Repairing the blog, and recommitting

Earlier today, I was engaged in a bit of time-wasting on Facebook (the “Five Interesting Places” meme, if you must know), and a commenter referred to my inclusion of Golconda. I decided to search back in the blog to find the piece I’d written about my visit to Hyderabad and Golconda, and perhaps include a link to a photo or two. And so I pointed my browser at ““.
It was broken. The sidebars were gone, the header image was different, and there were no new posts since September 19. (And that was an auto-generated summary of my Twitterings.) What the hell was going on? Somehow my WP theme subdirectory had reverted to an earlier version. I searched the uploaded images until I found the lovely picture of my grandson’s eyes, tweaked the layout, and everything was restored to a semblance of normalcy.
And then I realized that I had no answer to a very simple question: how long had it been broken? How long have I been ignoring it? It could have been up to two weeks: certainly the most recently scheduled automated Twitter summaries had failed to appear.
Why haven’t I been blogging much recently?
Some of it is the competition of other channels. Much of the day-to-day discussion of cloud computing (and the business thereof) takes place in Twitter. Hand-held devices mean that you can never escape the flow: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Reader are all there whenever I glance at my iPhone, and new apps like Flipboard and the Atlantic’s iPhone apps keep pushing updates in my direction. Yes, I could stop looking – but I can’t escape the fact that the tempo of social networking has increased: subjectively, if I don’t comment on a topic within the first 24 hours, it’s already stale.
Personally, I’m busier than before. New job, family commitments, other stuff to deal with. Less travel, which means less down-time, less reporting from exotic places and less photography. And on the personal and work front I find that there’s more stuff going on that I don’t really want to share – family medical issues, complicated relationships, and sensitive work-related topics.
But there are other factors at work. If you read my blog archives, there’s a lot of politics, and philosophy, and religion. And I’m pretty much burned out on all three. The US political environment is intensely depressing: rampant stupidity on the right, paralysis on the left, and betrayal in the center. Kleptocracy reigns, civil liberties are as Orwellian as under Cheney, and the callous robo-murder of poor, brown-skinned people continues from Afghanistan to Gaza. Philosophy is giving way to neuroscience and physics, and about time too. And on matters of religion, I’m tired of having to repeat the same old arguments to each new generation of believers. I’ve been discussing this stuff on the ‘net since the late 1980s, and it gets repetitive. (Fortunately the terminally uninhibited Christopher Hitchens is saying everything I wish I could say, but much better than I ever could.)
But I want to blog. I want to write: it’s good for me. I’m not sure what the best pattern is, but I’m going to work on it. My cousin Aidan is a journalist, and I believe that his weekly blog is based on his newspaper work. He always touches on several topics, but there’s usually a common theme. Some friends confine their writing to one or two topics; Chris Gerhard is usually opining on Solaris or cycling, while Kimberley rarely talks about anything other than dressage. Maybe I just need my One True Theme. Formula 1? Book reviews? Yahoo!? We’ll see.
And for the record, my Five Interesting Places were:

  • The Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China
  • Golkonda, Hyderabad, India
  • Ephesus, Kusadasi, Turkey
  • Avebury stone circle, England
  • Hong Kong, HKSAR

I am now a Yahoo!

Orientation was yesterday. Today I plunge in. I’m heading in early, to try to find my desk, though I suspect that my workspace will turn out to be wherever I (and my MacBook) happen to be…

Bringing philosophy up to the standard of science

Over at Common Sense Atheism, Luke has posted an excellent commentary on the recent decision by several well-known philosophers (Keith Parsons and John Beversluis) to give up on the philosophy of religion:

The problem is not that philosophy of religion has lower standards than other areas of philosophy do. The problem is that standards in analytic philosophy in general are (compared to those in science) relatively low.
We need not look very far for examples. Consider the mainstream arguments in philosophy of mind about the possibility of zombies. David Chalmers argues that because he can imagine a world with all the same physical facts but no qualia, therefore physicalism is false. And this argument is highly respected and hotly debated in philosophy of mind, where many of the smartest people in philosophy do their work.
Such an argument from “what I can imagine” would be laughed out of a scientific conference with jeers of “Come back when you have evidence you idiot!” But standards are considerably lower in analytic philosophy, and such arguments are taken seriously and widely debated.

However Luke suggests that there is reason to hope. He points out,

In fact, one way to see the naturalistic project in philosophy since Quine is that naturalists want to raise the standards of argument and evidence in philosophy. We’ve noticed that the high standards in the physical sciences help make them so productive, and so we want to raise the standards in philosophy so that they are as close to the standards of science as possible. Thus, strict naturalists pay close attention to arguments that are roughly scientific in structure and rise close to the same standards of argumentation and evidence, and we pay less attention to arguments with lower standards, such as those that typify, say, theistic philosophy of religion or moral realism.

I really have become a Californian

Last Sunday evening, as I was heading back to my hotel in Newton, MA, I decided to stop off at the CVS drug store to pick up a bottle of white wine.
Drug stores in Massachusetts don’t sell alcoholic beverages. And the liquor store next door was closed, too.
Now I see that it’s not just a question of day, time, and kind of store: proximity to a church is also a factor:

The owner of a Braintree gas station and convenience store says he won’t appeal the town’s decision to deny him a license to sell beer and wine, even though he doesn’t agree the sales would hurt the “spiritual and educational activities’’ of the church across the street.
Mobil on the Run is within 500 feet of St. Thomas More Roman Catholic church, and the town license board was required by state law to consider the church’s opinion, according to Town Clerk Joseph Powers.
The pastor of St. Thomas More Parish sent a letter to the board saying he had concerns about Mobil on the Run selling beer and wine because of the large numbers of children and teenagers who worship and take religious classes at the church.

And yet religious wackos keep insisting that “people of faith” are under attack from strident atheists and aggressive secularists….

Zwischenzug #1: Massachusetts

Because of some prior commitments, I found myself with two weeks between finishing at Huawei and starting at Yahoo. The first week was spent in Massachusetts, helping my daughter and grandchildren move in with Merry. When you combine two households, you find that you have two of most things (which means that you need to throw stuff away), and none of some critical things (because each assumed that the other would provide it). Both of the previous houses had some built-in shelving, and so one of the urgent needs was to install enough shelves to hold the stuff that wasn’t being thrown away. Etcetera.
We also got to spend time with family and friends in the Boston and Pittsfield areas, and after brutally hot weather last week we woke this morning to a classical first-signs-of-fall-in-New-England day. The air was cool, crisp, and fresh, and a couple of trees were exhibiting prematurely autumnal foliage.
And now, after driving the length of the Mass Pike and flying across country, we’re back in Palo Alto, ready for the second week of intermezzo. On Tuesday, we head to Napa…. It’s going to be the first time for both of us.