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Semiformalishmaybe

Correcting the Stork

Shipping madness (potentially dull):As I said, I recently ordered a SSD HD from Newegg for my laptop, as well as an enclosure to hold the legacy (delightfully snobby phrasing, ne? Just like non-digital cameras are legacy cameras..) HD I'd be taking out. This provides a temporary obsession where every half hour or so I'd visit the two tabs for shipping status and refresh them to see if they were there yet. I asked them to be delivered to the nice simple address of "5000 Forbes Avenue, CMU, Computer Science - Pat Gunn, Pittsburgh PA 15213".

Yesterday, I experienced that familiar feeling (maybe similar to sports fans watching the other team score a goal? Maybe - I'm not into watching sports) of seeing it go into status exception - they sent someone to Wean hall (where CS used to be), they found the closed mailroom, and sent it back to the local UPS centre. Last night they corrected the address (??) and it arrived this morning. Sadly, they were set to deliver the other package this morning, and it entered exception and would arrive tomorrow (but this is the SSD, so I'm trying to bend fate).

I called UPS, which offered to let me pick it up tonight, which is madly inconvenient (but I'll do it if there's no other option). The local UPS folk (which are even more friendly - seems their customer service people are pretty friendly, which is nice) took note that small packages should go to the GHC mailroom rather than to the old mailroom (so maybe I'm an invisible hero of CSD..) and is trying to contact the driver to have them try to deliver again today.

The thing that gets me is - how did they correct the delivery address to begin with, and why did they take it as a 302 instead of a 301? I guess dealing with stuff like this is why any non-tiny university tends to have its own US Post Office (and often zipcode). Maybe UPS/Fedex/the rest don't offer that kind of integration that the Post Office does?

Update: The awesome local UPS lady I spoke with managed to get them to redeliver it today, hooray!

Finished: Libson's book on Jewish and Islamic Law

It was a good book, although it ended rather abruptly - the notes section fills the last half of the book (I didn't know this until suddenly I hit the end in the middle). Like a lot of scholastic efforts that independently examine historical events with religious/philosophical significance, I wonder what the potential audience is for works of this kind - I imagine it might be rejected by followers of both mainstream Judaism and Islam because it could offend their dignity - people would like to believe that Shari'a is divine law from Allah, and likewise Halakha is the combination of laws of god and rabbinical fences around wrongful behaviour. The idea of mutual influence between the two systems during the early days of Islam in what is present-day Iraq is bound to step on a lot of toes (maybe serious independent scholarship always does) in two communities that are much more scholarly than all but a few flavours of modern Christianity. I wonder in general how scholars of these types interact with institutions that hold the relevant source materials - are these generally secular? If not, I could imagine reluctance to allow them access to materials that would help their possibly lightly heretical research.

Did more backstory for the webcomic-that-might-never-be-born - it's surprisingly enjoyable filling out details of a fictional university - a bit of research to find a suitable founder and tweaks to their history (in this case, I had Royal Governor Thomas Gage return to Mass with some of his family after the American Revolution and had him live a bit longer, long enough to found a University, bankrolled by one of his sons and some other financial schemes).

When I was young, I was considered a bright but lazy boy - when I was interested in a topic I tended to do rather well, but there were a lot of things in which I took no interest, and I would neither study them nor pay attention (I've gotten a bit better than this even though my work ethic still is still very off/on - no middle ground between a sprint and sitting around). History and geography were both in the "I consider that boring let's do something else" category - I think a lot of it was that my world-outlook didn't have a place to put that knowledge yet. What changed that for me was an interest in the humanities - the nature of humanity, laws, society, and a richer philosophy. With enough context (really contexts), history became fascinating, and geography became at least peripherally interesting because it's the stage for it all (plus modern visualisations from sat data make it pretty and virtually explorable). If I were to meet my younger self, I think in a few days worth of conversation I might be able to transmit the roots for the fascination back across that gap - if one can tie mundane events like a change in government (say, Oliver Cromwell's England) into theories of power, government, competing faiths, different notions of virtue, and have ideas for neat questions like "how do events like that affect diplomacy", and get in the habit for having ideas and questions like this hovering around whenever one thinks of history, it's hard to find it boring. I regret the opportunities I missed to dig into this stuff when I was younger (I don't really regret poor grades - missed opportunities kind of suck, but I'd rather make my own educational meal from academic sources and judge my own progress/goals than either have someone else judge them or try to go them alone (the latter is utterly absurd, really).

Earlier this week I managed to drag myself to a PittCFI meeting (first time) - it was a private meeting in some guy's apartment, and I think everyone there was at least 10-20 years older than me.. but it was pretty decent - a topic, a discussion group, all among very bright, well-read, culturally engaged people (yes, there was some informal singing of Tom Lehrer songs, discussion of films, etc). It happened at a high point in my social ok-ness, but if the stars align I might go back the next time they meet. Apparently there's this whole community I somehow never noticed during the many years I've been here.

With the turning of seasons, I'm starting to think about healthy living again - trying to cut back on unhealthy foods, and I'll probably start jogging again soon. If I can overcome the crazy, I really do want to lift anchor and move on soon to some magical happy land where the weather doesn't suck, I'll be able to make friends and find a suitable person to date,
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. Doing occasional work for my old group in psychology, I was reminded yesterday that I might be able to use some people I kind of know to get into a PhD program in Nederlands, neatly bypassing my non-glorious academic record with an entrance exam (abstract tests of intelligence have been the strong counterbalance to my academic record in opening doors for me).

The only real barrier is making sure that I want the lifestyle of endless meetings on neuropsych topics, writing grants, and dealing with university politics. I loved doing research, and I loved the idea of doing research, but what little I had to do of the other things were so very boring. It might just be the cost of working in the field, and apart from becoming some kind of dictator (which I honestly think I would be both good at in a serve-the-people kind of way and enjoy) or working at some awesome nonprofit, I don't think there are other things I could imagine seeing myself doing. I guess the will-I-keep-my-head-together thing is a question too, but it's one of those things where I'm so used to hedging my bets that it'd be a major shift to feel sure I want to go on, so this really wouldn't change that a lot. So yeah, it's stuff to think about - thinking hard about the academic lifestyle, and maybe a bit about other fields I'm interested in as well as nonprofits. I guess if I believed in Intellectual Property and actually had sufficient relevant skill I could become an independent artist or writer and enjoy that, but that's not going to happen.

Finally, a statement of a position on animal testing:I was inspired to talk about it by PZ Meyers' rather poor post on the topic. As is often unfortunately the case, he strawmans the topic in order to push for a reasonable articulation of his opinions. While animal liberation groups often involve people like he describes, there are many people in them who are reasoned, understand all the issues, and still both have the positions and approve actions to back it up. I often do (although I no longer do direct action).

For purposes of this, I limit my consideration of animal testing to be the use of mammals for testing of products, as well as abstract and applied academic research.

I hold that:

  • Provided no harm is done to the animals either in the experiment/study or afterwards, and the animals are either returned to the wild (should they be wild animals) or to prospective pet owners after the study, testing is permissible. Otherwise:
  • Animal testing for cosmetic or other nonscientific purposes should be prohibited
  • Animal testing for scientific purposes that involves harm (including death, dissection, things that involve pain or discomfort, removal of limbs, infection with diseases that impact quality of life, etc) is strictly controlled - no non-reversable or excessively traumatic procedures are permitted for higher mammals, nor may a creature be designated for a significant portion of its life as a lab subject without care substantially similar to being a human companion appropriate for its species (or suitable contact with others of its species in a wild-like environment (e.g. car-zoo) for non-companionable species)
These are regardless of the usefulness of experimentation, product testing, or research. The standard of "We can't do it in a more ethical way" is not acceptable.

I further hold that:

  • This is a moral issue, and all attempts should be made to place the above into both law and relevant professional standards
  • Those who conduct research in violation of this are being immoral and are to be condemned and ideally shunned
  • I do not condemn groups that would threaten, embarass, harass, protest, intimidate, call out, or interfere with experiments and testing that violate the above, provided that they do so in an appropriately targeted way (threats to violence for their family are inappropriate, and any direct action must be very carefully targetted) and are not themselves harmful to animal welfare (e.g. releasing animals onto streets). Done appropriately, I stand in solidarity with such actions, and will assume solidarity for groups that overall seem to do them
To be clear:
  • I have no problems with people having pets, provided they're not abused or neglected
  • If you have benefitted from the kind of research of which I disapprove, I don't blame you for having done so - one can't simply trade the knowledge back to undo the misdeeds.
  • As is usually the case, direct action is a poor second to getting one's positions enacted in law, and should be used with the damage to rule of law and society's fabric in mind.
  • Existing regulations in the scientific community are designed to create a "http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2010/02/time_to_get_mad_time_to_speak.phplesser ethical stance" which is adopted by the scientific community - they will commit misdeeds when they have no other option to get their information. This differs from the deepest forms of moral neglect as well as (very rare) actual sadism. Rhetoric and advocacy should be mindful of this difference, so as to make it reasonable to sway as many people as possible towards the deeper ethics presented here (philosophical disclaimer: my use of the word deeper here is position laden and not meant as a pretension of absolutism so much as a statement of my in-framework perspective)
  • We should make it very clear that we both have the better ethics and that we fully understand the issue. We should correct those on our side when they're uneducated, and condemn them if necessary for improper action.
  • We should be willing to debate and discuss the issues carefully and politely, and push for long-term systemic solutions and public opinion.

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