Matt Heard

Software developer and philosopher from Wellington, NZ

Dendrite

dendriteblog:

Dendrite is an online, choose-your-own-adventure book that you can both read, and write. That’s what the About page says.

It’s been about a year since I began working on this project. It started as a whetstone for honing my development skills but has turned into an open…

Fossil Fuel Divestment

I’m not convinced that divestment from fossil fuel companies is effective. I think the financial arguments being put forth are very convincing: fossil fuel companies likely have a lot of reserves which are going to be stranded as people take climate change more seriously and investment funds which have a long-term focus should be calculating this into their investment strategies. But if the purpose is to starve fossil fuel companies of investment, can it ever succeed? Part of my scepticism comes from a worry that other investors will happily buy the divested shares because their price-to-earnings ratio is slightly lower.

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Inclusive Feminist Labels

Adam Grant wrote about the scepticism that men face when exploring feminism. (“Was he trying to ingratiate himself with women to improve his dating prospects?”) I worry about this myself. What I found most interesting in what he wrote, though, was the effect of inclusive group names and labels. Labelling an organisation “Princeton Men and Women Opposed to Proposition 174” encouraged more advocacy for other genders than “Princeton Opponents of Proposition 174”. Feminism is a label used to describe advocacy for women’s rights. But it also extends to the promotion of gender equality for everyone. Is the label “feminist” exclusive?

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The Great Depression

I was sitting by a pool in a sunny resort in Fiji. Next to me there was a piña colada with condensation beading on the glass. And I couldn’t put down The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The pain and poverty of its heroes was jarring against the luxurious, tropical backdrop. After adjusting for inflation, someone in 1937 would need to have picked over half a US ton of peaches to pay for the piña colada I had. Nonetheless, the novel has unrelenting optimism about perserverence through hardship. Meanwhile, Benjamin Graham made 14.7% per annum during the Great Depression.

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Trust in Expertise

We are all jacks of many trades and experts of only a few, if any. Despite this, opinions about everything are easy to develop and even easier to publicise. We encounter difficult questions about subjects unknown to us, such as climate science. In these situations, it is unreasonable to expect us to find our own answers. Instead, we rely on experts and we trust their judgment about their topics of study. Suppose that you cannot trust experts; they might be colluding to mislead you. Can you trust yourself to understand the complex topics more than you can trust the experts?

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Women Aren’t Crazy

Yashar Ali wrote a good summary of how dismissing women’s negative reactions to sexism can make women feel like they are being irrational. There is an unfair stereotype that women are crazy, so if a woman responds to sexism in a negative way, she must be ‘overreacting’. Saying “you’re so sensitive!” undermines her perspective. Some people see this rejection of women’s opinions as inconsiderate, most don’t notice it at all. But it fuels a cruel stereotype by muting women’s viewpoints, as it seeds self-doubt and self-censoring. If this causes women to be hesitant to speak up, communities lose valuable voices.

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Sorted by Colour

I was reading the newly-launched FiveThirtyEight blog today (it’s not difficult to notice my nerd crush on Nate Silver) and he used his bookcase as an example of the “trade-off between vividness and scalability”. My wife and I have our main bookcase sorted by colour as well, but its size is not quite as impressive. I have been curious about “objective” algorithms for sorting by spine colour because some multi-colour books, like Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile, just refuse to be cleanly categorised. What about fitting spine rectangles into a 2-dimensional bookcase rectangle, optimising for minimal distance between similarly coloured pixels?

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Dungeons and Dragons

I met my wife playing Dungeons & Dragons. The world-building, improv, and camaraderie made it feel like the perfect hobby for me, but a few factors have caused me to drop it. I’m geographically further away from my D&D group than I was during university (albeit most players still live in the same city as me) and I don’t have as much free time to waste on map-making, which was one of the best parts. Finally, the stress from juggling increasingly powerful players alongside expanding permutations of game-breaking abilities burned me out. Even so, I’m feeling drawn to DMing again.

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Anonymous asked: Hi, could you please add a short description 'about you' to your site? We share the same name and both have online presences, except I am an academic in Texas working on rhetorical studies. I would not want any of your fans or friends thinking that you are writing boring articles on writing philosophy like I am! --Matthew M. Heard, Denton, TX, USA

No problem. Hopefully it will reduce the risk of your readers confusing my inane philosophical ramblings and rants with your philosophical articles.

Black Milk Overload

I was scrolling through my friends’ Instagram photos and noticed that most were of girls wearing Black Milk leggings. I rolled my eyes and thought about how overrated they were, but then felt bad. The patterned leggings actually look pretty cool, and I reckon that Instagram has worked well as a word-of-mouth platform. I don’t wear them myself, but I think I might be the kind of person to post photos of how they looked if I did. I don’t particularly care about leggings, but I just thought it was interesting how I reacted negatively to a stream of photos.

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