Monthly Archives: February 2009

What I’ve Done So Far with TCM

In January, I declared that I was going to take TCM to new heights. Let’s chronicle some of the cool things that have happened:

  • I added a ShareThis buton. Now people can share comics via their social networking accounts. They can post the latest comic in a MySpace bulletin or on their facebook wall. I use it to post on facebook, and I often get comments on my comics.
  • I have not missed a day of updating, except one vacation day. I have 9 vacation days left for the comic.
  • Voting incentives are back. This requires me to constantly keep a buffer of at least one day.
  • I put advertising on the main page, the blog, and the RSS feed. I haven’t made much money yet, but I still have a lot of experimenting to do with Google Adsense.
  • I changed my MySpace account to a more secure one. I am currently using this account to promote my comics. I posted the latest comic as a bulletin and received several comments.
  • I created a fan page for TCM on facebook. Last I checked, I have 69 fans. Thanks a lot to Lloyd for help with promotion!
  • I got linked by Pharyngula for my “spiritual but not religious” comic. I also had a huge spike of traffic in the beginning of January because of reddit, for my “to that guy at the party” comic.
  • I signed up for a Google Analytics account, which is giving me much more detailed statistics than my current sources for website statistics.
  • I made several back-end changes to the code that serves up the comic. As a result, it’s easier to modify things.
  • I fixed an issue with 404s redirecting to the home page. (But now I need to make sure the blog has its own 404 page.)
  • The quality of my comics is better. I spend much more time and attention making them. In retrospect, there are some I don’t like, but overall, I’m especially proud of my body of work since January.

Of course, none of this would’ve happened without the support and the love of my fans. Yes, the LOVE! YOU ALL LOVE ME, DON’T YOU???

Job: Uh Oh

Wow, I really need to start looking for a job…

I’ve lived my life at a leisurely pace for years. Senior year of high school was excrutiatingly long. College has been slow, but with quick tempo summers. Now, I feel as if life is about to speed up. My time here will be over before I know it, and I need to get cracking on the job search now. Of course, by now I mean after this next week where I have two papers and a presentation due. After that, the next crisis will happen and before you know it, I will be a hobo. Ugh.

Learning through Lecture

During my last programming project, we were doing some fairly complicated stuff. It involved neural networks and image recognition. As the philosophy major, I decided that I would do a lot of the writing for the group. The problem was that I initially had no idea what was going on.

My friend sent me a link to the papers of the guy who created the algorithm we were going to parallelize. I was presented with a choice: Read a 7 page paper, or watch a 45 minute lecture.

Sometimes, the lecture is a more effective use of your time. When I tried to read the paper, it made no sense. I didn’t have a framework with which to understand it. It’s like reading Kant with no philosophical background and no glossary. To truly comprehend it would’ve taken hours. It was actually much quicker to watch the lecture, where the guy was explaining it to an audience without experience in this exact problem. The lecture was very illuminating. Thus, it was quicker to watch the entire lecture than to read a very short paper.

This isn’t always the case. Some people are terrible writers and some are terrible speakers. Still, the lesson is that you can learn a lot from lectures, and sometimes you can learn more than you can from reading. Especially in technical papers, the writer will assume knowledge that the speaker will take pains to explicate. Since we have the wonderful world of YouTube and other video sites, watching a lecture isn’t limited to buying a video (DVD — what?) or finding a professor.

With that in mind, I’m going to post more videos. They’ll usually be things I’ve already watched, but which I’ve found useful.

Here’s one such video:
(h/t quad)

I loved this quote: “The core skill of innovators is error-recovery, not failure-avoidance.” I also liked the analogy of improvisation to the creative process, namely accepting and adding to what someone else has rather than shutting them down. Another lesson to take away was that I should focus more on being interested than being an interesting person.


