Posts about philosophy (old posts, page 2)

Money As Debt

A few months ago, r/documentaries led me to Money As Debt, a documentary the models the world financial system on an atom of money creation through debt. Part 2 was posted yesterday.

The original video focused concluded with a proposal of money creation based on government spending balanced by government taxes to prevent inflation of currency. This second video seems to support Bitcoin (in everything but name).

The premise is presented convincingly and clearly, and seems to be a worthwhile perspective for the aid of understanding modern economics (even if shallowly). That said, I’m not an economist, and am easily drawn in by convincing arguments that wrap everything up for me neatly.

Is this as veracious as I perceive it to be? Assuming it is, how can we adjust our behavior, as individuals, to improve the situation?

therefore, let us not judge one another anymore…

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

~ Romans 14

Great is thy faithfulness

Earlier I posted about how I forgot to get an exit visa for our imminent trip to the US. I made short order of filling out the paperwork; and, by all accounts, everything went very smoothly. Signatures were given; documents were presented; and the government affairs department processed my application more quickly than I had seen before. (I was told that I would have our visas in two days, and we did!)

I can still remember vividly the state I was in the night before work that week. I had been characteristically positive about the whole thing: “It’ll be alright.” “It’s never taken more than five days.” “Good thing we remembered now.” I had to be. If I wasn’t, I’d drag Andi down, too.

But that night, as I laid in bed, a feeling of helplessness came over me. I knew that it had been my mistake… my carelessness that had put us in this situation. What if we didn’t get our visas in time? What if Eid came before the process was complete and the week of celebration became an unstoppable countdown to financial and personal loss?

The worst part was that I was stuck in sleepless worry with nothing I could really do, physically, to improve the situation. The government affairs office wouldn’t be open until the morning. Still I laid awake.

(Some scheduling information: we were leaving the week after Eid; so if we didn’t have our visas by Eid, we would be on campus, as planned, but stuck in the knowledge that we could do nothing to get our visas before we were supposed to leave.)

So I prayed. I talked with my father about the worry I felt. About the shame of being careless. About the possibility of letting Andi down. Of letting our families down. Of being irresponsible with the money that he has given us. (Flights to the US aren’t cheap from here, after all.)

I’ve been a student of scripture for a long time: I know that our father cares for us, and that he guides us in his path for our lives. I knew that my faith, however mundane the circumstances, was faltering. I was putting my trust in myself, not in him; and I was letting myself down.

Like I said: everything went pretty well, starting the next morning; I felt a little better when the government affairs representative assured me that we would have our visas before Eid; I felt a little better when his prediction left us with two days of leeway; but I didn’t really calm down until I had the paper in my hand.

Of course, now I’m on the other end of the experience, and I can talk about faith in God with the calm demeanor of someone who isn’t being confronted by it; but maybe I can learn something now, through prayer and study, that will give me peace when I’m in a position to fail myself again.

All things work together for good

My mind first turns to Romans 8.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

My familiarity with scripture is never what I want it to be, so I stumbled around a bit until I found Philippians 1, where Paul gives a more explicit example of what a life lived by faith looks like.

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.

Here is Paul, imprisoned for his teaching; but he knows (and has evidence after-the-fact) that God is using his imprisonment for good. I think, in particular, about the praetorian guard; how, if Paul’s ministry had been simpler, playing out as I would have chosen for myself, it wouldn’t have touched these people.

There are many examples of men walking in faith throughout history; and nowhere are they chronicled more compellingly than they are in Hebrews 11. Continuing on in chapter 12:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

James would point out (as he does in James 2) that the faith we see here doesn’t exist in isolation, but is evidenced in works. Faith, if it exists, must affect our actions. Otherwise, it’s just a lie we tell ourselves.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

This doesn’t paint me in the best light, of course: but I knew that. I claimed faith in God–even with the knowledge that anything that could happen to me would be within his plan for my life–but when that faith was tested, my actions fell short. My faith was in word only. Maybe that’s why I got my paperwork in the end: not because I so desperately needed to travel to the US; but because, were I to miss out, my reaction would be a hindrance to those around me, rather than a witness. Again, I think of Paul, imprisoned, sharing his faith with his captors.

Forgiveness, and second chances, are welcome respite.

Great is thy faithfulness

All of this has been about me though, and that’s missing the point. It’s not about my faith, or the strength of my faith, or some arbitrary, disconnect ability that I have to put faith in things. The power of my faith is not my own, but is God’s. I could choose to put my faith in myself; in political leaders; in charismatic teachers; but the value of that faith is limited to the faithfulness of the one you trust. Compared to God, we all fall short. That’s why it’s so amazing and awesome that we have him.

Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Psalm 36

And, of course, there’s always the classic twenty-third Psalm

But, in the end, the ultimate expression of appreciation for God’s faithfulness, in my mind, comes in Lamentations 3. I didn’t know that, but Wikipedia tells me that it served as the inspiration for the timeless hymn.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever will be.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

I’ve been staying away from the topic of salvation through faith because it’s such a large topic on its own; but we shouldn’t forget to remember that the ultimate expression of God’s faithfulness points back to the promise that he made so long ago: to fix us and our world; to conquer death; to cleanse us of our sins (even the sin of faltering in our faith); even so far as to sacrifice his son, the Christ.

Sometimes my faith is weak, but your faithfulness is so great!

Getting things done after Getting Things Done

I first looked into Getting Things Done my first year out of university. Though I suppose having some sense of personal organization and time management would have been nice to have in the seventeen years of study prior, my new state as an employee sent me searching for something more than excuses and a general habit of procrastination.

I'm the kind of person who visits a bookstore just to hang out. (If I ever conquer my own commercialism I'll hopefully transform into a library patron.) It was at one of my many trips to the local Barnes & Noble that I saw a copy of David Allen's book. Though I had heard of the book before, but the simple cover, pleasing proportions, and unassuming title shone through my initial cynicism. I picked up paperback, and made short order.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen

Soon my life was awash in contexts… lists… habits… projects… actions. I had a little paper notebook that contained everything I needed to not have to remember; I had 43 folders in my desk and in my reader, and even more manilla in a box full of files; I had an other box full of "stuff" that kept the stuff out of sight; and I was trying (mostly failing) to have weekly reviews about what I had done, what I was doing, and what I needed to do next.

This actually worked pretty well. I spent less time worrying about forgetting things, because if I needed to remember it, I just wrote it down. I spent less time trying to spin up to productivity because I already had "next actions" for all of my "projects."

I even had an empty email inbox.

…but all of this new headroom gave me the freedom to notice seams between David Allen's proposed system and my own requirements. First was in the sense of contexts: though, in a corporate office, simple things like "@phone" or "@desk" or "@home" effectively partition a task space into appreciable chunks, I work in computers. The vast majority of my tasks are "@computer" or, at the very most, "@Internet." That doesn't do much to calm the mind when you're staring at a long to–do list.

I liked the ubiquity and tactility of paper, but the medium has its faults. Completed tasks clutter up the page, and to clear them you have to transcribe any remaining items to a new page. Reorganizing items into different contexts bring the same problem. There's no way to archive (let alone audit) task history without even more transcription, since tasks for different projects are physically intermingled. Most damningly, separating tasks from the notes that go with them is both a mental and physical context–switch that plagues every non-trivial task.

For its faults, GTD had actually taught me a lot of really good lessons:

  1. The brain is way better at thinking than remembering.

  2. The less you have to remember, the more you can think.

  3. The more you need to think, the less you want to think.

  4. Don't waste time making the same decision twice.

  5. Lists add a sense of progression to otherwise intangible work.

  6. There is too much to do to consider all at once.

All existing GTD software was powerless to placate a sysadmin's sensibilities. It's all point–and–clicky, high–friction, and, worst case, web-based. I did the only thing I could do: I moved all my lists to text files, added one project ("write command-line GTD software" and one action ("brainstorm requirements for GTD software").

