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Gödel's naturalization interview

When Gödel went to his naturalization interview, his good friend Einstein accompanied him as a witness. On the way, Gödel told Einstein about a gap in the US constitution that would allow the country to be turned into a dictatorship. Einstein told him to not mention it during the interview.

The judge they came to was the same judge who already naturalized Einstein. The interview went well until the judge asked whether Gödel thinks that the US could face the same fate and slip into a dictatorship, as Germany and Austria did. Einstein became alarmed, but Gödel started discussing the issue. The judge noticed, changed the topic quickly, and the process came to the desired outcome.

I wonder what that was, that Gödel found, but that's lost to history.


Gödel and Leibniz

Gödel in his later age became obsessed with the idea that Leibniz had written a much more detailed version of the Characteristica Universalis, and that this version was intentionally censored and hidden by a conspiracy. Leibniz had discovered what he had hunted for his whole life, a way to calculate truth and end all disagreements.

I'm surprised that it was Gödel in particular to obsess with this idea, because I'd think that someone with Leibniz' smarts would have benefitted tremendously from Gödel's proofs, and it might have been a helpful antidote to his own obsession with making truth a question of mathematics.

And wouldn't it seem likely to Gödel that even if there were such a Characteristics Universalis by Leibniz, that, if no one else before him, he, Gödel himself would have been the one to find the fatal bug in it?


Starting Abstract Wikipedia

I am very happy about the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation having approved the proposal for the multilingual Wikipedia aka Abstract Wikipedia aka Wikilambda aka we'll need to find a name for it.

In order to make that project a reality, I will as of next week join the Foundation. We will be starting with a small, exploratory team, which will allow us to have plenty of time to continue to socialize and discuss and refine the idea. Being able to work on this full time and with a team should allow us to make significant progress. I am very excited about that.

I am sad to leave Google. It was a great time, and I learned a lot about running *large* projects, and I met so many brilliant people, and I ... seriously, it was a great six and a half years, and I will very much miss it.

There is so much more I want to write but right now I am just super happy and super excited. Thanks everyone!


Lexical masks in JSON

We have released lexical masks as ShEx files before, schemata for lexicographic forms that can be used to validate whether the data is complete.

We saw that it was quite challenging to turn these ShEx files into forms for entering the data, such as Lucas Werkmeister’s Lexeme Forms. So we adapted our approach slightly to publish JSON files that keep the structures in an easier to parse and understand format, and to also provide a script that translates these JSON files into ShEx Entity Schemas.

Furthermore, we published more masks for more languages and parts of speech than before.

Full documentation can be found on wiki:

Background can be found in the paper:

Thanks Bruno, Saran, and Daniel for your great work!


Major bill for US National Parks passed

Good news: the US Senate has passed a bipartisan large Public Lands Bill, which will provide billions right now and continued sustained funding for National Parks.

There a number of interesting and good parts about this, besides the obvious that National Parks are being funded better and predictably:

  1. the main reason why this passed and was made was that the Evangelical movement in the US is increasingly reckoning that Pro-Life also means Pro-Environment, and this really helped with making this bill a reality. This is major as it could set the US on a path to become a more sane nation regarding environmental policies. If this could also extend to global warming, that would be wonderful, but let's for now be thankful for any momentum in this direction.
  2. the sustained funding comes from oil and gas operations, which has a certain satisfying irony to it. I expect this part to backfire a bit somehow, but I don't know how yet.
  3. Even though this is a political move by Republicans in order to safe two of their Senators this fall, many Democrats supported it because the substance of the bill is good. Let's build on this momentum of bipartisanship.
  4. This has nothing to do with the pandemic, for once, but was in work for a long time. So all of the reasons above are true even without the pandemic.

The bill still has to pass the House.


Black lives matter

Fun in coding

16 May 2020

This article really was grinding my gears today. Coding is not fun, it claims, and everyone who says otherwise is lying for evil reasons, like luring more people into programming.

Programming requires almost superhuman capabilities, it says. And other jobs who do that, such as brain surgery, would never be described as fun, so it is wrong to talk like this about coding.

That is all nonsense. The article not only misses the point, but it denies many people their experience. What's the goal? Tell those "pretty uncommon" people that they are not only different than other people, but that their experience is plain wrong, that when they say they are having fun doing this, they are lying to others, to the normal people, for nefarious reasons? To "lure people to the field" to "keep wages under control"?

