Posts Tagged ‘everyday frustrations’

Cut to the Goddamn'd Chase!

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Most prefaces, forewords, introductions, and introductory paragraphs are largely or entirely superfluous; most introductory sentences are wastes of time.[1] In the last few years, my annoyance about entropic rhetoric in general and about blathering preambles in particular has become outrage.

The internal state of affairs in the West is more terrible now than ever previously in my lifetime. A great many people believe themselves to have important insights to convey about this state of affairs, and want our time. Our time is scarce, but many of them want to present essays in the form of audio recordings, which deliver words far more slowly than most of us can read. Worse, almost every one of those who offer these recordings prologues for some minutes, usually about the importance of what they will have to say but almost always without the prologues' saying anything important.

I believe that some of these people indeed have important things to say; but, in each case, he or she behaves as if unable to recognize what is important. In each individual case, the probability is especially low that a person not getting to the point will get to an important point. I almost always abandon attention before the prologue ends, possibly well before it ends.

[1]  I acknowledge exceptions. I like to believe that I am responsible for some of them; but, had I always the luxury of being my own editor, some of my work would get more rapidily to its point.

Humpty Dumpty and Commerce

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Fairly inexpensive hair combs made of hard rubber — rubber vulcanized to a state in which it is as about firm as a modern plastic — could be found in most American drugstores at least into the mid-'90s. Now-a-days, they have become something of a premium item. I was looking at listing on Amazon supposedly of hard rubber combs and discovered, to my annoyance, that a careful reading of the descriptions showed that most of the combs explicitly described as hard rubber were made of plastic. To me, the situation seemed to be of pervasive fraud, as it will to many others.

But then I realized that it is more likely to be something else. Fraud, after all, involves deliberate misrepresentation. Whereäs we live in a world in which a great many people believe that no use of a word or phrase is objectively improper — that if they think that hard rubber means a rubbery plastic or a plastic that looks like another substance called hard rubber, then it indeed means just that. (Of course, we cannot trust any verbal explanation from them of these idiosyncratic meanings, as they may be assigning different meanings to any words with which they define other words.)

My defense of linguistic prescriptivism has for the most part been driven by concerns other than those immediate to commercial transactions. And, when I've seen things such on eBay as items described with mint condition for its age or with draped nude, my inclination has been merely to groan or to laugh. But it seems to me that the effects of ignoring or of rejecting linguistic prescription have found their way into commercial transactions beyond the casual.

Well, those who are not prescriptivists are hypocrites if they complain, and they're getting no worse than they deserve.

Stick That in Your Lexicon!

Saturday, 23 May 2020
bru·to·ri·al /bruːˈtɔːriəl/ adjective & noun
A. noun. An otherwise useless tutorial that one is not permitted to forgo.
B. adjective. Of or pertaining to a brutorial.

Dead in the Water

Friday, 3 January 2020

Although my paper on probability was accepted by The Review of Symbolic Logic on 22 September, it has since been stalled at that journal.

Acceptance was conditioned on my making a reply to the reviewer and my providing a final version of the paper. On 23 September, I uploaded the reply, a copy of my paper in PDF, a LAΤΕΧ source file for the text of the paper, and a BibLAΤΕΧ database. At the private page for my submission of articles to ASL journals, the status of the paper was reported as Waiting.

Some days later, I discovered two errors in one of the entries of the BibLAΤΕΧ database, which errors affected the bibliography. I initially thought that I should wait for galley proofs before attempting to effect a correction; but, on 17 October, I submitted a revision of the database, along with redundant copies of the other files because it was not possible simply to submit a new copy of the database.

From 22 September until then — indeed until 30 November, I'd received no communication from the editors nor from other staff. So I contacted the handling editor and requested information. She had not replied as of 2 December, so I contacted the coördinating editor and requested information. He replied on 4 December with a recommendation that I contact the handling editor, and said that he'd sent a copy of his reply to her. She had not replied as of 9 December, so I sent a copy both to the coördinating editor and to the handling editor, presenting a time-line, noting the lack of communication, and again requesting information.