That project didn't go so well; but it's ok, because since then I've migrated to Emacs Org-Mode.

The Org–Mode Unicorn

Rather than being a software environment that I had to re–factor my workflow into, Org–Mode provides a rich set of (extensible and seemingly–infinitely–configurable) functions to manipulate my text lists–cum–text–files as I see fit. All of that on top of a mature <strike>text editor</strike>lisp runtime (albeit one with which I had no experience).

First off, I configured Org–Mode with some familiar list item types:

(setq org-todo-keywords
      '((type "ACTION(a!)"            "|" "DONE(d!)")
        (type "PROJECT(p!)"           "|" "DONE(d!)")
        (type "WAITING(w!)"           "|" "DONE(d!)")
        (type "SOMEDAY(s)" "MAYBE(m)" "|")
        (type                         "|" "DELEGATED(g@)" "CANCELLED(x@)")))

…then configured some simple logging:

(setq org-log-into-drawer t)
(setq org-log-reschedule 'note)
(setq org-log-redeadline t)
(setq org-log-done 'time)

Suddenly my lists grew automatic logging in the form of the LOGBOOK drawer:

* PROJECT make a new first post on civilfritz
- State "PROJECT"    from ""           [2011-08-15 Mon 21:04]
** DONE figure out the post sorting problem
CLOSED: [2011-08-16 Tue 20:35]
- State "DONE"       from "PROJECT"    [2011-08-16 Tue 20:35]
- State "PROJECT"    from "ACTION"     [2011-08-16 Tue 08:04]
- State "ACTION"     from ""           [2011-08-15 Mon 22:31]
** ACTION write about getting things done after getting things done
SCHEDULED: <2011-08-16 Tue>
- State "ACTION"     from ""           [2011-08-16 Tue 21:09]

Of course, that's a lot of clutter, too; but that's just what's physically stored in the file. Org–Mode provides a flexible view of the outline. For example:

* PROJECT make a new first post on civilfritz
  * DONE figure out the post sorting problem...
  * ACTION write about getting things done after getting things done
    SCHEDULED: <2011-08-16 Tue>

That's much easier to look at. In Emacs, color is used to make the content even clearer.

As simple as these little bits of text are, the triviality of their automation means that they can be parsed by other parts of Org–Mode. Most notably, by the agenda.

(defun org-find-agenda-files ()
  (find-lisp-find-files "~/agenda" "\.org$"))
(setq org-agenda-files (org-find-agenda-files))
(setq org-agenda-start-on-weekday 6)
(setq org-agenda-skip-scheduled-if-done t)
(setq org-agenda-skip-deadline-if-done t)
(setq org-agenda-custom-commands
      '(("S" "Unscheduled actions" tags-todo "TODO=\"ACTION\"+SCHEDULED=\"\"")
        ("D" "Undefined deadlines" tags-todo "TODO=\"WAITING\"+DEADLINE=\"\"")))
(setq org-stuck-projects
        ("ACTION" "WAITING")
Org-Mode agenda view

The agenda serves the same function as the context "next action" lists from GTD; except where contexts are static, the agenda is dynamic, built on-demand and filtered by arbitrary tags (which replace contexts themselves). Further, the "stuck projects," "unscheduled actions," and "undefined deadlines" lists make it easy to find orphaned tasks (now a part of my weekly review).

* ACTION [#A] weekly review                                       :work:home:
  SCHEDULED: <2011-08-20 Sat ++1w>
  - Review stuck projects (C-c a #)
  - Review unscheduled tasks to be done this week. (C-c a S)
  - Review waiting items with no specified deadlines. (C-c a D)
  - Review someday/maybe items. (C-c a t 5 r, C-c a t 6 r)
  - Review the past week's accomplishments. (C-c a a l v w b)
  - Review the upcomming week's actions. (C-c a a v w)

All of the historical logbook data is pulled together in the global logbook view, which I can now inspect separately (again, as part of my weekly review).

