Letters of Note: 1984 vs. Brave New World

The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.. . . Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.
Aldous Huxley writing to George Orwell

I’ve posted about Huxley and Orwell in the past, but I never got around to what I said I would do until now: I just downloaded the audio book for Brave New World and will listen to it next week. Better late than never.

Don’t you agree?

Every once in a while, I get an email proposing some decision starting or ending with the phrase “don’t you agree.” Whether the proposal is something I agree with doesn’t matter; sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t. Either way, I have never liked this phrase for the fact that I feel it puts the receiver immediately on the defensive. By adding “don’t you agree” to a question makes an assumption that the receiver is going to agree but that assumption has a real chance of being false.1 We really have no idea all of what the other person is thinking. Using “don’t you agree” forces the receiver’s hand to defend their position in the real chance that, no, they don’t agree, but now they are compelled to explain why, even on those things that needn’t be explained because the answers are completely obvious, causes needless chatter, could be none of your business, whatever. Forcing an explanation is putting up a last-second hurdle that has to be overcome, no matter how small that may be.

In other words, ending with the phrase “…, don’t you agree?” is a passive-aggressive move in enough contexts that its usage really ought to be avoided should you want to be perceived as someone with whom collaboration is easy. Don’t you agree?


  1. You know what happens when you assume, right? It makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

The Independent: ‘Dear young men: The old stereotypes of what it is to be a “man” are a load of rubbish’

Even though we humans are (thankfully) moving on from seeing ourselves as two distinct kinds of creatures, there’s nothing wrong with being a man and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with doing traditionally “manly” things. Don’t be embarrassed by them. If you want to watch football on Sunday, or train in mixed martial arts, or grow a handlebar moustache, or buy a pickup truck, make no apologies. No, there’s nothing wrong with masculinity – until it’s used as a gauge for measuring and excluding people, whether they’re women or other men, or people who don’t identify as either.
The Independent: ‘Dear young men: The old stereotypes of what it is to be a “man” are a load of rubbish’

This only gets better the further you go. This also came to mind while reading it:

Dear Mr. Vernon

We accept the fact that we had to spend a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think it’s stupid for you to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms with the most convienient definitions. But what we found out is that each of us is a brain, an athlete, a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?

Sincerely Yours,
The Breakfast Club

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

No normal decent person is one thing.

Emphasis mine, but I kept the rest both for context and the fact that it’s really funny:

“The whole country’s got a fucked up mentality. We all got a gang mentality. Republicans are fucking idiots. Democrats are fucking idiots. Conservatives are idiots and liberals are idiots. Anyone who makes up their mind before they hear the issue is a fucking fool. Everybody, nah, nah, nah, everybody is so busy wanting to be down with a gang! I’m a conservative! I’m a liberal! I’m a conservative! It’s bullshit! Be a fucking person. Listen. Let it swirl around your head. Then form your opinion. No normal decent person is one thing. OK!?! I got some shit I’m conservative about, I got some shit I’m liberal about. Crime—I’m conservative. Prostitution—I’m liberal.”
Chris Rock

I forget which album this was on, but I keep coming back to this quote repeatedly. One thing I have learned as I’ve gotten older is that absolutist positions are rarely tenable or realistic.

“We need a systematic theory of distributive justice”

My working assumption borders on a philosophical commonplace, shared by many theoretical perspectives, despite the more general practice of the public, which often claims rights wherever strong interests are felt. To answer the difficult questions of what a right to health care or a right to health might include, we need a systematic theory of distributive justice for health-related needs.
Norman Daniels, “Three Questions of Justice”, ”Just Health”, 2007

Prog rock: the sound of history’s future

It is the combination of the music and the cover that Lake explains is like a cocktail: “You can put certain elements into a glass and nothing happens. If you put one extra element in, the whole thing becomes effervescent.” This is the alchemy of rock and roll, where the songs, lyrics, art, and even the band’s logo can become a whole experience that you can hold in your hand when you hold an album.
Boing Boing: “Prog rock: the sound of history’s future”

I always have been, and will always be, a prog rock fan. Prog was the first genre of music that really captured my attention during my formative years.

The Chocolate Season

A former co-worker of mine used to call the time between Halloween and Easter “The Chocolate Season.” I have no idea where she got it from, but the label does immediately make sense when I think about it. In my world, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter all line up in a relentless parade of sweets. Obviously, there is more than just chocolate involved here, but chocolate does provide a handy culinary benchmark with which to characterize these holidays. So, I go with it. It’s an easy joke in conversation.

I am not a health fanatic by any stretch, but I make a point of actively deciding from where my indulgent calories will be delivered, which generally boils down to either sugar or alcohol. If I have one in a given day, or know I will be having one at some point in the day, I won’t have the other. Neither are good for my girlish figure, but they are good for the soul. I see nothing wrong with enjoying either, just never at the same time and always in moderation. I derive relatively more satisfaction from alcohol—insert ill-fitted and inappropriate alcoholism joke here—so my junk food intake is pretty minimal.

Because of this active caloric decision-making, I can walk away from a cookie tray or dessert platter without thinking. But I see one fucking Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and all of a sudden I get that nicotine “itch” in the back of my brain that causes me to obsess like the little sugar fiend that I know myself to truly be. My paradoxical strength and weakness is, and always has been, peanut butter. Peanut butter is versatile, good for a quick lunch that fills me up but amazing when combined with chocolate. Seriously, I have yet to come across a peanut butter cup that I didn’t like. The problem that has revealed itself is that Reese’s has done an absolutely fantastic job at embedding itself in Halloween and Easter, and I fear that the remaining holidays aren’t too far behind. Though I think Valentine’s Day will be a tough one for Hershey’s if only because there is little romance in anything other than just pure chocolate. Either way, Halloween kicks off six months of testing my will power. As my wife is fond of saying: “Ugh.”

EFF: Adobe Spyware Reveals (Again) the Price of DRM: Your Privacy and Security

The publishing world may finally be facing its “rootkit scandal.” Two independent reports claim that Adobe’s e-book software, “Digital Editions,” logs every document readers add to their local “library,” tracks what happens with those files, and then sends those logs back to the mother-ship, over the Internet, in the clear. In other words, Adobe is not only tracking your reading habits, it’s making it really, really easy for others to do so as well.
EFF: Adobe Spyware Reveals (Again) the Price of DRM: Your Privacy and Security

Adobe collects information about whatever book you happen to be reading using Adobe Digital Editions, which potentially means your entire ADE collection. Then ADE sends that information back to Adobe in the clear, meaning anyone snooping can read it.

Intentional or not, I find none of this surprising.

Sanitizing Strings with NSCharacterSet and NSScanner

Funny how, after all these years, I hadn’t needed to clean a string of an arbitrary set of unwanted characters on a large scale, but I am doing a ton more XML work these days, so it was bound to happen. I don’t remember where I stumbled upon the idea to use NSScanner, but once I saw it, it made perfect sense. I think there’s some excess baggage between the buffer string and the fact that the string is scanned anywhere between O(n)O(n2) (if not worse, actually). But, this is certainly a more elegant solution than doing all the heavy lifting myself between the set and the string.

- (NSString *)sanitizeString:(NSString *)str withSet:(NSCharacterSet *)set {
	
	NSScanner *scanner = [NSScanner scannerWithString:str];
	NSString *buffer;
	while ( [scanner scanCharactersFromSet:set intoString:&buffer] ) {
		NSRange range = [str rangeOfCharacterFromSet:set];
		if ( range.location != NSNotFound ) {
			str = [str stringByReplacingCharactersInRange:range withString:@""];
		}
	}
	return str;
}

To use:

NSString *string = "A string that might have funny characters in it.";
NSCharacterSet *set = [NSCharacterSet illegalCharacterSet]; 
NSString *result = [foo sanitizeString:string withSet:set];

Github Student Developer Pack

There’s no substitute for hands-on experience, but for most students, real world tools can be cost prohibitive. That’s why we created the GitHub Student Developer Pack with some of our partners and friends: to give students free access to the best developer tools in one place so they can learn by doing.
Github Student Developer Pack

The list of software and subscription offers is truly impressive. I won’t use half the stuff, but others like Atom, I’ve been wanting to try, but haven’t for precisely the reason they give.