Say less…

November 19th, 2010

…learn more.


August 29th, 2010

Been busy and not all that inclined to keep the blog up to date lately so here’s a bullet list:

  • Just got back from Beervana in Wellington. Some amazing beers and some stinkers (oddly, a couple of the biggest duds were also the most expensive). New Zealand is producing some really top quality beer and I was surprised to discover many companies I’d not heard of before.
  • Came 3rd at the Western Brewer’s Conference for my Comte Ordinary Bitter
  • Reading The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker at the moment after watching the documentary Flight from Death. Interesting but having difficulty stomaching wacky Freudian fascination with the anus, castration, Oedipus and so on. I mean, really?? Come on. But I think Becker might be onto something with the whole fight/flight reaction to the concept of death and the need to use culture, symbols, beliefs and other illusions of immortality to quell that anxiety. Threaten someone’s culture/beliefs/illusions and expect an extreme response.
  • Just finished Truth, A Guide for the Perplexed by Simon Blackburn, Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels and Matter by Iain Banks
  • Next up: Escape from Evil by Ernest Becker, Two Little Boys by Duncan Sarkies, The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell and The Critique of Practical Reason by Immanuel Kant
  • Got a Kobo e-reader. Verdict so far: pretty good. Linux under the hood. EPub and PDF formats. 100 free books.
  • Visited Steam Brewing in Ota-two-hus. Fascinating!
  • Heading off to Australia on Thursday with Sal for a month of travelling around. Adelaide to Perth by train. Fly to Broome and pick up 4×4 camper. Three weeks through the Kimberley to Darwin. Going to Powderfinger’s last ever concert in Darwin. Fly to Brisbane to catch up with bro and family. And then home, home again, I like to be here when I can.
  • I’ve been mostly vegetarian for the last three months or so.
  • Not running enough and got the Auckland Half Marathon sneaking up on me.
  • GST change causing headaches for a number of applications I’ve been involved in. Didn’t think of that at the time. Doh.
  • I agree with Phil Plait about ‘dickish’ behaviour. Don’t agree with PZ’s approach. Sorry to hear about the Hitch but refreshing to hear straight talking in the face of mortality.
  • That’ll do for now. Sorry for the silence but there’s not going to be much happening here for another month or so.

Animated wall art by BLU

July 9th, 2010

BIG BANG BIG BOOM – the new wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Eliminative Materialism on Philosophy Bites

June 20th, 2010

Pat Churchland talks to Nigel Warburton about eliminative materialism on my favourite philosophy podcast series.

Can you derive an ought from an is?

June 15th, 2010

Consider this hypothesis:

‘Oughts’ must always be accompanied by a goal of some kind. ‘Ethical oughts’ are a subset in which the goal is in some way related to degrees of pleasure or suffering of others.

If we expand on this we can see examples of fairly straight-forward ‘oughts’ like, “you ought to pour the hot water into the tea cup” where the unspoken goal is “if you want to make a cup of tea then…”. This ‘ought’ combined with these ‘ises’ (i.e. there are ‘ises’ in that there is a cup, that there is water, that there is a creature with a goal of making a cup of tea, etc) show that it is ‘wrong’ to pour the water on the bench and ‘right’ to pour it in the cup. If the goal was to clean the dishes then the ‘ought’ would change.

Ethical ‘oughts’ like, “you ought not steal” have unspoken goals like “if you want to avoid making others unhappy then…”. This ‘ought’ is also derived from a bunch of ‘ises’ (there are other people who are unhappy when stolen from, you are a creature with the ability to steal or not steal, you are a creature who doesn’t want others to be unhappy, etc) and shows that, within this framework, there is a ‘right’ way to act and a ‘wrong’ way to act.

When you read the ethical example you are no doubt asking “well, why ‘ought’ you want others to be happy?” You could ask the same of the tea cup example; why ‘ought’ you make a cup of tea? We can step out to meta-oughts and we’ll find that the same rules apply: that even a meta-ought requires a goal of some kind and that an ethical meta-ought will involve some kind of ability to make others suffer.

We ought to make a cup of coffee because we desire it (thirst, addiction, etc). If we are to fulfil this desire then we ‘ought’ to make a cup of coffee. It is ‘right’ in this context to boil the jug.

We ought to want to make others happy (or, at least, not cause others to suffer) if we find ourselves in a society which returns favours or which punishes us when we cause harm. It is ‘right’ to not cause others to suffer in this context.

What about meta-meta-oughts? The same rules apply. Each meta-ought gradually becomes more and more empirically simple, not more and more supernaturally ethereal. They fade out into ‘ises’. We eventually end up with ‘oughts’ based on how our bodies/brains work. We ought to be thirsty because our bodies trigger a thirst response when they require water to keep working. Conversely, we ought to fight this addiction (if it is one) because our brains — through gradual understanding about how the world works — informs us that even though our bodies desire and reward us for caffeine we are suffering in other ways. We ought to avoid suffering because our bodies use suffering in order to stop us harming ourselves. Our bodies ought to provide these responses if we are to survive and spread our genes. Our genes are configured in this way because if they weren’t we wouldn’t be here. At the very foundation it’s simply a matter of patterns that survive.

