Effort to understand the world around may result in discussion or conviction. It is generally a bad sign (for the survival fitness of the individual engaging in it and the group that tolerates the behaviour) when the result is convictioni, for which reason it's ever encouraging to see the Republican tradition of discussion flourish (within the well designed, and well protected, walls of the forum).
As part of the general effort, alf produced a piece (Vectored Signatures, or the Elements of a Possible V-Algebra) which, as he correctly points out, should be read. I'm not convinced it is the definitive word on the topic, or even definitive form of a point therein involved, but one item definitely stands out, undefeated :
Not only are there times when one would like to seal a payload with a caveat of one kind or another, but presently we have no means of conveying disapproval – other than by refraining from sealing. The latter act conveys very little useful information, and no permanent sealed record remains of the effort taken to actually understand the patch. This is a Bad Thing.
The entire collection of human scienceii is made up of exactly this : stories of what didn't work, and propositions as to why. Certainly for the infantile mind, still groggy under the alcoholic fogs of an artificial environment where a faux positivism of the nature of Santa Claus and Unicorns reigns supreme it would appear otherwise, but that confusion quickly disappears once the child starts doing real work. Once he joins the ranks of the thinking adults (generally through adding his own bug reports to the immense pile carefully collected over the generations intricately detailing the universal brokenness all around) he sets aside the ways of childhood and all is well.
This said, and without prejudice to the parts I either don't understand or don't have an opinion on, let's go into a detailed discussion of a certain aspect of the proposed scheme.
If one has a bit, one has two states, and if one had two bits, then one'd have four states. This much, being math, is not open to surprises. If one has a machine of the ilk of what today's humans use for computing, one probably has a notion of byte, which is wholly arbitrary yet experimentally supported - we're now joining science to our philosophy. On this shaky, chimeric basis, we can proceed to say that... we shall have four categories, and four states for each. This makes up... eight bytes, so it does something towards satisfying the practical angle. It also is symmetrical, so it does something towards satisfying the ideal angle, also. Maybe it's even a good idea! Is it ? Does it satisfy the right parts of each domain, does it take the rigurously correct steps ? This is after all what system design is all about : to first create the list of possible steps, to then sort them, and to then cut through the list at defensible points.
Maybe it does, I can't readily evaluate this question. How would we evaluate it ?
Alf has found labels for the four categories (hands, eyes, brain, heart), which are neatly symbolic and seem to work as a meaningful set. Is this proof that the correct cut has been made ? The statement is not without merit, a very practical understanding of "language as a mechanism for thought - benefitting even the dumbest members of a population from some measure of the collected intelligence of the very best accreted through the ages" would propose that the simple fact that you can find pleasing labels to create such a naturally satisfying set is an indication of correctness.
Maybe there's merit to this notion, maybe there's a reason we don't deeply, intuitively feel that nfgrl is missing, and that really any enumeration of hands eyes brain heart is incomplete without nfgrl. Is it happenstance we're born with five fingers ? Is it the case that the four organs Egyptians identified mean something a lot deeper than words can state, is it not mere coincidence the classic antiquity thought in terms of four humours ?
Fine, so maybe it's right that they should be four, and these four. Yet, wouldn't you find it peculiariii if it were the case that all four had equally reasonable, well spaced out and obvious - four degrees ? I would. I find it highly suspect, but then again what can you do.
Let's look at them, which is why the title reads "A collection of distinctions" : I will endeavour to define the edges between alf's states, because what could it possibly hurt ? What follows below is a best-effort attempt, and more as an exercise than anything, dedicated to the vague notion that even if the result isn't guaranteed to be useful or valuable, the path there certainly is.
1. The difference between "I did not create or modify any part" and "I did create or modified some part" is certain and immediately evident, of the visceral strength of "have you fucked your sister".
2. The difference between "I created/modified some part." and "I created most, or modified the original beyond recognition." is certainly weaker. For one thing : rooting a box is this procedure whereby through modifying "some part", one modifies the whole thing. The cultural practice (as distinct from the economic activity) actually recognises and rewards disparity for its own sake - the smaller the modification that modifies the whole entirely, the more respectable. What then does it mean, where computers are concerned, to distinguish between these ?
But perhaps the distinction has nothing to do with computers and everything to do with the humans supposedly riding atop them : the first is a change of implementation, details, we removed the spleen so infection won't spread and one leg of the bridge so boats can pass, but otherwise it's still a human and still a bridge versus we replaced the spleen with a live triceratops and we tore down the bridge and built a tunnel under the river, so it's no longer a human and no longer a bridge but still serves the original function, perhaps as redefined.
If this is the case, then the two should read "I made modifications of the implementation, preserving the original design" versus "I made modifications of the original design". Or maybe there's more cases available, in which case... I don't know.
3. The difference between "I created most, or modified the original beyond recognition" and "I claim sole authorship." is entirely of a different substance than the other two. What would it mean, in this context, to "claim sole authorship" ? Against whomiv is this claim levied, what effects is it contemplated to produce ? Is it a nude statement of fact, exactly equivalent with "I was wearing my shorts when I wrote this", and if so, why was it preferred over evidently available alternatives ?
Perhaps a much stronger and also much more usefully meaningful "I claim no alternative designs may be found that can resolve this problem" would be preferable ? To indicate that the author has presumably mathematical proof of the situation ? The only problem is that if such a situation arises, we would need a fifth state : there's a substantial difference between "this is provably the only available design" and "this is provably the only implementation of the given design". While often conflated in common parlance, the two are substantially different, and clearly at least as different as at least one of the previous distinctions.
5v. The difference between "I read none. Made no attempt to." and "I read some part; and/or skimmed some or all." is very dubious, because the first statement fundamentally invalidates the entire construction. If the author has read nothing, then why would anyone care what he signed, or how ? "Let me tell you what I think about things I don't know", really ?
6. The difference between "I read some part; and/or skimmed some or all." and "I read most of it." is altogether not clear. I for instance routinely read most of pieces through the procedure of skimming some or all. That's the whole point of skimming, and if your skimming doesn't result in this you're doing it wrong.
7. The difference between "I read most of it." and "I read all." is a flattering ideal, but sadly without practical basis. Try and name an item that you have read "all" of. Really, have you ? Unless the item is very short, and very banal, complete lecture is an unattainable goal. Consider this text :
Have you read it all ? If you have, then whichth element is the o and how many a's are there ? Oh, you've read it all yet can't answer any questions about this thing you read ? This does not bode well, and while I'm aware that if you were going to sign this update you would have sat down and counted, nevertheless be aware that complexity quickly diverges from this three lines three symbols example.
9. The difference between "I do not understand any." and "I understand some, and/or poorly." suffers not only from the problem discussed in 5 above, but also from a subtler if related issue : how do you yourself know the difference between "I understand nothing of this" and "I understand some of this, poorly" ? It is paradoxically quite likely for the one who evaluates in the first manner to actually have a better understanding than the one who evaluates in the second manner (for a discussion of this see eg DK or commentary thereof). I have no idea how this distinction is supposed to be used by thinking people.
10. The difference between "I understand some, and/or poorly." and "I understand." has the same issue as the 2nd part of 9 above ; and as 7 before it. I myself understand many things, and my understanding of them is quite serviceable to me in my daily life. Nevertheless they're all fragmentary, and poorly understood on any sort of evaluation.
The race of understanding is ran with other people, not with the Concepts themselvesvi, and for this reason any serious attempt at evaluating this distinction reduces to a computation of the understanding of all others, which is unfeasible and for this reason shouldn't be introduced.
Moreover, why wouldn't one who understands poorly make inquiries in the forum, to remedy the situation ? It seems substituting that with signing is the wrong reaction.
11. The difference between "I understand." and "I understand absolutely." is perhaps not even as much of a problem as the others, because it could cheaply be translated into something meaningful, I expect on the lines of auctoritas : "I understand how this works but I wouldn't dare change it" versus "I understand this to the degree that I can fully produce the list of effects of any contemplated change, as well as propose alterations to any contemplated change so as to selectively shape the identified effects". This is that old, fundamental distinction between man and bureaucrat, wherein the former has the authority to change his mind, whereas the latter has the shackle of policy and consequently no need for a mind at all. In common software parlance this bit would make the difference between "I identify myself as a contributor to this item" and "I identify myself as a maintainer of this item", which is not a distinction without merit - if for no other reason then because it stems from actual practice.
13. The difference between "I distrust absolutely." and "I distrust." runs into a conceptual problem, in that a negative can not be absolute. This is no small matter, you can't distrust absolutely anymore than you can make an absolutely empty container. You can, of course, trust absolutely, or love, or seek absolute beauty - but there isn't such a thing as absolute hate, nor for that matter absolute ugliness. The absence of trust will have to stay relative as such.
Obviously a different term could be used, to make the distinction "I loathe" vs "I distrust" more or less reflecting the thought difference between "I am certain this will end poorly" and "I am not convinced this will end well", which isn't at all meaningless or uninteresting.
14. The difference between "I distrust." and "I trust." is not problematic, even if it could be discussed at length and colored variously.
15. The difference between "I trust." and "I trust absolutely." perhaps could reference the difference between what's called an educated guess and actual proved certainty, as in "I trust the RSA is safe" versus "I absolutely trust 7 is a prime number". Understood as such it is not problematic, even if it may be readily abused.
There are left aside some interesting bits, however. What about an item which breaks backwards compatibility ? Shouldn't the reviewer be able to make a note that the item reviewed breaks compatibility, perhaps with a distinction between "with another item I actually use" / "with another item I don't use but think should be preserved" ? This is a contextual consideration, of course, but certainly a major point to be considered when reviewing the utility of any communication scheme, seeing how most disputes in software management to date centered around an issue of deprecation / backwards compatibility.
What about items which are optimized for specified cases ? Consider the discussion of the way grep works. Presumably in a V world a common base of that project would at some point have received that patch. To some, such a patch is an improvement ; to others, it is breakage. Am I necessarily required to vote and pick one ? What if I agree that in most cases the sell-out is a good idea, however I would also like to preserve the other variant for the convenience of people who run specific tasks that would benefit from it ? How do I sign "this branch is good for X but not intended for Y" ?
How do I sign something as simple as "This man is a traitor" to contend with nonsense like Koch & friends constantly pump into their trees ? What, are we to imagine that as their fiat empire sinks into irrelevancy they'll just quietly keel over and die, perhaps on occasion agitating on their forgotten venues about nonsense ? No, they'll drown us in contributions, how do I nuke them ?———
- At what point are you convinced ?
This is no small matter. Consider : you go to the tap, lift or turn it, and water flows. But are you convinced it will ? Suppose it does flow - are you convinced it is actually water ? Yes, you may act as if you were, much in the manner a child too old may pretend to fall for the parental tricks not because he's mentally retarded, but because he has a big heart. But are you convinced ?
You were, before I asked, right ? Which is the correct functioning of this mechanism, it should work if unchallenged and collapse with challenge. Yet this is not conviction, is it ?
Conviction can't come from matter ; it is never nor can ever be some sort of byproduct of a structured, intensive, vast or otherwise process upon the world. Conviction isn't some sort of distilled reason just like airflight is not some sort of intensively trained self-wedgie application.
Conviction is an abstract result, it comes from consideration of ideal objects not found in nature, and for this reason the conceit of deriving conviction from "facts" and "reasons" betrays a very broken mind and nothing more. [↩]
- Math isn't science, for the needs of this piece, but philosophy. [↩]
- These considerations, by the way, are very close to the game designer who no doubt lives in all of us. How shall you call the things in your game, and why ? And how many ? Of each ? [↩]
- Yes, all claims have to be brought against a definite something. [↩]
- You see what I did there, do you ? [↩]
- Two men are surprised by a lion and take to flight. The one falling behind inquires with the one running ahead why bother, as the lion can easily outrun either of them ; and receives the answer that the forerunner aims not to outrun the lion - but his fellow man. [↩]