Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Deep Thoughts about … What?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

I started reading Rethinking the Western Understanding of the Self by Ulrich Steinvorth, and in its first chapter came upon this passage

As subjects we desire satisfaction of our desires; as selves we strive for the enactment of reason and free will.
(Underscore mine.) It is not auspicious to find this sort of claim early in the work.

To say that something desires the satisfaction of its individual desires is no more than to say that it desires what it desires; nothing fails to do this, as things without desire present us with the trivial case of a null set.

The pursuit of satisfaction of each individual desire does not logically entail global satiation of desires (bliss) unless those desires are themselves somehow bounded. It's not clear what Steinvorth means by desire (a point that I will labor), but let's assume that he means something along the lines of uncontemplated cravings and the things that are craved, as for sensual pleasures or for hoards of material goods. I don't see that they're naturally bounded. I don't see that most people make a presumption, one way or another, about whether such cravings are bounded. The impulse to bound them by attaining ἀπάθεια or nirvana seems far from universal to me (and anyway is probably not an expression of what Steinvorth calls subject, but of what he calls self).

It's evident that he wants to distinguish desire as a verb from one more generally meaning to have a directed psychological impulse, and as a noun from one more generally meaning objective; but nowhere prior has Steinvorth given a definition of desire, as noun or as verb; the remainder of the chapter and use of the index indicate that he's not going to do it at all. I see declarations such as X desires the satisfaction of X's desires as the unconscious attempt to fill the need for a definition with a logically unassailable tautology. (Simply say X desires and the need for definition is more apparent.) The problem is that the latter cannot do the work of the former, and the tautology is vacuous.

It's further evident from the first chapter that Steinvorth wants to distinguish happiness from a noun simply meaning an emotional sense of attaining or of having attained one's objectives; and to distinguish utility from a noun simply meaning usefulness. One can tell that he means to equate or approximate what he means by happiness with what he means by utility. But nowhere in the first chapter does he actually provide more positive definitions. He does insist that if we consider such things as the glory of suffering to be a form of happiness then the idea of happiness becomes inflated and loses its meaning, but I want to know what meaning it would lose. Again using the index, it doesn't seem that he bothered with providing any of these definitions anywhere else in the book.

Book Dis·Service

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

I want to discourage my readers from doing business through AbeBooks.com, which operates as a listing service of books for sale from a multitude of merchants.

A friend recently ordered a book from one of these merchants through Abe. The merchant responded by declaring that the book had been sold to another buyer, but then relisting the copy with other services, at a higher price. In other words, he or she, upon receiving an order, decided not only not to honor the advertised price, but to lie about the situation.

My friend then contacted AbeBooks.com to complain, explaining exactly what the seller had done. Abe responded with irrelevant boiler-plate about items that were no longer available. (The seller, for his or her part, responded with the irrelevant claim that he or she did not make money by hoarding books.)

When my friend again contacted Abe, the response was to deny that the book had been relisted. They repeated this denial to me. As my friend had made it explicit that the relisting had been with an alternate service, and had offered evidence, Abe's response was at best with reckless disregard for the truth, if not simply a lie. In the wake of having it reïterated that the listing was with other service and that evidence can be provided, AbeBooks.com has retreated into silence.

As I told AbeBooks.com

If you do not ensure honorable practice, then you are at best redundant amongst listing services.
So far, for example, my experiences with Alibris have been fine, and there are other services as well. If one finds a book listed with AbeBooks.com, there's a good chance that the very same seller lists the very same item through some other service as well. (I recommend using AddAll at the outset of a book search.)

Up-Date (2010:07/29): Yester-day, Abe broke their silence to declare that there was nothing that they could do about such a relisting. In fact, what they could have done is to de·list the seller. Evidently AbeBooks is amongst those very many firms who treat it as an acceptable form of lying to misrepresent a choice as a necessity.

Abe did offer my friend a coupon for a 10% discount on a future order. My friend couldn't, with this coupon, secure a copy of the same book at the same net price as it had been listed — it's perhaps worth noting that the seller's price increase had been more than 99%. And Abe was simply tossing to my friend the same sort of promotional coupon that other buyers are given anyway.

Gaming the System

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

My father has a pair of Microsoft® Xbox 360™ systems. He spends a fair amount of time on one or both of them, by himself and with my brother.

(My mother reports that my father's interest in the Xbox developed after I sent to him links to the Rooster Teeth Productions Red vs. Blue machinima videos.)

I have more than once been impressed by video games as programs, and wouldn't mind doing such programming, but I've never been much for playing them, unless one counts Rogue and NetHack as such.

And I really loathe the Xbox controller. It strikes me as a product of path-dependency, rather than otherwise optimal design. The particular path was begun by a controller for the 1983 NES (an 8-bit gaming system with a clock-speed of less than 2 MHz and accordingly limited possibilities), with understandably little consideration as to the effect of the design on the future. Each subsequent controller design was affected by the desire not to impose too much change upon users, and perhaps in some cases by a need for compatibility with existing and anticipated gaming systems. Were controller designers starting with an understanding of the information that players would now want to be transmitted, but otherwise fresh, then the designs would be radically different.

But it discernibly saddens my father that I don't join him on his systems when I visit. So I have purchased an Xbox 360™ wireless controller for Windows and a copy of Halo®: Combat Evolved for Windows, so that I can practice using controllers of that d_mn'd design, with a game of the sort that my father plays. (My computer does not have enough umphf for some of the newer video games.)

I'm also then being compelled to boot-load Microsoft® Windows in order to play the game. So I'm running an operating system that I hate to play a game that doesn't appeal to me to familiarize myself with a controller that I hate. Maybe I'll stop hating the controller. (I sure won't stop hating the operating system!)

I mentioned this matter to the manager of the apartment complex in which I live. She noted that there are far worse things in this world than feeling obliged to play video games. That's certainly true.

And it's even true in the face of something that I didn't mention to her, which is that something about the game — beyond the awkwardness of the controller and the usual objectionability of Windows — adversely affects my mood. Perhaps it's that the fictitious world has been one of emptiness punctuated by violence.

Sinister Manipulations

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

In response to my entry reporting that I'd developed plantar fasciitis, Ronnie Ashlock suggested that I look at an entry in Rational Fitness Blog by Scott Helsley. I was persuaded thereby to increase the amount of stretching that I did, and to order a pair of Heel That Pain heel seats and a Strassburg Sock™.

I first tried the heel seats in my boots (which I normally wear every other day), replacing the more ordinary heel seats thereïn. Rather than seeming to help, the new seats made the left foot hurt as if its fasciitis were worsening, and the right foot hurt as if it too had fasciitis. I then tried the seats in my walking shoes (which I wear on the days that I don't wear the boots), on top of the replacement insoles that I'd put in those shoes after the fasciitis developed. The seats seem to work well in the walking shoes.

The Strassburg Sock™ is to be worn when sleeping or sedentary. It stretches the fascia by flexing the toes upwards. My sister-in-law offered me the use of splint that instead flexes the heel, but the Sock seemed like a better idea. (When my sister-in-law had suffered from plantar fasciitis, she'd been unable to use a Sock because of recent injury to her toes.) Anyway, the Sock certainly keeps my fascia stretched while I'm wearing it. I cannot sleep wearing it for more than a few hours, but my sister-in-law reported the same problem with her splint. The Strassburg Sock™ has to be hand-washed and air-dried, so I'd need to have two (or live somewhere that afforded faster drying) to wear one every night.

I'll Be Broken-Down before They're Broken-In

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Quite a few years ago, at the suggestion of a barber, I switched to getting buzz-cut hair-cuts. Some years after that, I spotted an Oster Teq clipper at Target, for something less than the price of three hair-cuts. I've been cutting my own hair ever since.

Results have usually been satisfactory, with one exception where a guide-comb fell-off the clipper as I was using it, and I was compelled to buzz down to stubble to achieve uniformity.

In early August, that clipper started making a dreadful noise. I've looked at the mechanism (one of a basic magnetic motor), but don't see anything plainly amiss. I might be able to have the clipper professionally repaired, but I'd expect the cost, including shipping, to be about that of just buying new clippers of the same sort. So I planned to go back to Target and buy another pair. Before I did so, the Woman of Interest suggested that I price clippers on-line.

In the Amazon Marketplace, I found an offer for the Oster Turbo 111 clipper, one of a sort that would be used by a professional barber, at a really great price. However, the seller instead sent just a single blade, not the clipper. Subsequently, that seller claimed that Amazon had screwed-up what was supposed to be a listing for just that blade (at what would not have been even a good price), and Amazon simply refused to claim much at all. No one took responsibility, though my money was eventually refunded and the seller had provided a pre-paid return-shipment label for the blade.

In any case, I now had it in my head to get a clipper of higher quality than that which I'd been using. (Meanwhile, Target no longer carried Oster clippers of any sort.) I decided to get an Oster Classic 76 clipper which is a work-horse clipper popular amongst barbers.