At some stage our ethical oughts fade into non-ethical oughts when the ‘ought’ no longer pertains to the well being of others. Even if you believe in the existence of a God who is either a punisher and rewarder (you ought to simply because God says you ought to) or a trustworthy advisor (we ought to because God knows more about how the universe works and his advice can be trusted to bring us happiness) we eventually end up with ethical oughts based on our own personal well being which, as I have shown, fade into non-ethical oughts because they don’t involve the well being of others. If you believe in a God of some kind ask yourself “why oughtn’t I murder?” and follow those meta-oughts as far as you can. I guarantee you’ll end up dealing with a non-ethical ought based on your own well being which, in turn, will end up disappointingly as a mere surviving genetic pattern. (I personally don’t find it disappointing; I think it’s one of the most wonderful things ever. I used to though.)

It shouldn’t really surprise us that complexity arises from simplicity. We have first-hand experience of gradually arising from a single sperm and an egg. We know that the amazing diversity of life evolved from simple chemical reactions billions of years ago. We suspect that the universe itself came about from deep simplicity. When we examine oughts and meta-oughts it certainly feels as though the ought of “you ought not steal” should have come from on high but as with the case of the coffee-making we can see that even this arises from something as simple as looking after our own interests.

At their very foundation, ‘oughts’ (even ethical ‘oughts’) are ‘ises’. It’s the layers of meta-oughts that trick us into thinking otherwise. It’s also the fact that some people are happy to speak the implicit “if you want to make a cup of tea then…” in common oughts but have difficulty speaking the implicit “if you want to avoid causing suffering then…” in what we term ‘ethical oughts’.

(This was originally posted as a comment over at FruitfulFaith and it was only after seeing how monstrously huge it was that I realised it was suitable as a post in itself. I’ve had a lot of different thoughts on morality and the issues that surround it and this is a good distillation of my latest thinking. And like all my previous thoughts this will likely change too — but right now I can’t see any gaping holes and it seems a fairly robust hypothesis capable of explaining a lot.)

Peterson’s First Law of Home Brewing

May 19th, 2010

q = (b*r)/100

The quality of your brew (out of 100) is equal to the number of batches (to a maximum of 100) you have brewed multiplied by how highly you rate it (out of 100) and divided by 100.

(Or, in plain English: “The beer you make yourself doesn’t taste nearly as good as you think it does, especially when you first start out”)

Brew Day

May 14th, 2010

Ingredients for making beer

Tomorrow morning is Brew Day. It’s been three weeks and I’m probably going to have restless dreams in anticipation.

For me, Brew Day usually starts at around 6am and finishes four or five hours later by which time I have over 20 litres of beer settled in my fermenter for the next week or two where it will magically turn sugary, malty water into delicious beer.

Above is a photo of all you really need to make beer; crushed malted barley, hops and yeast (at a trifling cost of only NZ$27 — that’s around 35c per standard 330ml bottle). All I have to do is let the malted barley sit in nice warm water for an hour or so where enzymes will convert the starches into sweet fermentable sugars, then I boil this sugary water up with some hops for an hour or so, cool it down and add the yeast which will do all the rest for me by eating the sugars and producing alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste products.

This week I’m making an English Ordinary Bitter which is a low alcohol beer (~3.5%ABV) with low carbonation, a malty/caramel flavour and aroma with hints of fruitiness and a light hop aroma. It’s a session beer which means that you can drink a truckload of it without feeling bloated from too much fizz and you won’t end up legless. But it’s a hard beer to get right; this is my third attempt and I’ve got high hopes for this one as it’s my first using all grain (instead of liquid malt extract).

Here is my recipe (for 21L):

Grain bill
3kg Maris Otter
200g Dark Crystal
100g Munich Malt
Mashed at 67 degrees C for 60 minutes
Mashout at 75 degrees C for 10 minutes

Hop additions
30g East Kent Goldings for 60 minutes
12g East Kent Goldings for 30 minutes
(1tsp Irish Moss for 10 minutes to clear out the protein)
10g East Kent Goldings for 1 minute
Boil for 90 minutes total to get rid of DMS

1 sachet rehydrated Safale s-04 English ale yeast
(yes, liquid yeast would be preferable but it’s really hard to come by here in NZ)

Sweet dreams!

Search and Replace PHP split() with Python

May 4th, 2010

A couple of days ago I upgraded to Ubuntu 10.04 which, in turn, upgraded my PHP version from 5.2 to 5.3. In PHP 5.3 they have completely deprecated the use of the split() function in favour of explode(). I did a quick search in my /work directory and it turns out that I have 832 files that are affected by this. All of them need to have split() replaced with explode() or the websites will throw errors every time they encounter it.

Here’s how I did it using an altered Python script I wrote a couple of years ago:

#!  /usr/bin/python
import os
import re

mydir = "/home/damian/work"

def doReplace(filePath):
	fin = open(filePath, "r")
	s =
	p = re.compile('(\s|\(|=)split\(')
		fout = open(filePath, "w")
		s = p.sub(r'\1explode(', s)

for root, dirs, files in os.walk(mydir):
	for f in files:
		name, ext = os.path.splitext(f)
		if ext == '.php':
			doReplace(root + '/' + f)

(**UPDATE** I’ve switched the search and replace to use regular expressions because I found that ‘split()’ can be prefixed by a number of symbols but not others — i.e. don’t replace ‘preg_split()’)

The Wire

May 2nd, 2010

Sal and I just finished the fifth and final season of The Wire on DVD last night. As far as I know it’s never been shown on NZ television before but I rate it as the best TV drama I’ve ever watched. Totally recommended.

Pope Song by Tim Minchin

May 1st, 2010

Warning: contains offensive language.
But that’s kind of the entire point of the song if you listen to the lyrics.