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Arthur Chan
Works at Reametrix
Attended Carnegie Mellon University
Lives in Palo Alto, CA
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Arthur Chan

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Alarm bells should go off any time anyone suppresses dissent.
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Arthur Chan

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The next time some dude asks me what I believe in, im'ma tell'em I believe in clouds. ^^

I believe in clouds... The sand on the beach... Bob Marley playing over the speakers in the cafe... ^___^

Wut?

They're real. I can believe in them.

And the clouds. Sometimes they puff and wisp around, like they have a soul. Like they are playing. It's like nature being creative.

The sand on the beach, as you sit down upon it. What other animals, gone and to be, trotted up these grains of sand as they glanced out at the sea?

Bob Marley? Dude. Bob Marley is Bob Marley. Duuuude.

Okay. Goodnight everyone.
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Lay down that pipe :)
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Arthur Chan

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I just attended Alain de Botton's lecture about his new book, Religion for Atheists. Great topic and great oration.

I'll sum it up as: non-believers shouldn't throw out the bath water with the immaculately conceived baby.

If wisdom is knowledge about how to live well, then de Botton points out that strict secularists are thousands of years behind religious people. Just because they don't believe doesn't mean they can't accept the wisdom to be found in religion's practices.

de Botton divided his presentation into sectors: art, architecture, education, etc, contrasting the secular trends with the established practices in religion. Each supported his point well: many of the humanistic principles and objectives are shared, but the thematic differences mean that secular and religious people implement them differently. And in many cases, secularism's origin as an opposite puts it at a disadvantage: religion have adapted to (co-evolved with?) humans as the modern world developed. There is great day-to-day wisdom to be found in religion, if secularism would just look at it calmly.

His points about rituals struck me the most. Religion is full of them. And you can imagine they've long been apart of humanity, especially rituals that bring about meaningful personal bonds. I can't think of anything more comparable in the secular world than sporting events — and that's a disappointing champion. Here's some of my favorite mentions — read these articles humanistically; just skip over the divine bits:

(de Botton presented these examples as partly religious, but some of the articles don't point that out. /shrug)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_Kippur
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_tea_ceremony
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikveh (non-believers just take hot baths)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukimi

Don't they sound nice? I wish they were part of my cultural calendar.

I was considering asking a question at the end, but somehow else actually beat me to the point. She asked: where in the secular world is there a place for the irrationality of religion? For example, how to unfamiliar secular people come together and cope with despair? I would have prefaced with a personal anecdote. I used to attend my friends' house church, and it was beautiful to be a part of. Sometimes people would bring difficulties from their lives and we'd help share that burden with them. I eventually began biting my tongue, because I realized they weren't there for suggestions — my rational mind couldn't help but dive in. There were no real answers to the problems. They just wanted to be together to share the hard times. They wanted scripture. They wanted support. Secularism isn't so good about that. It has nothing helpful to say when you lose a grandparent. The best your secular pal can do is share in your sadness. And remind you to celebrate the lost one. But that doesn't hold up against the potential relief found in the supernatural. I think secular despair rituals might be a tad oxymoronic. Or at least at odds with the general modern secular view of the world.

Go see him talk if you have the chance.
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Yeah... the ball was taken and run with, off to an entirely different field :) Religion makes up a large part of culture, if you lose the religion you can lose the culture with it. I don't think you can separate ceremonies, things people do together because they enjoy it, reminders about how to live your life, cultural stuff, and religion. Belief or not in various supernatural things is just one more thing you could throw into that mix. So I wouldn't try to draw a line between secularism and religion, but rather say how much of what parts of that tangled ball?
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Arthur Chan

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This is not my own observation (it's a professor's), but it's an important one that I want to pass on to my computer scientist followers.

Much of computer science finds itself in a bit of a tough place, and has for years. Even though, by virtue of predominantly publishing through conferences and workshops rather than journals, computer science "officially" publishes faster than some other subjects, publishing a paper takes time, so that you can develop more of an attachment to your ideas, and become more personally invested in them, and it makes it more embarrassing to backtrack later. Publishing a paper is usually effectively advocacy, and "nails your colours to the mast" in a way that blogging and posting on mailing lists doesn't. Moreover, in the time between filing for a grant and publishing a paper, your idea might have already been independently brought into production in industry.

