March 16, 2013

Ten Years of Sloth

Attention conservation notice: I look back on my works with smug complacency.

I started this weblog in January 2003; I don't remember exactly when, and date on files got messed up by various changes from Blogger to Movable Type to Blosxom, where it has remained ever since. So let's say, ten years and a bit. I have also just turned 39, so I will indulge myself by looking back at this companion of my thirties.

It's been a big undertaking — 600,000 words in 1071 posts before this — but it's also been good to me. It's gotten me recognition and prizes, and friends, and even helped me get my job, which I love. There have been downsides, over and above the time and effort, but they're mostly personal, and I've learned not to broadcast those. If I had realized how much of my public persona this was going to be, I'd have thought more about giving it such an obscure name (it comes from an old family joke, about how I did everything very slowly as a boy), but I like to think I'd have done it in the end.

As far as I can judge, the blog's best days were 2005--2010, after I'd learned how to use the medium but before work and (what else?) sloth reduced me to merely posting notices about lecture notes. I imagine I will keep it up for the next ten years, in some mode or other, if only because I am a creature of habit. Whether anyone will still bother reading it then, who knows?

Have I, as the poet asks, ever really helped anybody but myself with this? If not, it wouldn't be worth much. I feel that I've never really gotten across why I do this, and I'm not very happy with what follows, but it's better than the discarded drafts at least: Through no merit of my own (at best, persistence in exploiting luck), I have a position and skills which mean a few people will pay some attention to me about a handful of subjects, and this obliges me to try to do some good with this sliver of influence. (I do less good in the world than those following any of a hundred thankless and anonymous callings — which I would hate and be bad at.) The means I am most comfortable with are negative — critique, debunking, sarcasm; only rarely do I praise or build up, and my efforts in those directions are unconvincing even to me. My negative posts have helped give me a reputation for erudition and for venom, but their value, if they have any, is helping readers see how they could do better themselves. We have it in ourselves, together, to discover wonders and create marvels, and yet our world buries us in nonsense and inflicts pointless cruelty. We can do better, and I hope what I write helps, in the tiniest of ways, to help my readers find their way there.

I'll finish by being really self-indulgent, and pointing out what I think of as twenty of my best pieces. (I'd pick a different twenty another day.)

  1. Persecution and the Art of Neoconservative Writing
  2. On the History of Inner Asia, as Reflected in Its Intestinal Flora
  3. Liberty! What Fallacies Are Committed in Thy Name!
  4. Networks and Netwars
  5. George W. Bush Darkens Counsel by Words without Knowledge
  6. Our New Filtering Techniques Are Unstoppable!
  7. Cronyism, Corruption and Incompetence: A Network Analysis
  8. Graphs, Trees, Materialism, Fishing
  9. A. R. Luria: The Neuropsychology of Praxis
  10. Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Econophysics?
  11. The Khaldun Option
  12. Yet More on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ
  13. g, a Statistical Myth
  14. Ghost Peaks, Buried in Ice
  15. Bayes < Darwin-Wallace
  16. In which Dunning-Krueger meets Slutsky-Yule, and they make music together
  17. The Neutral Model of Inquiry (or, What Is the Scientific Literature, Chopped Liver?)
  18. The Singularity in Our Past Light-Cone
  19. "They've traded more for cigarettes / than I've managed to express"; or, Dives, Lazarus, and Alice
  20. In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You

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Posted at March 16, 2013 21:11 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth