Why I'm Interested In Haskell

No Starch Press asked me to write a review of the new Haskell book, Learn You a Haskell for Great Good!. I started to write a section about myself and my view of Haskell for context, and realized that it really needed to be its own post as it grew to a length where it was self-indulgent to make it part of the review. But it fits as its own post nicely.

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Pedant's Note
Jan 01, 2010

Every decade around this time, we get pedants who point out that since there was no Year 0, decades/centuries/millenniums start on 1.

I observe that the Gregorian Calendar we use started in 1582, so not only was there no year 0, there was no year 1, year 2, year 3, ..., or year 1581. Therefore, true pendants should be insisting that decades start on twos, and centuries start on 82s, and millennia start on 582s!

Insisting they start on 1 actually has no logic to it at all, if you're going to be concerned about decades and centuries lining up with "when the calendar started", because the calendar did not start on 1, either. No matter how you slice it, we started in the middle of a decade/century/millennium, and so it might as well be the pretty and universally-agreed-upon 0 rather than 1.

Nov 21, 2009

I'm calling it: This is the year that Christmas officially enveloped Thanksgiving. With less than a week to go to Thanksgiving, the only channel I'm hearing more about Thanksgiving than Christmas is my family communications channels as we work out the plan for next week.

Next envelopment to watch out for: The Presidential campaign enveloping the mid-term elections. The 2008 Presidential campaign effectively started mere days after the 2006 midterms. I think it might take a couple more cycles before that fully overshadows the midterms, but it's going to get noisier.

Aug 23, 2009

This story about climate engineering reminded me:

I strongly support climate engineering if properly analyzed, but I think that proper analysis is unlikely to be possible with most approaches. I strongly favor the development of space mirrors, because they are one of the few techniques that are both highly controllable and they also swing both ways. If it turns out some intervention is not working as we expect, we can actually stop intervening. If the global climate doesn't work the way we expect and suddenly we need to start warming the globe, we can do that by changing the orbit and reflecting sunlight that would have otherwise have shot out into space back onto Earth. Space mirrors have a flexibility and precision almost all other techniques lack, and give us the opportunity to learn how the climate works with direct experimentation and rough engineering consensus.

On the other hand, our focus on atmospheric makeup and our climate industry's insistence that solar output is irrelevant (despite significant evidence to the contrary and, frankly, simple physics) is causing some people to contemplate atmospheric modification, and that is insane, in my opinion. (OK, "irrelevant" may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.) The propaganda fight over global warming (as directly opposed to the truth of global warming) has made people forget that Earth is actually an ice planet. The normal state of the Earth in the Holocene era is "in an Ice Age". Global warming is a civilizational inconvenience; it may kill millions and may cost the world economy billions or trillions, but Civilization will go on. An ice age is the end of Civilization. Full stop. Another 50 or 100 years of technological development and maybe that won't be true, but it is true for the foreseeable future. Atmospheric modification is not reversible, and if somebody miscalculates, or heck, is just flat-out wrong about a highly chaotic system and the globe cools too much, or even quite possibly kicks us into an ice age, there would be little we could do to correct the problem without even more extreme and dangerous inputs.

I think that anyone actually serious about the threat of global warming should be equally serious about climate engineering. After all, in the end, that's exactly what "cutting our carbon" is anyhow; it is no more and no less than an attempt at climate engineering, so it's not even a new thing. But it should be done carefully, and, for that matter, any standard you wish to apply to whether climate engineering is a good idea should also be applied to the question of whether we should be focusing on cutting carbon emissions; skepticism about engineering translates directly into skepticism about the effectively of carbon emission control. But not all climate-control schemes are created equal; some are controls are simple things that we can come to understand and use and some delicacy, and some approaches are haphazard methods based on complex and unproven models that, once deployed, will permit no modification or changes in direction. There's a range of things in between, too, but personally, it doesn't take much irreversibility before I start freaking out.

Jul 20, 2008

I didn't notice this reddit link go by last month, since I don't check my referrers as often as I used to (heh), linking to my post about teaching things other than trig.

All in all, I feel like I fared well for a site like Reddit, but there was one repeated theme in the comments I wanted to address: The idea that economics would be impossible to teach in high school. The argument was that economics is hard in the sense that true understanding requires advanced math, that economics is controversial in the sense that there is no one accepted theory of economics, and that having a partial understanding of economics could even be worse than no understanding at all in some cases.

All of these things are true. However... for what thing that we teach in high school are these objections not applicable to? The only exception is that arguably you don't need math for some subjects, but every other clause holds across every subject that doesn't solely consist of learning the names of things.

Even if children were perfectly logical machines that could be successfully taught by starting at "the beginning" and brought up in a strictly-proceeding progression of knowledge starting on that foundation, an educational theory that could charitably be described as "disconnected from reality", there's just too much "foundation" to learn. The most foundational discipline I can think of is number theory, and we're not going to be teaching that to five-year-olds any time soon. We have to start by teaching consensus-based approximations of complicated theories, or we'll never have anything to actually teach.

I am quite confident that a high-school curriculum for game theory and economics could be produced that would both satisfy my desires and fit right into to all the other over-simplified explanations of vastly complicated topics that the student lacks the tools or experience to truly appreciate that we are pleased to call the "curriculum" today.

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