There were a couple of vendors on eBay who offered what seemed to be good prices, but when I looked at some of the negative feedback for each, I decided that I was not sufficiently confident to buy from either. The next best price that I found was at Brighton Beauty Supply (especially as Brighton Beauty Supply offered free shipping on orders over $49.95). Brighton Beauty Supply was not particularly quick to get my order shipped (and neglected to send the promised free gift of ½ fl. oz. of shampoo with an order over $100), but the clipper arrived yester-day.

Probably mostly because of a superior blade, the clipper cut through my hair far more smoothly than had the previous clipper. It's a little more difficult to fit the Universal guide-comb on it than onto the previous clipper, but it's not really a problem.

The instructions for the Oster Classic 76 clipper say that it will work best after it has been broken-in, which they say should take about four-to-six weeks. The problem here is that those would be four-to-six weeks of regular barbering. That would be something like four hundred hair-cuts.

Keep going! Keep going! Keep going!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

By way of an entry in Gaal's LJ, I was led to Eric, a story by Shaun Tan, as reproduced by the Guardian. On the strength of the story and of what I read in reviews, I ordered three of Tan's books:

And, after reading The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia (The Red Tree came last), I ordered

[cover image of The Red Tree]The Red Tree (2001) doesn't tell a story. It is a sequence of metaphors for depression, concluding with the expression of a principle of hope. The focal character is a little red-headed girl, and the metaphors are written at a level that a depressive child should be able to understand. I don't believe the particular message of hope, and so I very much doubt that I would offer this book to a depressed child. But if one wants to offer the message that things will surely get better to a despondent child, then this book might be an appropriate device. Otherwise, adults can appreciate the quality of the pictures.

[cover image of The Arrival][cover image of Emigrantes]The Arrival (2006) is the most impressive of these five books, and one that I very strongly recommend for adults. It is the tale of a stranger come to a strange land — so strange to him that he cannot read the local script. To communicate that loss of communication, the story is told without words for the reader either; once past the title page, there are no words beyond the Roman numbering of chapters and whatever is said in that mysterious script. I'd far rather that you experienced the story as it was designed, so I will resist the temptation to reveal more to you. I will tell you that not only should this not be simply classified as a children's book, but that I think that a younger child should not go through this book for the first time without an adult beside him or her.

BTW, you can get this virtually wordless book as translated into Spanish if you wish. (And, apparently, there was some concern that El Llegado or somesuch would be too subtle a title.)

[cover image of Tales from Outer Suburbia][cover image of American edition of Tales from Outer Suburbia]

Tales from Outer Suburbia (2008) is a heavily illustrated anthology of short fiction — Eric is taken from it — such that the styles of the illustrations vary with the stories. The stories are not uniformly as marvelous as is The Arrival, but Outer Suburbia is still an outstanding book, which I again recommend. In my opinion, the best of the stories is the very last, night of the turtle rescue; it is very short but very powerful. Most of the stories are suitable for younger children, but it would concern me to have a younger child reading stick figures or wake on his or her own.

[cover image of The Haunted Playground]The Haunted Playground (1998) is essentially a ghost story for children reading at about third-grade level. I’d guess that it’s about 11000 words, with about ten pen-and-ink interior illustrations by Tan. (The cover is by David Pulmbo.)

The Lost Thing (2000), which arrived yester-day, seems to have slipped out-of-print since I ordered it. [cover image of Tales from Outer Suburbia] In any case, is about the discovery of an enormous, lost creature by a boy, told from the perspective of that boy. Not only do most people not recognize the creature’s condition of being lost; they don’t even recognize the existence of the creature (in spite of its size) until someone directs their attention to it. When the boy does this with his parents, they can see it only long enough to insist that it be sent away. Although Tan has provided some interpretation of the story at his website, he actively resisted including any with the book itself.

While I cannot as strongly recommend The Lost Thing as I do The Arrival or Tales from Outer Suburbia, it can be appreciated both by adults and by children. And I don’t think that one need be right at the elbow of a younger child when he or she first reads it, as opposed to Arrival and to Outer Suburbia. The Lost Thing, BTW, is being made into a short, animated film.

Brush-Off

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Previously, I wrote of how a Jack Black® Pure Performance Shave Brush, with synthetic bristles, proved to be far better than the Burma Shave™ boar-bristle brush that I had been using.

I said that I would probably try, for the sake of comparison, an Art of Shaving® badger-bristle brush that I had, and there was some interest in my doing so.

