Thinking & Learning Activities – September 9, 2020

Grammar 📖

From homework 1 to Leonard Peikoff’s Grammar Course:

Identify any errors in the use of modifiers.
1. The bell sounded loudly and clearly,

Peikoff says (my own transcription):

Sounded is one of those words we mentioned that is like “was”. It does not indicate an action but a state of the thing. It’s really how you perceive the thing. But the thing itself is not active. And after a verb “to be”, a verb indicating state, you always take adjectives not adverbs.

I disagree. I don’t think Peikoff is totally wrong to read the clause the way he does, but I think the question is ambiguous. For example, “sounded” here could be used in the sense of “To make or give forth a sound: The siren sounded.” (American Heritage Fourth Edition). Peikoff’s reading is still connected to actual sound waves but seems more in the spirit of “To present a particular impression: That argument sounds reasonable.”

I actually read it as meaning the first definition initially, so I’m not just looking for something to be pedantic about. However, I had a mental model of Peikoff that indicated he thought there was supposed to be an error in this part of the sentence, and I tried to puzzle it out for a while and wound up just listening to what Peikoff’s argument was. I am respectfully not persuaded. With the dictionary definition I used, I think loudly and clearly are appropriate here as adverbs.

and still waters run deeply,

My initial guess is that “still waters run deep” is some kind of idiomatic phrase/special exception, making this “wrong” idiomatically even though it’s more consistent with normal rules of English.

Oh lol Peikoff actually says that because still waters don’t run, “run” merely indicates that they “are”, and so consistent with what he said earlier you want an adjective after such a verb.

but even so I feel real well.
“real” should be “really”. “Well” is an adjective describing how the person feels. “Really” modifies that adjective and so is an adverb and so should get an -ly.

Peikoff adds, consistent with his theme, that that since “feel” indicates state, it should be followed by an adjective – in particular, “good”.

  1. Where vacation dissatisfaction existed, advance recreation planning had been insignificant—a problem particularly acute among mathematics students who forget basic philosophy principles.

Hmm. Initial thought is this just seems really wordy. Both “advance” and “recreation” can be adjectives so I don’t think that’s the issue.

OK Peikoff says there’s an error repeated four times in this sentence hmm 🤔
Oh is it the passive voice? A dissatisfaction existed… a planning had been insignificant … a problem [was] acute … and the students don’t actually connect directly with “forget” cuz the “forget” is in the “who” clause.

That’s not quite passive voice consistently though. Peikoff says what he has in mind … juxtaposition of nouns. I had some inkling that might be his complaint but didn’t pursue it for some reason. I think I was grouping the words Peikoff might be complaining about incorrectly in my head. Here are his actual complaints:

vacation dissatisfaction
recreation planning
mathematics students
philosophy principles

He wants people to say e.g. “students of philosophy” not philosophy students. I’m not sure I agree but maybe I’m just used to modern/worse writing? 🤔

  1. Newspaper headline: Macmillan refuses bank rate rise leak probe.

This is actually unclear. The meaning would be clear to me if it was “Macmillan refuses bank rate rise probe.” I’d read that as “Macmillian refuses a probe into a bank rate rise.” But I’m not sure what to do with the “leak”.

So Peikoff says that the facts are: there’a a rise in the interest rate at the bank, there’s a leak of the rise in the rate at the bank, then there’s a probe into rise in the rate arising out of the leak.

Thinking About Problems 🤔 💬

👨🏻‍💻Law Software

I’ve been playing around with a software service called Documate for a while. It lets you make interviews and use web forms to gather data that you can input into Word Docs and PDF. One application relevant to me is filling in legal documents. It’s cool, but I’m not keen on having ongoing fairly expensive (for me) software-as-a-service type costs and not having the interviews I’m making be data fully under my control. Portability is a big thing. I changed web providers not that long ago. That wasn’t too hard to do, because all the software stuff I was for my websites is standard stuff that can run on any commodity web server. But when you are using a proprietary software service, your stuff isn’t really portable. This is an issue people talk about in the context of law practice management software as well … once you enter all your client and case data into one of these proprietary systems, it can be a pain to get it out, so you’re either hooked into paying an ongoing expense or dealing with an aggravating data migration process.

So anyways I’d made a couple of interviews to test drive the software, see what it was like. I recently discovered that it’s actually powered on the back end by open source software called Docassemble, and that it’s quite easy to install an Amazon instance of Docassemble and get started…so easy that I did the initial set up steps in under an hour! 🙂 So I think I may cancel Documate and build my interviews in Docassemble. This will require some learning since Documate is basically a customized GUI front-end for Docassemble. I like watching videos and reading about technical stuff though and it’s not very technical anyways, so I should be fine.