On 18 December, the handling editor told me that she would contact the typesetters and then communicate with me soon. On 20 December, at 21:06 UTC she sent e.mail reporting that the typesetters needed for me to upload a final version of the paper. I responded that I had done so on 23 September, and that I'd also submitted a revised BibLAΤΕΧ database on 17 October. However, I returned to the website to repeat the process, and found that there was a previously presented option entitled Upload Final Versions; I used this option. and the status became Finals Uploaded. The option continues to be offered. Evidently, when I was told to upload a final version, an editor or some other member of staff failed to do something that would have caused that option to be presented to me on 23 September or on 17 October. And, since none of them were paying attention, no one noticed that months were passing without movement on the paper.

I mention the time-of-day that the handling editor replied to me because it was late at night in England, on a Friday, with Christmas coming in the middle of the next week. There was no discernible action taken on my paper in that next week, nor has there been in the week after it; I imagine that the typesetters have all been on vacation.

On 3 January at 21:44 UTC — yes, again at night on a Friday — the handling editor replied to my message of 20 December, saying that she would again contact the publishing team. I quickly notified her that, on 20 December, I had again uploaded a final version, but had not heard since from them.

Up-Date (2020:01/05): I received e.mail from the handling editor telling me that the publishing team could now access the files. I don't know if, for them to be able to do so, still more had to be done by the editorial staff. In any case, my paper still isn't publicly listed as accepted.

Humpty Dumpty, Prescriptivism, and Linguistic Evolution

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

In Chapter 6 of Through the Looking Glass by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (writing as Lewis Carroll), a famous and rather popular position on language is taken:

When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

If Mr Dumpty's words simply mean whatever he intends them to mean, then the rest of us are not in a position to understand them. If he provides us with verbal definitions, we must know what the defining words mean. He could not even declare in a manner intelligible to us that he meant most words in the same sense as do you or I. We might attempt to tease-out meanings by looking for correlations, but then we would be finding meanings as correlations, which assumes properties (such as stability) that represent more than pure choice on the part of Mr Dumpty. Having been made perfectly private, his vocabulary as such would have no practical value except for internal dialogue. There is a paradox here, which Dodgson surely saw, yet which so very many people don't: If Mr Dumpty's apparent declaration were true, then it could not be understood by us. He might actually just be making some claim about breakfast. We might take (or mistake) his claim for a true proposition (that his vocabulary were purely idiosyncratic), but any co-incidence between his intention and our interpretation would be a result of chance. We could not actually recognize it for whatever proposition it actually expressed.

In order to communicate thoughts with language to other persons, we must have shared presumptions not only about definitions of individual words, but also about grammar. The more that such presumptions are shared, the more that we may communicate; the more fine-grained the presumptions, the more precise the communication possible. In the context of such presumptions, there are right ways of using language in attempt to communicate — though any one of these ways may not be uniquely right or even uniquely best — and there are ways that are wrong.

Those who believe that there are right ways and wrong ways to use language are often called prescriptivist, and generally by those who wish to treat prescriptism as wrong-headed or as simply a position in no way superior to the alternatives. Yet, while one could find or imagine specific cases where the beliefs concerning what is right or wrong in language-use were indeed wrong-headed, forms of prescriptivism follows logically from a belief that it is desirable for people to communicate, and especially from a belief that communication is, typically speaking, something rather a lot of which is desirable. As a practical matter, altogether rejecting prescriptivism is thoughtless.

To the extent that the same presumptions of meaning are shared across persons, the meanings of words are independent of the intentions of any one person. Meanings may be treated as adhering to the words themselves. Should Mr Dumpty take a great fall, from which recovery were not possible, still his words would mean exactly what they meant when he uttered them. A very weak prescriptivism would settle there, with the meaning of expressions simply being whatever were common intention in the relevant population. This prescriptivism is so weak as not often to be recognized as prescriptivism at all; but even it says that there is a right and wrong within the use of language.

Those more widely recognized as prescriptivists want something rather different from rude democracy. In the eyes of their detractors, these prescriptivists are dogmatic traditionalists or seeking to creäte or to maintain artificial elites; such prescriptivists have existed and do exist. But, more typically, prescriptivism is founded on the belief that language should be a powerful tool for communication as such. When a typical prescriptivist encounters and considers a linguistic pattern, his or her response is conditioned by concern for how it may be expected to affect the ability to communicate, and not merely in the moment, but how its acceptance or rejection will affect our ability to understand what has been said in the past and what will be said in the future. (Such effects are not confined to the repetition of specific pattern; other specific patterns may arise from analogy; which is to say that general patterns may be repeated.) Being understood is not considered as licensing patterns that will cause future misunderstandings.

In opposing the replacement of can with the negative can't in can hardly, the typical prescriptivist isn't fighting dogmatically nor to oppress the downtrodden, nor merely concerned to protect our ability to refer to the odd-ball cases to which can't hardly with its original sense applies; rather, the prescriptivist is trying to ward-off a more general chaos in which we can hardly distinguish negation from affirmation. (Likewise for the positive could care less standing where the negative couldn't care less would be proper.) When the prescriptivist objects to using podium to refer to a lectern, it's so that we continue to understand prior use and so that we don't lose a word for the exact meaning that podium has had. We already have a word for lecterns, and we can coin new words if there is a felt need for more.

The usual attempt to rebut prescriptivism of all sorts notes that language evolves. Indeed it does, but prescriptivisms themselves — of all sorts — play rôles in that evolution. When a prescriptivist objects to can't hardly being used where can hardly would be proper, he or she isn't fighting evolution itself but participating in an evolutionary struggle. Sometimes traditional forms are successfully defended; sometimes old forms are resurrected; sometimes deliberate innovations (as opposed to spontaneous innovations) are widely adopted. Sometimes the results have benefitted our ability to communicate; sometimes they have not; but all these cases are part of the dynamic of real-world linguistic evolution.

The Evolution Card is not a good one to play in any event. Linguistic evolution may be inevitable, but it doesn't always represent progress. It will not even tend to progress without an appropriate context. Indeed, sometimes linguistic evolution reverses course. For example: English arose from Germanic languages, in which some words were formed by compounding. But English largely abandoned this characteristic for a time, only to have it reïntroduced by scholarly contact with Classical Greek and Latin. (That's largely why our compounds are so often built of Greek or Latin roots, whereäs those of Modern German are more likely to be constructed with Germanic roots.) It was evolution when compounding was abandoned, and evolution when it was reädopted. If compounding were good, then evolution were wrong to abandon it; if compounding were bad, then evolution were wrong to reëstablish it. And one cannot logically leap from the insight that evolution is both inevitable and neither necessarily good nor necessarily bad to the conclusion that any aspect of linguistic practice is a matter of indifference, that nothing of linguistic practice is good or bad. One should especially not attempt to apply such an inference peculiarly to views on practice that one dislikes.

Hard Case

Saturday, 28 May 2016

I have lots of keys. Most of those that are not on the key-ring that I routinely carry with me are tagged, so that I know to what they go. But, as I was going through the drawer in which those keys are kept, I found one that was labelled HARD KEY. I confess that this label was not and is not now very helpful.

There is such a thing as is called a soft key; it's a passcode of some sort. What would one call a hard key? A key that is not a soft key? That would make every key in that drawer a hard key; there'd be no use in labelling a key of that sort simply as a key of that sort.

My best guess is that this key were a key that were badly cut or worn, so that it were hard to use. But to use where?

Well, I couldn't and cannot remember; but that's okay, because I found that it matches another key that I have on a ring labelled Orphans, and nothing goes on that ring unless I know that it's no longer possible or no longer permissible for me to use the key in its lock. (There is separate ring for keys that are merely probable orphans.) Some of the orphans also have further tags; some, as in the case of the brother of the HARD KEY do not; but when that brother was put on the ring, I knew to what it went, and knew that I couldn't or shouldn't access that lock.

I didn't save the orphans thinking that I might someday match one with an unidentified key. A few of them I saved for their sentimental values. Most I saved simply to have keys with which to do other things; for example, they could be filed into bump keys or given to children or used as props; the intention in identifying them as orphans was that most of these keys be distinguished as expendible. Of course now, in the case of a key with no twin on that ring, I will be a bit more reluctant to alter or part with it, as it might someday be matched with another mysterious key. I am enslaved by my keys.

Musings on Mystery Mail

Sunday, 19 July 2015

On 15 July, there was a slip in my mailbox from the letter carrier, declaring that 71¢ postage were due on an item, which could be redeemed and retrieved at the post office after 09:00 on the next day. I was explicitly named on the slip.

Had this been an item that I'd allegedly sent without sufficient postage then, instead of my just receiving a slip, the item would have been physically returned, with a demand for more postage; so it was something sent to me.