Org–Mode logbook view

I use Org–Mode to record virtually everything that I do or need to do, either at work or at home. It really has become my post-GTD, and I have yet to find a requirement that surpasses it. On the contrary, I often find new solutions just as streamlining reveals deeper bottlenecks.

I'll post more of my .emacs and workflow in the future, I'm sure. Until then, feel free to send any questions or comments my way.

Numbers 12

Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” And the LORD heard it.

Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.

Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, “You three come out to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them came out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam.

When they had both come forward, He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses: he is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?”

birthdays | leaving Facebook

I’m in the process of closing my Facebook account. I never really used it: I’m just not that sold on the idea of a fake social network that rules your life. There are three use cases for me, though, and I need to port the relevant data (or service) elsewhere: the birthday calendar; the instant messaging service, and the photos that are already there.

The birthday calendar

I don’t want to lose track of the birthdays that people have published on Facebook. Going forward, I’ll have to maintain the calendar myself, and that’s fine; but I need to port those birthdays to something more standardized. (That is, likely a regular calendar with iCalendar support.)

Much to my surprise, Facebook makes an iCalendar file available explicitly for birthdays. It’s under Events→Birthdays→Export Birthdays. This link provides a webcal: url, which wikipedia tells me is an unofficial url for serving iCalendar files. In OS X 1.6, this url was automatically parsed by iCal, which wasn’t precisely what I wanted, so I just addressed the same path over http: and got a standard .ics file in my Downloads.

I already have a ‘Birthdays’ calendar in Google Calendar (which I’ll probably be trying to move away from at some point, too) so I just imported this .ics file and merged it into the existing calendar. There’s definitely birthdays in there that I don’t really care about (sorry, peoples!), but I can filter those down as they come up.

Bible in a year

I regret that I’ve never actually read all of the Bible. It’s possible that I have, I suppose–I’ve been in the church long enough–but never intentionally. Never specifically and definitively have I read the whole thing.

Unsurprisingly and relatedly, I’m not very diligent in scripture reading. I know I’d like to be in the scriptures every day; but, for some reason, I’m not.

I’m picking out a reading plan. This particular one happens to be “chronological” (in order of events, not writing) which appeals to me, somewhat. I’ll start tomorrow, and maybe having a goal (read every day; write about it) will encourage me to stick with it. I sure hope so.

At the same time, I really want to know more about the history of the Biblical canon. I’ve got so many opinions about the scripture itself bouncing around in my head, but with no authority or knowledge to justify them. I’m less certain what the right move is to clear up that problem (just trolling the Internet is probably the wrong move), but I’ll look for a book or something.

You, oh Lord, are a shield

You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

the MIT-Stanford style of design

I discovered an article by Richard Gabriel today that describes a design trend that he calls “Worse is Better.” He contrasts this design trend with his own design philosophy: The MIT/Stanford style of design (a.k.a. “the right thing”).


The design must be simple, both in implementation and interface. It is more important for the interface to be simple than the implementation.


The design must be correct in all observable aspects. Incorrectness is simply not allowed.


The design must not be inconsistent. A design is allowed to be slightly less simple and less complete to avoid inconsistency. Consistency is as important as correctness.


The design must cover as many important situations as is practical. All reasonably expected cases must be covered. Simplicity is not allowed to overly reduce completeness.

civilfritz wiki renamed, moved

I’ve done a bit of cleanup with urls and names today. In particular, the civilfritz wiki is no more! Rather, it’s no longer known specifically as the “civilfritz wiki”. It’s just “civilfritz”, and I happen to be using ikiwiki as the CMS.

What does this mean for you?

First, becomes just This should be handled by your browser automagically as a 301 redirect, but update anything else that you wish.

Second, you should see the ikiwiki name of the site change from the generic “wiki” to the more specific “civilfritz.”

Thanks to Josh Ball for (unknowingly) pointing this need out to me.