Or even a better alternative to your idea.

Well, them's the breaks, you might say - there's always been the risk of being scooped, and you might back the wrong horse but you always could have done. Publications are the route to more grants and to promotions. Yes, but the risk is greater today.

But does it matter if industry does something similar, if they never publish a paper on it per se? Well reviewers, in some subfields at least, will actually reject papers for being irrelevant "since this is already available commercially". And have done for years. So this is not merely theoretical, even if all you care about is notching up another publication, as opposed to actually producing something useful.

Do you think you are immune to these problems? If you're working on distributed systems, computer vision, robotics, databases, DSLs, functional programming, metaprogramming, machine learning, scientific computing, formal methods ... you probably aren't. Maybe you are, if you're working on something really obscure like dependent types. But that's only because dependent types are essentially not used at all in industry. When they are, things will change, and remaining relevant will paradoxically be more of a challenge.

I guess maybe it's a good thing that I left academia (again). Even though I miss it sometimes.

None of this is to say that there is no role for publicly-funded computer science. Of course there is. But I think that in some cases, it is rather fruitlessly trying - and sometimes failing - to compete with industry.
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Arthur Chan

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So at this point, people have heard of what's going on with the Cato Institute, and have been blogging and tweeting about it.

I think it's worth reviewing now, some of the things the Cato Institute has been against. They are against corporate subsidies; they even opposed the bank bailouts; they've cautioned against the intrusive TSA screenings. And you don't have to take it from me. You can read about in the NYTimes piece, a newspaper which arguably bookends one end of the American Left.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/us/cato-institute-and-koch-in-rift-over-independence.html


The Cato Institute is a think tank that analyses data, and uses that data to argue for its viewpoints. "Data." That's an important detail, because it means that they are not the self-purported "bible-thumpers" that we are looking for. As much as we may hate them for it-maybe because they support ideas repulsive to us, like school vouchers-, Cato, and the people who stand behind it, are effectively our intellectual equals, no matter how you define "us." We may not agree with what they say, and we may think they're kind of blind to the fact that we live in "civilization," where no man stands alone, but that's ok. We can produce some studies showing the beneficial effects of government-run education, for example, if we want to debate with them. More importantly than all that, they have principles.

I think that's a really important word, the word "principles." There's people who believe in the ability of free markets to optimally allocate resources, and that's an idea, a principle. Then there's people who exploit the language of the legal system, the imperfections in the election system, and the psychological impulses of the voting populace as a whole. What's troubling then, is that we on the American Left have had a habit of lumping these groups of people together, when from a cultural-studies point-of-view, one group represents the corruption or regression from Western economic liberalism, whereas the other is a pointed interpretation of a subset of those values. The American Left has been confusing criminals with people who have an opinion.

Cato, and the people that align with them are the conservatives "we" want to be fighting. They have underlying principles, and they argue from reason. If we can't respect them, who will we respect? Having looked at the comments I've seen in the twitterverse and the blogosphere, I begin to wonder that the struggle the Cato Institute is going through is not merely a watershed for the libertarian movement, but one for the American Left. Any of us who have even the slightest "socialist" sympathies need to think about who we want to fight, who want to hold a dialogue with, who those adversaries would be, who should command our respect.
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Arthur Chan

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Between the Trayvon Martin shooting, the slut remark, and being unclear which part of which century we live in, I thought maybe the feeds could use a little cheering up.

Massenet "Meditation" from Thais, Yo-Yo Ma
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Arthur Chan

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I just discovered theoatmeal.com, and it is awesome.

"Up until now the social structure in our school has taught you that the number of friends you have depends on your ability to play sports..."

http://theoatmeal.com/pl/senior_year/pe
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you make a good point. some of the baggage is good. some of it gets in the way.
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Arthur Chan

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one day
 
I (officially) resigned from my company yesterday.
Got a cool new job as a Haskell programmer.
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In his circles
448 people
Have him in circles
223 people
Tom Moertel's profile photo
Priscilla Kim's profile photo
vivian chien's profile photo
Simon Meier's profile photo
Lawrence Wong's profile photo
Conrad Parker's profile photo
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  • Reametrix
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