I feel offended by this article.

There are many highly complex jobs that some people have fun doing some of the time. Think of writing a novel. Painting. Playing music. Cooking. Raising a child. Teaching. And many more.

To put it straight: coding can be fun. I have enjoyed hours and days of coding since I was a kid. I will not allow anyone to deny me that experience I had, and I was not a kid with nefarious plans like getting others into coding to make tech billionaires even richer. And many people I know have expressed fun with coding.

Also: coding does not *have* to be fun. Coding can be terribly boring, or difficult, or frustrating, or tedious, or bordering on painful. And there are people who never have fun coding, and yet are excellent coders. Or good enough to get paid and have an income. There are coders who code to pay for their rent and bills. There is nothing wrong with that either. It is a decent job. And many people I know have expressed not having fun with coding.

Having fun coding doesn't mean you are a good coder. Not having fun coding doesn't mean you are not a good coder. Being a good coder doesn't mean you have to have fun doing it. Being a bad coder doesn't mean you won't have fun doing it. It's the same for singing, dancing, writing, playing the trombone.

Also, professional coding today is rarely the kind of activity portrayed in this article, a solitary activity where you type code in green letters into a monotype font on black background, without having to answer to anyone, your code not being reviewed and scrutinized before it goes into production. For decades, coding has been a highly social activity, that requires negotiation and discussion and social skills. I don't know if I know many senior coders who spend the majority of their work time actually coding. And it's in that level of activity where ethical decisions are made. Ethical decisions are rarely happening at the moment the coder writes an if statement, or declares a variable. These decisions are made long in advance, documented in design docs and task descriptions, reviewed by a group of people.

So this article, although it has its heart in the right position, trying to point out that coding, like any engineering, also has many relevant ethical questions, goes about it entirely wrongly, and manages to offend me, and probably a lot of other people.

Sorry for my Saturday morning rant.



11 May 2020

I often hear "don't go for the mediocre, go for the best!", or "I am the best, * the rest" and similar slogans. But striving for the best, for perfection, for excellence, is tiring in the best of times, never mind, forgive the cliché, in these unprecedented times.

Our brains are not wired for the best, we are not optimisers. We are naturally 'satisficers', we have evolved for the good-enough. For this insight, Herbert Simon received a Nobel prize, the only Turing Award winner to ever get one.

And yes, there are exceptional situations where only the best is good enough. But if good enough was good enough for a Turing-Award winning Nobel laureate, it is probably for most of us too.

It is OK to strive for OK. OK can sometimes be hard enough, to be honest.

May is mental health awareness month. Be kind to each other. And, I know it is even harder, be kind to yourself.

Here is OK in different ways. I hope it is OK.

Oké ఓకే ਓਕੇ オーケー ओके 👌 ওকে או. קיי. Окей أوكي Օքեյ O.K.


Tim Bray leaving Amazon in protest

Tim Bray, co-author of XML, stepped down as Amazon VP over their handling of whistleblowers on May 1st. His post on this decision is worth reading.


If life was one day

If the evolution of animals was one day... (600 million years)

  • From 1am to 4am, most of the modern types of animals have evolved (Cambrian explosion)
  • Animals get on land a bit at 3am. Early risers! It takes them until 7am to actually breath air.
  • Around noon, first octopuses show up.
  • Dinosaurs arrive at 3pm, and stick around until quarter to ten.
  • Humans and chimpanzees split off about fifteen minutes ago, modern humans and Neanderthals lived in the last minute, and the pyramids were built around 23:59:59.2.

In that world, if that was a Sunday:

  • Saturday would have started with the introduction of sexual reproduction
  • Friday would have started by introducing the nucleus to the cell
  • Thursday recovering from Wednesday's catastrophe
  • Wednesday photosynthesis started, and lead to a lot of oxygen which killed a lot of beings just before midnight
  • Tuesday bacteria show up
  • Monday first forms of life show up
  • Sunday morning, planet Earth forms, pretty much at the same time as the Sun.
  • Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is about a week older
  • The Universe is about another week older - about 22 days.

There are several things that surprised me here.

  • That dinosaurs were around for such an incredibly long time. Dinosaurs were around for seven hours, and humans for a minute.
  • That life started so quickly after Earth was formed, but then took so long to get to animals.
  • That the Earth and the Sun started basically at the same time.

Addendum April 27: Álvaro Ortiz, a graphic designer from Madrid, turned this text into an infographic.


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