Monday, August 31, 2009

Demnstrating the premises of an argument is more important than demonstrating their link to the conclusion

Quick sketching....

Here's a major criticism that I think can be applied to how most arguments are made. If we say the structure of the argument is like

if A, B and C then X
my criticism is that people primarily try to justify the argument by justifying the then part.

They may make some efforts to justify the if part - to justify A, B and C, but I think mostly this is more about giving the appearance of having checked that task off than a genuine attempt to ensure they're true.

Having taken A, B and C to be the case, they argue why X should follow, and try and back that up other reasons why we should take X to be true.

The problem with this is, I think, is that A, B and C actually being the case is far more important to X being true than the line of reasoning that allows you to go from A, B and C to X.

A, B and C define a terms of reference, a picture of the world. The arguments for then X are really along the lines of "in a world where it is such that you have A, B and C, it would follow that X". And I don't think it's that hard to have distorting simplifications in your terms of reference that allow you to derive X, even if X isn't actually true.

Justifying the if part is the major task in showing that the world actually has the certain properties, and works in the particular way that, when you work out the consequences, you see that X is the case.


I think we usually think of the premises of an argument as simply facts, but really the bulk of the premise is an outlook, a framing, a kind of model of the world and the kinds of ways you can reason from facts to conclusions. Kuhn's insight about paradigms is about this kind of thing.


This is a major reason why in most arguments the parties end up talking past each other. Of course the other person's view seems wrong - they're working from different sorts of premises. If you really want to get somewhere, examine the premises.


I can't think of a forum (the popular media, books, academic papers, discussion forums, etc) where it is really considered acceptable to really look into premises, or even to look into the premises behind other people's work. Philosophy is an area where you might expect to see it, though from the stuff that I've seen it doesn't seem to happen.

I suppose blogs are one medium where, in the first place, you can get it out there, and get away with it unscathed, though I kinda doubt anyone would be that interested in reading it.

Copy-editing marks and annotations

Signal vs Noise looks at why traditional copy-editing marks are more effective than how revision changes are shown in Word's Track Changes feature.

I think Track Changes is symptomatic of a more general shortcoming of all existing software: they’re hopeless when it comes to annotations.

Most software simply has no support for adding annotations to bits of your information (in your address book, your image files, your calendar, email, etc etc.). There might be a separate ‘note’ field, but that’s nothing like being able to add real annotations, like you can do on paper.

As the linked post points out, annotations should stand out as separate from what they are annotating, but I don’t know of any existing software that gets this aspect of annotations right.

Also, with hand-written annotations you can use subtle details, like the positioning of the annotation in relation to what it applies to or the size of the annotation text, to convey information, and software annotations are poor in this regard (though it'd definitely be worth investigating how to make it better). Certainly this is one area where pen input would be useful.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The internet is good for Vim

I think Vim is a great text editor and one that's well worth learning. But it's certainly a bit of effort to learn all the commands and get used to working in different modes. A lot of people seem to be put off by that initial frustration.

You're editing a file and there'll be something, often fairly simple, that you want to do but don't know how. And while the Vim help is quite good it can be hard to find info on the specific thing you want to do, so it’s easy to get stuck. At least that was the situation 10-15 years ago. But these days you can just put details of what you’re trying to do into Google and you’ll likely get a good answer. And the net contains a number of Vim cheatsheets.

Of all the editors, Vim probably has the largest initial hump to get over before getting to proficiency, but also one of the largest payoffs for doing so, and the internet is making it a lot easier to get over that hump. And for that reason we might see a resurgence in its use.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Mangalam's Vegetarian Moussaka

Mangalam's Vegetarian Moussaka

Tastes very nice.


  • cooking oil, 5 tablespoons
  • eggplant, 1 medium
  • onions, medium, 1, peeled and sliced
  • potatoes, 2
  • medium tomatoes, 2
  • brown lentils, 400g can
  • tomato paste, 2 tablespoons
  • mixed herbs, 1 teaspoon
  • vegetable stock powder, 1 teaspoon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • For the sauce
    • butter, 2 tablespoons
    • plain flour, 2 tablespoons
    • mozzarella, grated, 3 tablespoons
    • milk, 1½ cups

  1. Peel and cook the potatoes

  2. Slice the eggplant and spread on a plate.
    Sprinkle eggplant with salt and leave for 15 minutes.
    Rinse and pat dry.

  3. Fry the eggplant in a little oil until brown on both sides and set aside.

  4. Heat the remaining oil and cook the onion until soft.
    Add the brown lentils (with the liquid from the can).
    Stir in the tomato paste, stock, herbs and seasonings.
    Bring to the boil.
    Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

  5. Slice the cooked potatoes and tomatoes.

  6. Line the bottom of an oven proof dish with half the eggplant.
    Pour over half the lentil mixture and top with sliced tomatoes.

  7. Add the rest of the eggplant, lentil mixture and layer with the potatoes.

  8. Making and adding the sauce

    1. Melt the margarine, stir in the flour and gradually blend in the milk.
      Bring the sauce to the boil, stirring constantly.
      Beat in the cheese.

    2. Pour the sauce over the moussaka

  9. Bake in a moderate (180) oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown.