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What Is a Concept Album?

2021-05-06

And now for something completely different: a rollicking discussion on the Big Yellow Praxis podcast about some underappreciated musical recordings, in which Jacob and I explore the age-old question: what exactly makes a concept album? Check it out on YouTube!


Opinions about Opinions

2021-05-04

My friend Paul sent me a few thoughts about my recent post on holding fewer opinions. He's formulated an approach that involves holding fewer opinions about other people's opinions. This seems valuable, and related to a post I wrote four years ago entitled "Why Do You Think What You Think?" My introspective conclusion then was that I can't always assign praise or blame for the contents of my thoughts; extending this to other people is a good example of what Arnold Kling calls cognitive empathy: instead of demonizing people who disagree with you, suspend judgment or at least try to understand where they might be coming from. (It's probably best to build up such a practice first in matters that aren't very consequential - and we all have our limits regarding the opinions we find acceptable!) The flip side is not deifying your own thoughts, which we could express in the following aphorism: "if you think well of your own opinions just because they're yours, then you're not thinking well."

(Cross-posted at philosopher.coach.)

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Bach on Bass #4: Instrumental Solution

2021-04-10

After much research and some helpful input from double bassist Mark Stefaniw, the unofficial artistic advisor for my "Bach on Bass" project, I've chosen to buy a Stradi bass made by Marek DÄ…bek of Juliszew, Poland. Not only does Marek make absolutely gorgeous instruments, but he was excited to work with me on a design that met all my criteria: a four-string fretless bass with tapewound strings tuned in fifths, a very long fingerboard with a deep cutaway so that I can play intricate passages high up on the neck, a combination of piezo and magnetic pickups (the latter is important to enable experimentation with an eBow on certain pieces), and a chocolately tone that balances the best of electric and upright bass sounds. A long email thread with Marek led to a bass that is all oak, a wood we both love: roasted European oak for the body (chambered to enhance its acoustic properties), a hybrid through-body neck also in roasted oak, and both the fingerboard and top in 2000-year-old bog oak. Since Marek likes to name his basses, we're calling this one the "Mocha 4". The only bad part is that Marek is a true artisan who makes only 20 instruments a year and has a large backlog of orders, so I won't get my hands on the Mocha until early next year. But it's going to be worth the wait!

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Holding Fewer Opinions

2021-04-06

A few months ago I read the transcript of a discussion between Brian Beck and Robin Hanson, in which Hanson advised the listener to hold fewer opinions:

"Just have fewer opinions on topics. You don't need as many opinions as you usually have." You should pick the topics on which you're going to be somewhat expert and you're going to invest in those and you're going to tell people what you know there. On other topics, you don't necessarily need opinions. You can just go with what other people say, and that can be okay. Have fewer opinions. And in each topic, ask yourself, "Do I need an opinion on this? Am I, you know, especially good at this?" And if you don't need an opinion or you don't have any special expertise compared to other people you could rely on, then don't have an opinion on it. That's a way to disagree less is just halve your opinions. Certainly fewer poorly thought out opinions, poorly considered opinions. All the more reason to get rid of those.

In general I agree, and over the years I've steadily decreased the number of topics on which I take strong positions. This goes hand-in-hand with my low-information diet: the less I follow the news, the less I feel the need to have an opinion about whatever is happening in the world.

However, I would add one caveat. Hanson's advice could be taken as ceding authority to technocrats, policy wonks, and other self-appointed experts. Yet one lesson of the last hundred years or so is that the so-called experts aren't necessarily good at finding practical or theoretical truth, either (consider, say, the role of Robert McNamara and his team in escalating the Vietnam War, or more recently the replication crisis in the social sciences). "Trust the experts" is generally a bad idea - at least in my opinion. ;-)

(Cross-posted at philosopher.coach.)

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Politically Independent

2021-03-27

Longtime readers of this weblog know that politically speaking I've always been more or less libertarian. (Little-known fact: many years ago I started a run for the House of Representatives on the Libertarian Party ticket, but my wife and I moved that year so I never got on the ballot.) Back in 2012 I thought that participating in the Republican Liberty Caucus might be effective because the county I live is solidly Republican, but once Trump was nominated for president in 2016 I switched my voter registration to Libertarian. After the recent election I decided to switch again, this time to Independent. Here's why.

First, I'm not much of a party person. As Nietzsche wrote in Human, All Too Human: "He who thinks a great deal is not suited to be a party man: he thinks his way through the party and out the other side too soon."

Second, I've come to disagree with several libertarian positions, which I need not detail here because I'm still thinking through these matters and in any case it's not my role to put political policies into practice and thus my opinions are unlikely to be fully informed or even all that momentous. (Indeed, I am coming to see the value of holding fewer opinions, but that's a topic for another day.)

Third, I now disagree with much of what we might call the libertarian ethos. What crystallized this for me was reading a review of the book A Libertarian Walks into a Bear, which describes what happened when a swarm of rapid libertarians descended upon Grafton, New Hampshire to build a so-called "Free Town". It turns out that these ideologically driven people simply weren't good neighbors. At some level I don't care what your politics are as long as you treat folks right, and that starts in your own neighborhood. But if you come into a peaceable place like Grafton, soil the nest, and then saddle your erstwhile neighbors with cleaning up the mess you left behind, then I have a problem with your lack of character.

Fourth, my continuing encounter with Aristotle has led me to place greater emphasis on community and what he called civic friendship. This, too, is a topic for another day; however, one aspect that looms large in my current thinking is the scrupulous avoidance of partisanship, whether political or ideological. I've started work on a series of essays that explore this theme from a number of angles, with a special focus on the crucial differences between an ideological approach to life and a philosophical approach to life. Although I'm excited about this project, I won't say more until I've written at least a few of the essays.

Finally, it seems to me now that finding a political home isn't truly important, compared to family, friendship, community, work, creativity, learning, self-improvement, health, and just about everything else in life. So independence it is!

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RFC 8838: Trickle ICE

2021-01-21

Way back in 2005 some folks at Google and other parts of the Jabber community started to define a technology for setting up voice and video calls over XMPP, which we called Jingle. Unlike similar methods used in relation to SIP, Jingle enabled endpoints to dynamically gather and exchange potential connection paths for NAT traversal within context of the Interactive Connectivity Establishment (ICE). The original name for this was "dribbling" to differentiate it from the offer/answer method defined in RFC 3264 (wherein an endpoint needs to gather all of its candidate IP addresses up front before sending the offer). Over time the IETF defined a similar method for SIP, too, which we generalized under the name Trickle ICE. This week the IETF published a document cluster containing dozens of RFCs related to WebRTC, including RFC 8838 for Trickle ICE (which I co-authored with Emil Ivov of Jitsi and Justin Uberti of Google). Enjoy!

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