That badger-bristle brush is not of the highest grade. Above it would be the best badger, and better than the best would be the silvertip badger. I'm not going to be trying a best brush or a silvertip brush, because I'm not going to contribute to the the deaths of more badgers. (Again, I got my boar-bristle brush in a state of ignorance, and my badger bristle brush was likewise got by someone who didn't know that badgers were killed for the bristles.) FWIW, I've read that there isn't much difference between an ordinary badger-bristle shave brush and a best badger-bristle shave brush, but that there is a remarkable difference between a silvertip brush and a best badger-bristle shave brush.

In any event, I found the Art of Shaving® badger-bristle brush much better than the Burma Shave™ boar-bristle brush, but the Jack Black® synthetic-bristle brush significantly better than the Art of Shaving® brush.

The Art of Shaving® brush still irritated my skin somewhat. I don't know to what extent that was a result of the overt texture of the bristles and to what extent it was an allergic reäction or something like an allergic reäction. The Black brush has no such effect.

Both the badger brush and the the Black brush have a much greater tendency to hold water than does the boar brush.

I've only tried the badger brush and the Black brush with a hard cake shaving soap. (I once tried the boar brush with a thick shaving cream from Lush, but that the experiment suggested that that stuff shouldn't be applied with a brush at all.) I have other shaving soaps with which I can experiment later, but I don't mean to conductive extensive further comparisons of these brushes.


For those who are interested, here is a list of the synthetic shave brushes of which I am aware:

Many of them have been reviewed at Badger & Blade.

Brush with Destiny

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

This morning, I tried a Jack Black® Pure Performance Shave Brush. Its bristles are synthetic (the badger lives to see another day) and anti-microbial, but designed to perform like a silver tip badger brush (which is generally held to be the best sort).

I have a Burma Shave™ boar-bristle brush that I got before I learned that boars were killed for the bristles, and an Art of Shaving® basic badger-bristle brush given to me as a gift before the giver learned that badgers were killed for the bristles. Jointly, these could last quite a few years. But I was quite interested to try a synthetic brush, partly so that I would know whether they were good gifts, and partly so that I could write and speak about them from experience.

The thing that I always read about most synthetics is that that they don't hold water as well as do natural bristle brushes. Well, I've not yet done a head-to-head comparison with anything but the boar-bristle brush, but the Black® brush definitely holds considerably more water than does a Burma Shave™ boar-bristle brush. (So much so, in fact, that I ended-up with far more dilute lather than I wanted. That's a problem that I can easily address, by just shaking out the brush before I put it in the soap.)

The Black® brush also feels much nicer against my skin than does the boar-bristle brush, and certainly nicer than did the boar-bristle brush when it was new. And the boar-bristle brush smelled like a musky animal when it was new, whereäs the Black® brush naturally didn't. (Jack Black in fact gave it some sort of pleasant scent which I presume will wash away with use.)

I will probably, at some future point, try the genuine badger brush that I was given. The badger whence the bristles came isn't going to get any more killed; and, while I wouldn't thus have tested the Black® brush against a high-end badger brush, I would at least have tested it against a badger brush of some sort.




While I am on the subject of shave brushes, I would like to mention the Burt's Bees® Natural Bristle Shaving Brush, found in their Bay Rum Men's Shaving Kit and sometimes sold separately. A little research confimed my suspicion that the bristles are boar bristles.

Burt's Bees proclaims

our goal is to help create a world where people have the information and tools they need to make the highest ethical choices
Now, reasonable people might argue over whether it's ethical to kill animals for shaving products, but one doesn't have the information needed to make the highest ethical choices if one isn't being told that these natural bristles were harvested from killed boars; plainly a significant share of Burt's Bees' customers would have concluded that the use of such bristles were unethical. And we may safely presume that the boars were killed (though there is a ranch in Spain that would happily sell them bristles sheared from boars who are not killed), because Burt's Bees, which makes a point of telling us that it doesn't engage in animal testing hasn't made a point of telling us that these bristles were sheared from live boars.

Possibly Burt's Bees just didn't know any better (much as I didn't know any better). I notice that the Bay Rum Men's Shaving Kit is presently listed as currently out of stock, and I can't find the brush itself listed separately at their site (though I can find it sold by Red Rain, a company that claims to offer the concientious consumer earth friendly, cruelty free products and services). But Burt's Bees has grossly failed its customers, either willfully or inadvertantly, and owes to them an explanation and an apology.