Monday, June 23, 2008

Eleanor Cameron

When I was a kid, probably ten or so, my parents would take me in to Greenfield, the nearest decent-sized town, to go to the library and check out books. I can remember a lot of books from that time vaguely, very few clearly.

One of my favorite authors, whose books I do remember clearly, was Eleanor Cameron. She wrote about a boy my age who constructed a rocket ship and flew to a secret moon in earth orbit and had adventures with the little green men who lived there. The premise of the stories, and the science in them, was pretty absurd, but the stories themselves were wonderful. I still remember the chill running down my spine when reading one of the more tense bits of Time and Mr. Bass.

Anyway, Eleanor Cameron is no longer with us, but I wound up wandering to her wikipedia article, and then to an essay she wrote about writing, which I think is worth a read:

What she says in her article is something I think any writer today could stand to read. What she says about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is amusing, surprising (to me) and revealing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The summer solstice sun hits the south wall at a very oblique angle. I don't think it's imparting very much energy to the wall; when I put my hand on the wall just now (1:30pm), it wasn't unpleasantly hot, although I singed my feet on the relatively light stone walkway. Earlier and later in the year we'll get more energy from the sun on the wall. So it seems like the main thing is to keep the summer sun from shining into the interior of the house through the windows during the hot season, but allow it to shine through during the cold season. At the depths of winter, the sun will be striking the wall at a much less oblique angle as well, so it will absorb a much larger percentage of the sun's energy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Okay, the deal is that the sun rises in the northeast, peaks at 8.5 degrees south of vertical at noon, and sets in the southwest, on the summer solstice in Tucson. At the equinoxes, it rises and sets due east and west, and is to the south all day. At the winter solstice it rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest, and peaks at just over 55 degrees south of vertical at solar noon.

Some useful sites:

Solar Path for Tucson

Passive Solar Heating and Cooling

Evaluating Your Site For Solar Energy

Our building site is at 32.155 degrees latitude, -109.43 degrees longitude

And on a completely different topic, this has got to be the coolest visualization of the construction of a software system that I've ever seen.

Monday, June 16, 2008

An observation about solar orientation: it's 9:45am in Tucson. The south wall is in sun, but the angle of the sun is very steep - a 2" overhang is casting a 3' shadow. The north wall is completely in shadow right now. I need to check again at noon. This is not what my naive understanding of solar angles would suggest - hardly shocking, but something I need to think about.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

I'm going to make what I assume is an unoriginal observation, but it came to me in contemplating fairness in the context of libertarianism. Feel free to point out why my thinking here is completely wrong.

It's my understanding that the fundamental principle of Libertarianism is that it is wrong to initiate force. If force is used against me, I can respond with force, but when no force is used against me, I may not. A second tenet is that fraud is wrong - I should not attempt to gain by deceit. But Libertarians also have this idea of "property", and this is where I think the philosophy goes off into the weeds.

Let us stick to the first principle for now. Initiating force is wrong. If that is so, then consider the following situation. I have a house. Someone picks the lock on my front door and moves into my spare room. Finding a key to the house, they make a copy of it, returning the key, and continue to occupy my house. They stay out of my way, and act like a good guest, providing their own food and so on, but it remains that I did not invite them. And so I undertake to evict them, by forcibly removing them, and by standing guard so that they can't come back to the house.

Who in this case initiated force? Was it the person who moved in to my house? Or was it me, when I tried to evict that person?

I think that you could make a case for either position. And I think that if you take the latter position, you are right, and if you take the former position, you are fair.

I don't mean to propose that we should all accept it when people break into our homes and move into our spare bedrooms. What I mean is that if you take this as your premise for how Libertarianism works as a philosophy, then you wind up with a society in which the common good is cared for. And if you take the other position, that it is okay for me to use force to evict a squatter, then you wind up with a society in which the common good is not cared for.
I changed the name of my blog because I am concerned that the message has been lost. When I started this blog, it was with the intention to rant about the notion of fairness, and how badly it fails at the task of getting us to do what is right (a rather chancy concept in itself, I admit).

Here's an illustration of what's wrong with fairness. What does "getting even" mean to you? Generally speaking, it means revenge, right? Evening the balance. Returning harm with harm. Putting a transgressor in his or her place.

Revenge is fair. Returning harm with harm is fair. An eye for an eye is fair. Is it right?

I don't want you to read this as reductio ad absurdum. This is the very heart of the nature of fairness, not an edge case. Fairness is about making sure that everyone gets the outcome they deserve. And frankly, there are plenty of people in the world who deserve a bad outcome. But when we give them one, we in turn come to deserve a bad outcome. And when they deliver it to us, we get a bad outcome again. And so the cycle perpetuates.

Fairness perpetuates the cycle of suffering. The idea of fairness is wrong. Peace cannot descend upon a world whose inhabitants think of fairness as the highest moral code, or indeed as any moral code at all. A world where fairness is the controlling paradigm is by definition a world filled with suffering.

The point of this blog is threefold: one, to dispel in the reader's mind the idea that fairness is a valid or functional system of ethics. Two: to promote ideas that might contribute to a system of ethics that does promote happiness. And three, to actually follow that system of ethics by doing things, like sharing my homebuilding experiences, which are not required of me, and not fair, yet might be of benefit to others.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The storm seems to have passed...

Andrea's good news page got mentioned on reddit, and then on boingboing, and then on digg. We got about 260,000 hits on it in the 24 hours that followed it appearing on the front page of digg for the first time. The server did poorly at first because I had it configured with too few http daemons, but once I corrected that it chugged along just fine. It helps that the page was a static page.

One of the coolest things about being boingdotted was that we got to see where people were coming from. In addition to the big three, there were lots of blog comments, and lots of discussion. One of the happiest things that happened for me was that one of the blogs misattributed a quote from Back to Methuselah, a play by George Bernard Shaw, to Robert Kennedy, and so I found myself on Robert Kennedy's wikipedia page checking the quote before using it myself. And there I found a plethora of quotes, one of which I will now share with you:

What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason. Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

We used to have people like this running for public office. And we can again. May it be so.