USPS rates for First-Class mail are 49¢ for the first ounce, and 22¢ for each ounce thereafter. So, if someone were to misjudge the weight of an item, then it would be expected to have some integer-multiple of 22¢ too little (or too much) postage. To be 71¢ short, it would most likely have been dropped in the mails unstamped, or had all of its stamps stripped by postal machinery; in the latter case, one expects the stripping to occur sooner rather than later.

The most likely thing would be that this item were without stamps very early in process. And, in that case, it would have been delivered to the return address, with a demand for more postage, if there were a return address; so I guessed that there weren't. That had me curious.

Very shortly after 09:00 on 16 July, I was at the post office, with the slip. But the postal clerk was unable to find the item, and the carrier was not available. (He or she was probably already out, making deliveries.) The clerk insisted that she would take care of the postage due — I suspect that there were no provision for me to pay postage due on a lost item! — and have the carrier deliver the item.

However, it was not in my box on 17 July, nor on 18 July; it would seem still to be mislaid. So I'm left to conjecture.

Up-Date (2015:09/12):

On 10 September, there was another slip in my box, declaring 71¢ postage due. While it might have been for yet another item, my guess was that it were for the same piece, having resurfaced. I had reason to go to the post office anyway, as some registered mail was there waiting for my signature.

When I attempted to pay for and collect the mail with postage due, it was again declared to be lost. The fellow behind the counter angrily resented my angry resentment, and I demanded to speak to his manager. The manager found the mail, which was lost as one more aspect of not following normal procedures.

The item was, as it happened, indeed the same item, and something that I had mailed. My scale had said that it were one ounce; apparently theirs said that it were two.[1] So it should either have been sent on to the addressee, with a demand for 22¢ more postage, or returned to my box with that demand, instead of my having been summoned to the post office with a demand for 71¢.

Instead of arguing about 41¢; I just decided to take the thing home, and not to resend it. There is no love lost between the intended recipient and me; and I consider him to be the primary victim of the USPS in this case.

[1] Some day, I plan to invest in a one-pound weight of the quality used by Bureaus of Weights and Measures, and visit various post offices, testing the scales of their automated dispensers. My guess is that almost every one will overstated the weight. I don't expect that I'll have an opportunity to test the other scales, but I'd bet the innacuracies to be coördinated.

There Are Worse Things, but…

Friday, 10 August 2012

[This entry may be superfluous, in that people who fall for any of the fallacies discussed are unlikely to read the entry, people who employ one of the fallacies are unlikely to reform if they do read the entry, and people who recognize that fallacies are involved may not see much use to analyzing them.]

I often encounter an argument, whose form is

P does A1;
A2 is better than A1;
therefore it would be acceptable/desirable for P to do A2.

It's easy to find P, A1, and A2 such that the intuïtion recoils from the conclusion that

it would be acceptable/desirable for P to do A2.

and, in the face of such intuïtions, most people will acknowledge the non sequitur (acknowledged or otherwise) in the argument. We could even add a further premise, that

P ought to be persistently active (if not necessarily in their present manner).

and still find P, A1, and A2 such that the intuïtion recoils from that conclusion. (Consider that non-profit institutions do facilitate child abuse, and that child abuse is worse than many other things that are still themselves unacceptable.)

Yet one encounters this argument frequently with P as the state, A2 is something that somebody wants done (such as space exploration) and A1 is something disturbing that the state is doing or has done recently.

A variation on this can be found with form

P1 approves when P2 does A1;
A2 is better than A1;
therefore P3 should not object to P2 doing A2.

A non sequitur is evident in cases where P3 is plainly no subset of P1; but this argument is often presented in a manner so as to obscure a distinction, as when an everyone or a no one is used as-if loosely (which is to say inaccurately) in the first premise, but P3 is some person or group of persons who aren't actually in the set labelled everyone or actually are in a non-empty set labelled no one.

However, this argument is fallacious even when P3 simply is P1. There may in fact be an incoherency in approving of A1 while objecting to A2, but that inconsistency could be resolved by changing one's position on A1. For example, if forcing people to pay for birth control is better than forcing them to pay for war with Iraq, then perhaps someone who objects to the former should cease approving of the latter, rather than embracing the former.

(And resistance from P1 to coherence wouldn't itself license A2 when A2 victimizes yet some additional party P4. One doesn't force atheists to distribute copies of Al Qu'ran on the grounds that neoconservatives would object to such distribution even while supporting worse things.)

