBOCOPY "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" "program_folder" /E /IS /MOVE ::) ELSE ( :: MKDIR "program_folder" :: ROBOCOPY "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" "program_folder" /E /IS /MOVE :: ) ::uncomment and modify above line if app stores data in %localappdata% ECHO. ECHO. PAUSE CLS EXIT
Sunday, July 10, 2016
- If you haven't already, download and install the launcher of your choice onto your flash drive. I'm using PortableApps.com's PA.c platform
- Download the portable program as normal and unzip/install it onto the main directory of your flash drive
- Create a new folder on the flashdrive called "Portable Insert-Program-Name"
- Move the program file into this new folder
- Move the "Portable Insert-Program-Name" folder into the PortableApp folder
- Open the program file and check if the file that starts the program is a .bat or .exe file
- Simply move the .exe file to the main directory of your "Portable Insert-Program-Name" folder. Reload launcher to see icon.
- Download a .bat to .exe converter. Here's the one I recommend: http://www.f2ko.de/en/b2e.php. It has a portable version and it easily integrates into the launcher using the .exe method. Just delete the setup .exe file and move the .exe file in the Portable folder to the main directory.
- Optional: create an icon by searching up an image and using an image to .ico converter. Save the .ico file to your "Portable Insert-Program-Name" folder. I used the one here:http://image.online-convert.com/convert-to-ico
- Start the Bat_to_Exe_Converter and enter in the .bat file that start the program. Save it to the main directory of your "Portable Insert-Program-Name" folder. If you want, you can add your icon under Version Information
- Go to Editor and add "CD (insert program folder name)" before the line that's similar to "start startup_file.exe". This will change the directory so your computer can find the .exe file which starts the program
- Click compile and check that the program is in the launcher by reloading
For .exe Files
For .bat files
Saturday, July 9, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is just as fun and informative as The Secret Life of INTJs. However, it was more whimsical and went of into more tangents. I'm guessing that the author made an attempt to make the latter book more structured to target the INTJ audience. Still, I enjoyed the whimsical parts as well. I especially liked the descriptions of the MBTI-based fantasy land, the author's family life, and the oddball speculations of the future of INTPs. Reading the book made it easier to see that INTJs and INTPs are more similar than what the cognitive functions theory suggests, so the author did a good job of convincing me to abandon that theory.
The profiles of historical and fictional people were really fascinating. Some of them really clarified some of the behaviors of INTP characters which I found baffling. For instance, I didn't understand why Mary Shelly's Frankenstein kept procrastinating or refusing to do certain tasks even though the lives of his loved ones were at stake. The author carefully explained the typical INTP mentality and value system, so I could understand the rationale behind Frankenstein's actions. The author also did a good job of using MBTI type to explain why certain INTPs such as Thomas Jefferson strongly and publicly held certain beliefs, only to live against them. I found it to be a more clear justification than the usual historical explanation: he did it because everybody else was doing it.
It's still full of grammar mistakes and is poorly edited, but I really enjoyed reading the book. INTPs are a small proportion of the population and they don't inspire the same respect (fear?) that INTJs do in literature and cinema. However, this books shows a lot of the benefits that this unique personality brings.
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I described the basics to reading a scientific paper in Understanding a Scientific Paper Part 1, but there are still more tricks to understanding a scientific paper. They are clearly not written for the general public, and academese is an unavoidable hurdle. Once you unravel this arcane language, you'll soon see that most of the babble on paper is a euphemism for things in the vulgar, material world. After reading one paper, I spent weeks wondering what was the "background, ultraviolet radiation" that interfered with photometers during the day. Then, my professor pointed out that it was sunlight. Learning to understand scientific papers requires you to think in a new way, and I have found some tips helpful for making this process easier.
Some Useful Tips
ConclusionFor me, reading scientific papers has been an intellectually humbling experience. It also made me more capable of independent thinking. Because of this, I think that proponents of scientific literacy should encourage students to read scientific papers from the databases instead of second-hand from scientific articles or pop science books. Students can benefit by overcoming their intimidation of science, and they can make more informed decisions about their health, environmental policies, and scientific funding. At the very least, it's one way to show off your education to friends and family members.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Windows gives a time estimate for downloads, but not for backups or any other compiling process. For me, having a time estimate is convenient because it helps me schedule downloads and allows me to check on my computer less often. Lately, I have been trying to convert a virtual hard drive on Virtualbox to another format. It takes hours, and my patience gets shorter every time I try to check on it every 30 minutes. Luckily I've found a very simple method for estimating compiling time. Now, you can easily calculate how long it will take a backup to complete, convert a file to another format, import a file into a program, and anything else you can think of.
- Start the program
- Look up program in Task Manager
- Wait a couple of minutes and record the highest and lowest speeds under Disk (units: Mb/s)
- Find the size of the data you are compiling. You can do this by looking up the file in File Explorer
- If necessary, convert size of data to MB (1GB = 1024 MB)
- Divide the size of data by the highest and lowest speeds. This will give you the maximum and minimum estimates in seconds
- Take the average of the two times, then convert to hours. Now you have the average estimate