I talked in the previous post about considering getting a rowing machine. I’m still considering that, and have added price alerts for some on CamelCamelCamel. One thing I realized I should try for my knee issues though is KT tape. I actually got some quite a while ago but never really tried using it, and some people say it can help.

🥘Spice Rack and Spices Expiring

I recently took an inventory of my spice rack and cooking oils. Most of them are expired! 😓 I’m not sure how much it matters though.

I’ve googled and there are various opinions on how long it’s okay to keep stuff. I also don’t like the idea of having “expired” stuff. People say that for spices the general issue is that they lose potency. So they don’t actually go bad in a way that can make you sick, but they become ineffective. Still, that’s not good. OTOH oil can actually go rancid, but supposedly it’s easy to tell when that’s happened.

Spices are pretty cheap to replace and I’m cleaning out my kitchen, so I’m considering purging a bunch of the old stuff. My intuition is that if something is just a bit out of date I won’t worry about it, but if it’s well out of date it should get tossed.

🗣 Practicing Explaining Something Simple: Softening Butter in a Microwave 🧈

If you want to bake cookies or easily spread butter on bread, you’ll want to have some softened butter. One way to soften butter is to just leave it out. That can take a while, though. A faster way is to use your microwave.

Using a microwave at full power is likely to get you melted butter, not softened butter. To consistently get softened butter out of a microwave, you want to use your microwave’s power settings. How you adjust the power varies from microwave to microwave, so if you’re not sure, you may want to check the manual for your model. You should start with a low power setting and check in on the butter every 10-15 seconds until you get a sense of how fast your microwave softens the butter. Once you have some practice, you can use more power to soften the butter faster.

One issue you may encounter is uneven heating of the butter. If you put a whole stick in, even at low power, you may find that the edges soften while the center remains hard, and that the edges melt as the center softens. There are different ways to handle this. One way is to withdraw the softened portions of butter as they soften (to a bowl or whatever) and just leave the harder butter of the butter inside the microwave for further softening. Another thing you can do is cube the butter some and put it evenly around the edge of the plate you are microwaving it on. That should lead to a more uniform result.

🧠 🌩 Brainstorming: Exercises to Get the Heart Rate Up With Low Impact on Knees 🏃🏻‍♂️

(more interested in stuff that doesn’t require a gym but just trying to consider all options at the moment)

Rowing machine
Elliptical Machine
Cycling (though that can cause knee issues too…maybe a recumbent stationary bike would be good though)
This thingamajigger
Ran out of ideas…suggest more in comments!

Learning Activities September 7, 2020

I’m trying to do things like write about problems, learn about grammar, practice explaining simple things, and brainstorm as part of a set of learning activities.

Thinking About a Problem: Rowing Machine for Exercise

I want to work out but have some recurring knee issues. I think varying activities and finding things that involve different motions would help a lot.

One thing I am curious about is rowing machines, since I have read they can be particular easy on the knees, and that people who have trouble with other things like running can handle rowing machines well. Normally I’d consider joining a gym for the purpose of trying a rowing machine, but I am wary of going to gyms due to the coronavirus. I don’t expect the coronavirus situation to get resolved soon, and I don’t want to wait until there’s a vaccine to work on my working out problem.

“Good” rowing machines can be expensive, and I don’t want to commit to one before I know whether rowing will work for me. One idea I had was trying out a rowing machine on the cheaper end from Amazon. That way, I could see if i like rowing, and if the cheaper machine breaks after a little while, it won’t be a big deal because it will have served its purpose for me, and I can move onto a nicer machine if I want to. The cheaper machines breaking after a while is a serious possibility, since durability tends to be one of the main complaints/problems with cheaper machines. But if a serious possibility of the machine breaking is part of the plan, then that seems okay.

One issue with cheaper machines besides durability is they can have worse ergonomics than a higher quality machine. That is one unfortunate thing about going cheaper on a purchase sometimes – you can’t effectively isolate the reduced quality to the specific issues you want, you just get worse quality across multiple categories. Nonetheless, I think it may be worth trying a cheaper rowing machine, given the big price gap between low and high quality machines and given my uncertainty about whether rowing is something I’ll be able to do consistently without pain & also like.

Grammar Trees

I made some grammar trees for Problems 6 and 7 in Peikoff’s homework for Lesson 1 of his grammar course. I got some feedback in the Fallible Ideas Discord on them and updated them accordingly. PDFs of the trees are embedded below but click here to view/download the trees since embedding doesn’t handle big PDFs well.

Peikoff Grammar HW1 Problems 6 and 7 draft 2

Practicing Explaining Something Simply: How do you make pizza dough in a bread maker?

A bread maker can make it easier to make home made pizza dough, which you can use to make pizza, calzones, and garlic knots. To make pizza dough in a bread maker, you’ll need standard pizza dough ingredients: flour, warm water, sugar, active dry yeast, salt, and olive oil. You may want to use additional ingredients to add flavor to your dough, such as oregano, basil, and garlic. You can find many recipes on the Web that say the amounts of ingredients to use to make a certain amount of dough.

You put the ingredients into the pan of your bread maker, starting with the wet ingredients (water, oil) first and then the dry ingredients. If you removed the pan from the bread maker in order to fill it up with ingredients, you should now place the pan into your bread maker and close the lid of your machine. You want to select your bread maker’s Dough setting, which any modern bread maker should have. The bread maker will then do the work of kneading the bread for you. After the bread maker is done, you can then roll the dough out, put your toppings on, and bake your pizza. Enjoy!

Brainstorming: Types of Pizzas to Make

Pepperoni/Mushroom Pizza
Chicken Parm Pizza
Spinach/Ham/Pepper Pizza
White Pizza
Meatball Pizza
Taco Pizza
Cheeseburger Pizza
Prosciutto + Spinach Pizza
Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza
Sicilian Pizza
Deep Dish Cast Iron Pizza

Why Do the Criticisms Offered by Other People Hurt?


People often find criticism from others painful. This is particularly true when the criticism involves a negative moral judgment. Why?

For example, suppose that Mary complains about her life situation to her friend John. Suppose Mary is having money and job trouble. Suppose also that she leads what many would consider to be an irresponsible lifestyle. She spends lots of time at parties and socializing and drinking. Her partying lifestyle means she is often tired, late for work, and not a diligent employee. She lives beyond her means, is always behind on her bills and juggling credit cards, and is not taking steps to improve the situation she is complaining about.

Suppose that John tells Mary he thinks that Mary is responsible for her life and is refusing to take responsibility for it. He argues that there is a connection between Mary’s lifestyle, which he views as irresponsible, and the problems Mary is complaining about. Mary takes this very badly and feels hurt by it. Why?

Considering an Alternative Reaction: Confidence

To understand the answer, it can be helpful to consider an alternative reaction to taking criticism badly – namely, taking criticism well. There are lots of potential criticisms people could offer us that would not cause us to feel hurt. Why?

One important case is when we think the person offering a criticism is wrong and are confident in our position. In that case, the other person’s criticism doesn’t hurt. We may think they are mistaken or misguided or perhaps even a fool, but their criticism doesn’t bother us.

For example, if someone is very confident in their reasons for living life as a teetotaler (someone who doesn’t drink alcohol), then other people’s criticisms and even negative judgments won’t affect the teetotaler. People might say all sorts of things, such as “You’re no fun” or “I don’t trust people who don’t drink” and the teetotaler won’t care. They won’t care because they have some reasons for their behavior which they believe in and which can stand up to conventional views and arguments.

Thinking Someone Has a Point

So Mary, who was criticized by John for her irresponsible lifestyle in the example I mentioned earlier, must not be confident in her judgment regarding her lifestyle. Why?

Maybe, at some level, Mary thinks John has a point. She may not fully agree with his perspective, but she can’t fully rebut it either. So she at the very least has some doubts and is worried John may be right.

This is only a partial explanation. We can think someone has a point about something and not have it bother us. Lots of intellectual or political discussions involve two people who think maybe the other guy has some worthwhile arguments but is overall wrong, and lots of people enjoy having those kinds of discussions and aren’t hurt by them. So there is something else going on with Mary’s situation that causes her to feel hurt.

Lack of Confidence & Second-handedness

Maybe Mary lacks confidence about her views on things in general. She doesn’t really have her own strong opinions about stuff. She kind of just goes with the flow and with what other people are saying. She lives her life trying to get good vibes from others. She interprets John as giving her bad vibes, which she doesn’t like.

So maybe Mary is second-handed, emotionally-oriented and not very intellectual. Maybe she reacted to John from that kind of perspective. That is a bad way to be. It’s important to have considered views on things and to be able to argue for why you do things, for why you lead your life in a certain way. There is that old cliché about a parent asking you if you’d jump off a bridge if all your friends were doing it. Most people recognize that answering “Yes” to such a question is dumb, but the guiding principle of their life is often to answer “Yes” and follow the herd in many cases.

Morality as Scarecrow

Mary may have reacted badly because she felt apprehension at John’s moral judgment. People often treat morality as the thing which constrains their liberty and denies them fun. As Rand puts it in Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged:

Morality, to you, is a phantom scarecrow made of duty, of boredom, of punishment, of pain, a cross-breed between the first schoolteacher of your past and the tax collector of your present, a scarecrow standing in a barren field, waving a stick to chase away your pleasures—and pleasure, to you, is a liquor-soggy brain, a mindless slut, the stupor of a moron who stakes his cash on some animal’s race, since pleasure cannot be moral.

Mary likes some aspects of her current lifestyle. She is having some problems, too, though, but she wants to keep her current lifestyle. John offered some criticisms which Mary felt threatened by. She felt threatened because the arguments drew a connection between the lifestyle Mary wants to keep and the problems Mary dislikes. She took John’s criticisms as “a scarecrow standing in a barren field, waving a stick to chase away [her] pleasures.” Moral arguments like John’s are a threat which threaten to take away the stuff she likes and control her life in ways she disagrees with. She hasn’t taken seriously the possibility that morality could actually improve her life in a way she would be okay with.

Misunderstanding Criticism

Some people experience criticism as inherently painful, and compare it to things like (being hit with) a truncheon:

Just to be clear, this is a criticism (of pacifism, by Ayn Rand):

This is a truncheon:

So maybe Mary has the (very common) attitude that mixes these things up.

Someone offering an argument that you are making some mistake is obviously pretty different than them hitting you with a stick. If they seem similar to you, you have mistaken ideas about the world. (It’s a similar issue to how people mix up dollars and guns, which is an issue Rand talks about.)

There is a complicating factor here, though. Often people do say things that seem like criticism as part of some power play or social game or just to be mean. People may think that insults sound harsh, and they think that arguments that they are living their life in a bad way also sound harsh. They then group those under the same category of “criticism”, which they associate with harshness and meanness.

If people just say some insult to be mean, that’s not even really a criticism, since it doesn’t try to explain something you are wrong about. If someone just calls you a loser or an idiot, that’s not really a criticism. There’s no argument there, no suggestion for things you can change. You can just ignore that stuff. That’s not what John was doing and not what Mary is bothered about, though.

If someone offers an argument that you are doing something wrong and you can’t easily rebut it, you should take it seriously. That’s what criticism allows us to do – make corrections and learn from other people instead of banging our head into the wall endlessly making the same mistakes. Criticism is not a truncheon but a gift that lets us lead a better life.

Sometimes people will mix nastiness with some genuine point/criticism/argument. Often if someone wants to hurt someone else, it is helpful for that goal to combine meanness and insults with some truth. That can be hard to deal with. Even in that case, though, you should try to separate out the criticism from the nastiness and deal with the criticism intellectually. Even if John had said his points in an aggressive and mean way, Mary should still try to separate out the criticism from the meanness and deal with it intellectually.

One reason to have this policy is you shouldn’t disregard what might be a good point just because it was delivered nastily. This is a bit like not judging a book by its cover.

Another reason to have such a policy is that misunderstandings about the intent and motives of other people in offering criticism are common. For example, people often interpret others as being mean when they are just a bit more blunt than is typical. Another issue is that people will think that if a problem was bad enough for another person to bring up, then the other person must think the problem is really bad, since most people avoid bringing up problems. But some people just have less of a filter than others on what they say. Because of differences in temperament and communication style, it is important not to throw out the criticism baby with the style-it-was-delivered-in bathwater because you (possibly wrongly) attribute a bad motive or intent to the person offering you the criticism.

Not Seeing a Way to Move Forward on the Criticism

It’s common that people are frustrated by criticism because they don’t see a way to act on it or move forward in their situation. For example, Mary might think that her natural temperament is just that of a party girl, that that is her essential nature and what makes her happy, and so John pointing out the problems resulting from such a lifestyle is just him pointing out stuff that she can’t change.

If Mary said those things, John might argue back that lots of people change their habits and activities in ways they wind up liking. He might say that she doesn’t have to give up the stuff she likes entirely to solve her immediate problem, but just moderate her spending some and do a bit less partying and be a bit more diligent at work. Maybe she could try that and see if she likes it?

Mary might shut down the discussion before John can ever get to the point of offering his arguments, though, by assuming John is offering his criticism in a bad faith attempt to hurt her. That is a way many discussions end. Presuming good faith and trying to get value even out of criticism offered in bad faith (like I talked about in the last section) can help. Another thing that can help is trying to be less emotionally reactive in general.

Taking Sides in a Disagreement With Part of Yourself

Another thing that may cause Mary to feel hurt is that she agrees with John and sees some problems with her lifestyle. Maybe she’s been through cycles of engaging in her irresponsible lifestyle and feeling guilty about it. John’s criticism triggered another “feeling guilty” cycle. She has some self-loathing about her life problems.

What’s going on here is that Mary has an internal disagreement she hasn’t resolved. She periodically takes one side of the disagreement (engaging in a lifestyle she has some doubts about or criticisms of). Then she periodically takes the other side in the disagreement (feeling bad about her lifestyle). She’s not rationally investigating the truth of the matter and trying to figure out a solution that will get all the parts of her own mind satisfied and happy. Instead, she’s just alternating which side of herself gets to be in charge. Like many unprincipled compromises, the result is a mess.