As I approach my 22nd birthday, which is tomorrow, this idea has been weighing heavily in my mind:

“In like manner we are told, that when [Julius Caesar] was in Spain, he bestowed some leisure hours on reading part of the history of Alexander, and was so much affected with it, that he sat pensive a long time, and at last burst into tears. As his friends were wondering what might be the reason, he said, “Do you think I have not sufficient cause for concern, when Alexander, at my age, reigned over so many conquered countries, and I have not one glorious achievement to boast?” — Plutarch’s Lives

The idea isn’t that in 22 years, I’ve done nothing, but that I have not one glorious achievement to boast. I hope to change this with my current work on The Chalkboard Manifesto.

Maybe I’ve been thinking about glory so much because of my class on the Roman Republic. It feels like an antiquated concept in the era of self-esteem and personal happiness. I know that I can sleep on the floor and be happy. As long as I have food and friends to share that food with, I will be happy. However, that is not the path to glory.

I used to write off this urge as a narcissistic craving for fame. Fame is not the same as glory, though. Paris Hilton is famous. There is nothing glorious about her life.

No, I want by my 23rd birthday to have some claim to a small glory. I want an accomplishment I can look back on, and proudly say, “I did this.” And I want the average spectator to be touched by incredulity, to question whether I really could have done such a thing.

Links for Today

Things I’m reading:

On Project Runway being off the air: They Couldn’t Make It Work

Because at that point we were getting desperate. At that point we were realizing that, without “Project Runway’s” inane challenges to discuss (professional lady wrestlers? Seriously?), we literally had nothing to talk about with most of our co-workers. At that point we saw we had built entire relationships with people upon doing nothing but yelling “MAKE IT WORK!” across the cafeteria.

On the economic crisis: Laissez-Faire Capitalism Has Failed

There is the failure of ideas–such as the “efficient market hypothesis,” which deluded its believers about the absence of market failures such as asset bubbles; the “rational expectations” paradigm that clashes with the insights of behavioral economics and finance; and the “self-regulation of markets and institutions” that clashes with the classical agency problems in corporate governance–that are themselves exacerbated in financial companies by the greater degree of asymmetric information. For example, how can a chief executive or a board monitor the risk taking of thousands of separate profit and loss accounts? Then there are the distortions of compensation paid to bankers and traders.

On the prison system crisis: Five myths about prison growth dispelled

Given that, what’s the most cost-effective prison reform strategy? We need to stop admitting many minor offenders, even if they’re serving only short sentences. We need to focus less on high-profile drug statutes and more on the ways small-fry drug convictions cause later crimes to result in longer sentences. Once we start admitting fewer people to prison, we should shift money from prisons to police. If this seems like tinkering, rather than a sweeping fix, that’s because it is. See Myth No. 4: Reformers shouldn’t waste their breath trying to turn us into Europe.

A Different Michael Phelps

The idea that Michael Phelps was forced by his sponsors to apologize to the Chinese people, just because he smoked some pot, is ridiculous.

Imagine a different Michael Phelps. Imagine if he had rejected the sponsors who demanded self-immolation. What if he had called a press conference and unapologetically said, “I did nothing wrong.”

When we’ve got more people in jail than any other country, there’s something wrong with that, not with pot-smoking. The War on Drugs is a tremendous waste of money. California’s prisons are overcrowded, while we also face budget problems.

Imagine if Michael Phelps had said that we need to legalize marijuana. Imagine if he had called an end to this ridiculous prohibition. That would’ve been inspiring. Not 8 gold medals inspiring, but inspiring in a different way.

Instead, we have him prostrated and apologetic. And the farce continues.

Roman Religion

I’m reading about Roman religion and it seems like ancient religions are much more rational than modern, monotheistic religion. You act bad, the gods mess you up. You act virtuously, the gods reward you. The gods can be bargained with. Contrariwise, you can’t bargain with God. Plus, he does bad shit to good people all the time. Theodicy is pure nonsense. Modern religion, from this perspective, seems to make less sense than these ancient religions.