Sometimes one even sees an argument of the form

P1 does not object when P2 does A1;
A2 is better than A1;
therefore P3 should not object to P2 doing A2.

Variations of this even go so far as to replace objection with more active opposition.

P1 does not actively oppose P2 doing A1;
A2 is better than A1;
therefore P3 should not actively oppose P2 doing A2.

The appeal for those who present these arguments is that, if they were accepted, then almost no A2 could be practicably challenged, as the objector could be dismissed for not having tackled each and every greater evil.

Of course, if this argument held, then it could virtually always be turned around against the claimant. For every P2 and A2, there is a P'2, A'1, and A'2 such that A'2 is the supposed ill addressed by A2, P'2 effects A'2, and A'1 is some greater ill effected by P'2. In other words, even if A2 were good, it would itself almost never address the greatest evil, so that there would always be something else that one would be required to do before ever getting to A2.

It's just a shot away

Monday, 2 January 2012

For dinner last night, I went to a local restaurant that is part of a larger chain. I was given a number to place on my table, and a cup to fill with tea or with soda at a dispenser.

I placed the number on a table, filled the cup, and returned to the table to look through an art-supply catalogue that I had brought with me.

The catalogue is about 8 in × 10 in × ½ in (20.3 cm × 24.5 cm × 1.3 cm) — roughly the size of a residential telephone directory for a medium-sized American city — and illustrated with pictures of, well, art supplies.

At about the time that I'd got to the mannikins, I had emptied my cup, so I went back to get more tea. As I was taking care of that, I noticed that my food was delivered to my table.

When I returned, I discovered that some fellow had happily sat himself down before the plate, his smart phone to one side, and was looking at the pictures of mannikins in the catalogue.

So, suddenly, he hears a deep, very angry voice, asking You're going to take my food? and he looks up to see me. I'm not sure just how I looked to him, but probably like someone on the edge of violence. After a momentary pause, his mind apparently now wonderfully concentrated, he got-up quickly, explaining that he was at the next table, and thought that they'd brought his food while he was away.

Let's back-up a sec: This fellow hadn't merely mistaken one table for another — something that I suspect most of us, and certainly I, would be capable of doing — he was looking at the pictures in the rather large art-supply catalogue. One doubts that he actively imagined that a restaurant were in the habit of presenting such a catalogue along with one's meal. Rather, his mind was simply disengaged. Here's the food! And, what's this? Oo! Shiny!

I have such low expectations of the mindfulness of other people that I believed his claim immediately, and indeed his order was brought to that next table not long afterwards. But I didn't much enjoy my meal nor the rest of the catalogue; my body was still geared-up for a fight.

Sprint, Stumbling Backward

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Until recently, when the subject of cellular phone service arose, my report was always that, while I'd read and heard complaints about Sprint, I'd always been satisfied with their performance. That's no longer the case.

Last year, I added a number with a wireless modem and data plan to my account. That seemed to work pretty well until a couple of billing cycles ago, when I got hit with a huge bill. Since I'd not been monitoring my use, I assumed that I'd somehow gone way over my allotment, and paid the bill. Thereäfter, I started watching my use carefully. During the present cycle, Sprint claimed that, less than half-way through the cycle, I'd already used about 9/10 of my 5 GB allotment. I dropped-back to doing nothing with that connection but text email, and an aggregate of less than a few minutes on the WWWeb. But, a couple of days later in the early morning of 23 April, when I checked my ostensible use, by way of a café WiFi LAN, I found that Sprint was claiming that I'd gone well past the remainder of the allotment. I snapped-off an angry message to them.

Then, as I continued to watch, from the café WiFi LAN, with my modem powered-off and back at home, I watched the reported use climb by about an additional 100 MB! I snapped-off another angry message, and added that it was now plain that the whalloping overage charges of a few cycles ago should be refunded.

I also posted to a Sprint forum, and within a few days learned that essentially the same problem is being reported by other users. Sprint is claiming that powered-off and detached devices are gobbling-down capacity!

On the morning of 23 April, Sprint sent me e.mail

To ensure your needs are addressed, I have forwarded your request to our Account Services department. One of our specialists will contact you within 24-48 hours.
but the promised contact has not been attempted. My own plan had been to wait until to-day or to-morrow before using other channels or beginning the process of using other institutions.