22 February 2014

Configuring Notepad++

I've been using Notepad++ for a long time, but only as a simple text editor. Today I decided to delve into other available functions.
  • The console (needs plugin NppExec) can be opened at the bottom of the main window (icon looking like a terminal window, with cursor). It can pass commands to the Windows console and supports history browsing with the up and dnwn arrows, but not auto-completion, as far as I can see. I have not yet looked into the internal Notepad++ commands.
  • The plugin NppCalc sounded like a simple calculator (interesting in its own right), but it turns out to be much more complex than that, covering from string operations to file system actions and to RS-232 commands. For instance, the screenshot below is taken using the highlighted line. I'm still exploring it, and the help file is just a long list of examples. I had to figure out by myself that the file must be in Windows format (<cr><lf> as line terminator.)
A few commands selected from the NppCalc help (top) and Notepad++ console (bottom)

21 February 2014

Saturday: slow Google day?

Since using Google's Webmaster Tools I noticed that the number of impressions for this blog has a distinct weekly pattern, with a deep minimum on Saturday (see blue line in the Figure). The y-axis is logarithmic and the Tuesday-to-Saturday ratio is about two, far from negligible. The same tendency (but quite a bit more noisy) holds for the clicks (red line).

If this is a general trend for Google searches, the only explanation I can think of is that people tend to go out on Saturday, but they stay in on Sunday and browse the Internet ?! And then they do some more browsing from work, on Monday and Tuesday, before getting productive on Thursday and Friday. Sounds reasonable, based on what I see around me...

CNRS positions 2014: first results

The 2014 campaign for permanent research positions at the CNRS started in December. It involves a first stage, the pre-selection, introduced in 2012. The results are now in for the competitions in some sections (see my older post for the role of the CNRS sections and for the various types of open positions.) They are online here; enter the appropriate competition number and choose the option "Candidates to be interviewed" from the drop-down menu.

The selectivity of this first step has increased since 2012; in the sections corresponding to physical sciences (1-5 and 8-11), about half of all applications (at the CR2 level) were successful, with the exception of section 2, where this number is below 0.3 (there were 185 candidates!) and of section 1, where the pre-selection rate is closer to 3/4, probably because all positions are targeted, so the selection process is pretty much separate (although there is strong overlap between 01/03 and 01/04 and between 01/06 and 01/09).

It seems that each commission selected 40-50 candidates (again, with the exception of section 1, where there are 88 of them and of section 8, with 68). This amounts to 11 applications per open position overall (but to less individual candidates, due to multiple applications between sections.)

The interview dates for each section are available here. Good luck everybody!

14 February 2014

Intellectual dichotomies

When trying to understand a particular topic, a criterion for separating all thinkers into two (or a few) classes would be extremely convenient. Here are some striking distinctions:
I believe these categories are memorable because they relate to temperament and thus cut across cultures and ages, unlike more abstract choices, such as Eleatic/Heraclitean, realist/nominalist, ancient/modern (in literature), etc.

8 February 2014

More chores = less sex!

[from the NY Times] It's official: when men do more work around the house, the couple has less sex! Now, where is my newspaper ?!

7 February 2014

Reflections on The Better Angels of Our Nature - part 1

Since its publication in 2011, The Better Angels of Our Nature has been thoroughly reviewed, with the reactions ranging from enthusiastic to snarkily dismissive. The Wikipedia page does a good job of summarizing the argument and its reception, so there is not much left to add, apart from some personal impressions:

Almost absent from the reviews1 (although, in my opinion, it is one of the main merits of the book) is the central role played by Norbert Elias and his Civilizing Process.This process is one of the explanations put forward for the spectacular decrease in violence.

The other cause Pinker invokes for the reduction in violence since the Middle Ages (in Europe, at least) is what he calls Enlightenment humanism, or classical liberalism (at the end of Chapter 4). This tradition is not easily defined, as one can see from John Gray's objections that the authors cited by Pinker “are highly disparate thinkers, and it is far from clear that any coherent philosophy could have 'coalesced' from their often incompatible ideas”2 and that some of them, such as the French revolutionaries, advocated the use of violence. However:
  • The historical evolution of an idea cannot involve homogeneous thinkers (otherwise there would be no evolution). Of course Hobbes and Mill have different positions, but nobody would deny their contribution to liberalism.
  • Pinker rejects the idea that the Enlightenment is responsible for the French Revolution and its bloody aftermath (including Napoleon). To prove him wrong, one should at least engage his argument.
  • The intellectual contribution of an author is more important than his having held acceptable morals. For instance, some consider Machiavelli a precursor of liberalism.
The very substantial chapter 5 "The Long Peace" discusses whether the reduction in violence since the end of World War II is a systematic effect. The weakest link here is estimating the effects of ancient conflicts, such as the An Lushan revolt in 8th century China, which purportedly killed 36 million people in eight years. This figure corresponds to the difference in census data before and after the rebellion, but the reduction could also be due to loss of territory, refugees, weakening of the administration (leading to less reliable information) etc. On the technical side, Pinker gives an interesting argument that the magnitude of attrition wars is exponentially distributed, but introducing an escalation component can turn the distribution into a power law. I gave the detailed derivation of this result in a previous post.

(to be continued...)

1. Notable exceptions are Peter Singer and James Q. Wilson.
2. In the next phrase, Gray takes Pinker to task for not adding Marx, Bakunin and Lenin to the list. Apart from the intrinsic incoherence of this argument, the point is addressed three pages later, where Pinker explicitly discusses counter-Enlightenment positions, including that of Marx.