With certain ancient religions, the gods were believed because it was a matter of experience. (We now reject their superstitions, but you can see the effects gods would have.) I can understand if you believe in God because of your experience, but it makes little sense to have “faith.”

The alternative interpretation is to say, “Of course modern religion is more advanced than ancient religion.” Ancient religion is superstitious and distinctly human. Modern religion attempts to embrace something that is beyond human comprehension.

Our definition of God doesn’t make sense. You can argue that God is beyond definition, but that just seems to bolster the case that human definitions would be nonsensical.

Virtue as a Weapon

I’ve noticed that I win Risk more often when I don’t play to the end. If victory is declared between 2 or 3 people, then I’m more likely to win than if I have to continue to fight. Part of it is a failure to plan to the end. Once people start getting knocked out, I fail to see how the balance of power has shifted. Sure, I may get someone’s cards, but now a check on a different player has been eliminated. Besides my personal failings, however, there is simply the fact that when only one person can win, then only one person does so. If more people can win, then you’re simply more likely to win.

Last time I played Risk, my friend decried permanent alliances. He said they weren’t fair. This seems to suggest that permanent alliances have a lot of power. There’s also the time I played Risk with my friends where we were allowed to barter for cards, and two of my friends used a rather novel strategy. One friend simply gave the other all his cards. I had a lot of problems with that alliance, and eventually only won because we declared a joint victory at the end. It’s perceived as unfair only because a permanent alliance is so powerful that it’s really difficult to take out.

I had nothing of the sort in the last game of Risk I played, but I did have two alliances that lasted throughout the game (and we played to a three-way tie). At the very endgame, my life was threatened. The weakest player (Enemy) on the board was trying to bargain with my partner (Partner) to the West. Then, there was my friend in Australia (Friend) who was also rather weak. There was a choice: Either Partner took out Enemy, or Partner tried to take out Friend and then weaken me. Afterwards, Enemy would take out me. A lot of talking went on.

In Risk, I generally appeal to self-interest. There was an interesting appeal to self-interest that involved virtue, however. Throughout the game, I had been pressured to betray my Partner, and my partner had been pressured to betray me. I refused to betray my Partner. (This was mostly because it wasn’t going to serve my best interests at the time; if you can’t completely destroy your “friend”, you should think especially hard before you betray them.) Because of my loyalty, my partner never betrayed me. Well, that, and the troops I placed that would make his life difficult. (Another common negotiating tactic is to say that all we’ll do is fight each other, which will allow everyone else to gobble us up.)

During the course of the game, Enemy had earlier noted that we were approaching the endgame and alliances wouldn’t mean much. I used this statement against him in the final negotiation. I told Partner that Enemy had pretty much guaranteed that he would betray you. Do not trust him.

I’m not going to say that this argument persuaded Partner because there were many other arguments, and I can’t purport to know Partner’s thought-processes. Still, I think it’s an illustration of how you can use virtue as a weapon. A person is more likely to enter into an agreement with someone they can trust instead of someone they cannot trust. You can breed distrust, and get them to agree to your bargain rather than your opponent’s bargain.

I’m not going to say this is profound or anything, but I hadn’t previously realized how virtue can be viewed through this instrumental lense.

That being said, it’s not an ironclad law that one would enter into an agreement with a trustworthy person versus an untrustworthy person. It really does depend on your own self-interest. Some people really stress self-interest versus virtue. You can use that to your advantage to isolate them when it comes to alliance building. However, if that person has way more to offer than you do, then you may not have any bargaining power. It doesn’t matter that the dog will betray them later because it would serve someone’s interests now.

I think it’s best not to use the loyalty argument as your only card, but when put together with other arguments, it does help. It may even tip the scale if you’re at a slight disadvantage in terms of what you can offer.

Anyway, I’m going to think more about Risk and the power of alliances and virtue. Maybe I’ll come up with an interesting style of play I can share later.


I find it’s a good exercise to think to yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Then, you quantify it and your fear subsequently subsides. This is an entirely unoriginal line of thought, and I think I first saw it in Tim Ferriss’s book.

In any case, I applied it last semester when it looked as if there was a 0% chance that my classmates and I would turn in our final project on time. I did some mental calculation and figured the worst thing that could happen would be failing the class. Even with that, I could take an extra class the next semester and still graduate. I actually checked my transcript and realized that I could graduate, even without taking the extra class. It allowed me to stay calm. Really, you work better when you stay calm. It’s impossible to work when you panic. Even when people note that they do their best work under pressure, it’s not because of panic. It’s because the time constraint forces them to focus, and they drive everything else from their mind.

I recently published my fears about taking TCM more seriously, and I realized that they were all rather silly.

I’ve started to use the scenarios of others to practice this exercise. What if I was in their “crisis” scenario? Would things really be as bad as the person makes it out to be? Is it the end of the world? I think in my head: What’s the rational solution? What are the rational consequences? When you’re not dealing with yourself, it’s much easier to separate the emotions that cause you to catastrophize and see the problem more clearly.

In conjunction with defining fears and looking for solutions, I like to look on the bright side of things. For example, when the airlines lost my baggage, I thought, “Yeah, this sucks, but at least I have an excuse to buy new clothes. I really need new clothes anyway.” From this, it’s an easy step to also count your blessings. “Well, at least it was only my bags that got lost in Chicago and not me. I’m home for Christmas, with my family. Good thing I’m not in some random place, and I have a family to come home to. I love my family.”

Now, combine this with putting yourself in others’ shoes. When you analyze someone else’s problem, eventually you get back into your own shoes. Take a look at your own problems.

I just did this. I have a lot of problems, but they all seem so trivial. I’m really blessed to be in the situation I am in now.

Avoid Being Defined

On the shuttle ride back from the mall, I talked with a former classmate of mine. He thought I was a Computer Science major. We discussed the internet and identity fraud.

In my Roman Republic class, I talked with a different former classmate. She thought I was a political science major. We had taken a course on Machiavelli together. We discussed history.

An old high school classmate thought I would do something with politics and the world. She never would have imagined me being a philosophy major or teaching.

One of my uncles always tells me that I look like a professor.

I recently had lunch with my friend, and she noticed how The Chalkboard Manifesto touches on a broad variety of subjects. I said it probably had to do with all the different classes I’ve taken. Upon reflection, I think it says something about my identity. My interests are wide, so my art reflects that.

For some reason, I’m really proud that it’s hard to put me into one category. I want to live my life such that I am very hard to define. I didn’t realize until now that I had a pretty good start.

Smart vs. Clever

1) He’s very smart, but he’s also very stupid.

2) He’s very clever, but he’s also very stupid.

I contend that statement 1 can be interpreted in a way that makes sense. Statement 2, by contrast, makes no sense at all.

Am I right? It probably depends on what connotations you attach to the words “clever” and “smart.”

I equate “smart” with the kind of person who’d score high on an IQ test, and I equate “clever” with the cunning Odysseus. Now, “cunning” has a connotation of deceitfulness. Temporarily step aside from your moral predilections, and you see that the clever person has an understanding of the human mind that the smart person does not. We know geniuses who can’t relate to people. This person is incapable of deception because he can’t get inside another’s mind and figure out how that other person would react. The clever person understands people and knows how to get them to do what he wants.

Can the clever person be stupid? Yes, perhaps. Let’s remember the example of the fox who fell into the well. He tricked the goat into getting him back out, leaving the goat stuck in the well.

The clever person may be tremendously wrong, but he can sway others more easily, and is flexible enough to recover from his mistakes. A smart person relies on his abstractions to get through the world, while the clever person relies on also understanding people. We deal with people in the world, not abstractions.

The lesson? Clever people are more dangerous than those that are merely smart.