Install software

I have been spending my week nights and weekend setting up the software in my laptop. I havn’t update my software in my PC for quite a while and many are a version or two behind. It is very convinient that you can get almost all useful software on BT these days. I have concluded I have installed too many software on my computer over the years and decided to uninstall some rarely used ones. I plan to only keep usually used one installed in my laptop, since it doesn’t have many disk space. One of my bad habit is install all the software I came across, and install multiple software serving the same function. I should only install one software for each catogary, just simplily select the best one. I have also ported my bookmark and firefox extensions to the laptop, and there is a few tools to keep them in sync all the time. As for keep files in sync between two computers, I discovered a useful tool Synctoy, from Mirosoft. I will just store a copy of the files in my linux server for now. When I get my new linux box, I will setup subversion to revision control all my files.

哲學功課: On Fatalism

In this essay I will discuss the conflict between God’s foreknowledge and our freedom. I will first examine the problem of fatalism proposed by Richard Taylor. Then I will reproduce the resolution proposed by St. Augustine and William Rowe.

In chapter six of Taylor’s book Metaphysics, he has concluded determinism will logically lead to fatalism. Fatalism is a belief that whatever happens in the future is unavoidable. Normal people agree on the fact that the past cannot be changed. The fatalists take their belief one step further. They think that the future also cannot be changed. All events, from the past to the future, in the time line are static. We are just players acting out a predefined script; although we don’t necessary know what is going to happen.

One form of fatalism arises from religious beliefs. In this form of fatalism, there exists an omniscient God. This all-knowing, all-powerful God has foreknowledge about all events in the future. Therefore, although the future has not yet arrived, everything is already fixed in the eyes of God. Men may have illusion that their action can change the future, but nothing happen in the world is avoidable. In another words, it is impossible for us to have done it otherwise, according to the foreknowledge of God. There is another form of fatalism does not require the presence of God. The second form of fatalism is based on the law of excluded middle. Every statement about any event in any given time is either true or false, there is no middle ground. Therefore, there exists a set of true statements that describe every event that had happened, is happening or will happen in the world. Again, in another words, this also implies it is impossible for us to do it otherwise, according to that set of true statements.

In the dialog between Augustine and Erodins, Erodins questioned Augustine that the two propositions God has foreknowledge and we sin by free will are not compatible. Since men are inevitable to sin, men should be not judged nor punished. This question is essentially the same as the claim of fatalism, except that Erodins also brought the question of responsibility into the picture. Augustine responded by stating the distinction between will and necessity. He said that by definition the freedom of choices is not a will unless it is in our power. Therefore, the foreknowledge of God does not disprove our power to will anything voluntarily, as long as God also has knowledge of our power over it. Then Augustine further developed his argument claiming that due to we have free will, God’s foreknowledge that we will sin does not compel us to sin. Our sin is caused by our free will, so it is justified to punish those who had sinned. To summarize, Augustine provided an argument that free will is compatible with fatalism, as well as God’s foreknowledge.

In Rowe’s article on predestination, divine foreknowledge and human freedom, he tackled the problem from a different approach. First the he refuted Augustine’s definition of free will and the resolution by separating foreseeing the events from foreordaining the events. Rowe said power of will alone is not sufficient to justify human freedom; the other necessary condition is the power to do otherwise. He used growing old as an example. Say someone wants to grow old, although he indeed is growing old, but he still doesn’t grow old freely. Rowe clarity the problem by outlining the premise and the arguments that leads to the conclusion human has no freedom. The first premise is that God has foreknowledge. The second premise is that since God knows everything we will do, we cannot do otherwise. The third premise is that if we cannot do otherwise, then we don’t really have freedom. In order to dispute the conclusion, we have to reject at least one of the premises.

The first solution is to reject premise three, Augustine’s resolution, which already refuted by Rowe. The second solution is to reject premise two, deny God’s foreknowledge limits us to choose otherwise. Rowe cited the solution suggested by William of Ockham to classify statements about the past into two types: simply about the past and not simply about the past. Statements simply about the past are out of our power to control, however we may alter statements not simply about the past. God’s foreknowledge is statements not simply about the past, therefore God knows everything does not mutually exclude sometimes we have the power to do otherwise. The third solution is to reject premise three, deny God has foreknowledge. This resolution is adopted by many theologians such as Boethius and Thomas Aquinas. In short, this resolution claims God exists outside of time, therefore his foreknowledge does not affect men’s temporal passage. They claim that all events in all time are observed by God at the same moment. Therefore, there is no restriction from God’s foreknowledge limiting men’s freedom to choose otherwise.

To summarize this essay, Augustine made an unsuccessful attempt to solve the problem of fatalism. He made his argument from redefining the meaning of free will is shown too weak. This object is already addressed by Taylor in the end of chapter 5 of his book, Metaphysics. The second and third solution suggested by Rowe has built a much stronger case. Rowe had shown divine foreknowledge is compatible with human freedom by stating free will doesn’t involve altering the past. Taylor has no response to meet these two objects in his book and Rowe had successfully solved the problem of fatalism.

Lastly, the thesis of fatalism is built base on the premise that determinism is true. However from our latest philosophical understanding, determinism cannot be true due to the effect of randomness in reality. If there is no hard coded universal causal relationship between the past and the future, then the claim of fatalism that the future is unavoidable is vague. Therefore, there is no need to solve the problem of fatalism as the conflict between fatalism and free will is not valid in the first place.

哲學功課: Problems of McTaggart and the unreality of time

In this essay I will criticize the unreality of time proposed by McTaggart. First I will outline the arguments on the unreality of time by McTaggart. Then I will reject his premises and deductions one by one to show McTaggart has failed to conclude that time is unreal.

First we have to understand the A-series, B-series and C-series description of time proposed by McTaggart. Let’s start with C-series, which is not a temporal series. The C-series specify the order of events and the time between the events. The B-series adds the notation of direction of time to the C-series. In a B-series, each event is expressed in term of earlier than or later than other events. The A-series adds the notation of the present moment of time to the B-series. In an A-series, each event is either in past, at present or in the future. McTaggart stated that we can only observe time through the forming of either A-series or B-series.

McTaggart then said B-series is not sufficient to describe time. Events in a B-series indicate permanent relations. The earlier and later relationship of events in the B-series cannot describe changes, which is essential for time to exist. Therefore, we are only left with A-series to describe time. McTaggart then claimed that if the A-series is unreal, then time must be unreal. He answered two objections to the removal of A-series will destroy time. The first one deals with imaginary time-series, such as a time-line inside a novel. He dismissed it by claiming time only belongs to existent. The second objection deals with multiple time-series. He dismissed it by claiming the different time-series with multiple moment of present should be rejected because it is incompatible with the A-series.

Next, McTaggart went on to show A-series cannot exist by arguing the A-series is contradictory. He argued that the past, present and future of an event are incompatible determinations. Each event can be in all three incompatible states depending on the verb-from of the event. However using verb-form to explain the states of event induce a vicious circle of infinite A-series. Since A-series has no valid explanation, it is a contradiction and therefore time is unreal. McTaggart’s argument can be summarized in the following table.

  1. Time can only be observed by forming B-series and A-series
  2. Time involves changes, so B-series is out
  3. If A-series is unreal, then time is unreal
  4. A-series is invalid, so it is unreal
  5. Therefore, time is unreal.

Traditionally, there are two camps of philosophers trying to rejecting McTaggart’s claim by two different approaches. The B theorists think that B-series alone is sufficient to describe time. The A theorists accept McTaggart’s claim that A-series is necessary for the existence of time, but reject his claim that A-series is contradictory. Both A theorists and B theorists has their problem dealing with McTaggart, mostly due to they are trapped by framework defined by McTaggart when discussing time. In this essay, I will use a different approach. I will first examine and reject each line of McTaggart’s argument, from step 4 down to step 1 in the table above. In the process, I will uncover some fundamental errors in the McTaggart’s construction of the A-series and B-the series, and provide a new framework of time based on the scientific theories of time.

In step 4 of McTaggart’s argument, he claims that the A-series is unreal because it involves an endless regression of A-series. I am going to reject his claim in three different ways. 1.) An infinite series can also be a real series. All we have to do to take the integration. In mathematics, there are real numbers with endless regression, such as π, e, and irrational numbers. We can only claim that the A-series is not precise in describing the states of an event, but we cannot deduce A-series is unreal from the fact that it merely has infinite circles. 2.) McTaggart tried to solve the problem of time using verb-form is limited by semantic constructs of his language, English. There exist languages with verb-from common to all past, present and future, such as Chinese. The timing relationship of an event in such language is specified explicitly by a time qualifier, such as today, tomorrow, 3 hours ago, last year, etc. 3.) In Dummett’s article, he suggested that using token-reflexive expression, such as now, may refute McTaggart’s argument. He then subsequently claimed the token-reflexive expression of the observer introduce another time-series, hence the endless regression problem still exists. I would answer this by stating that the now event does not require a mind to be an observer. A computer can objectively apply the token-reflex expression to resolve A-series without any existence of mind, thus the now event is real instead of being subjective. Therefore with the help of a real now event, the infinite regression of A-series can be collapsed into a single real A-series with the now event at present.

In step 3 of McTaggart’s argument, he dismissed the objection from the theory of a plurality of time saying it is merely a hypothesis. McTaggart assume time is absolute for all observers. However his viewpoint contradicts with Einstein’s relativity theory, which is a scientific fact. According to principle of relativity, time experienced by an observer is a function of the speed of the observer and the speed of light, which is a constant real value. The faster the speed of the observer, the slower the time he will experience. The relativity of time is confirmed by the 1962 dual atomic clock experiment. In the experiment, two pairs of very accurate atomic clock are mounted on the bottom and the top of a tall tower and it is observed one clock is running slower than another. There is also the famous twins paradox. One of the twins travels in a spaceship near the speed of light. When he returns, he will be much younger than the other twin staying on earth. Each individual has his own frame of reference in time that depends on his velocity and his location related to massive bodies. McTaggart concluded time is unreal because he mistakenly assumed time must be absolute. If time is relative, then there exist many A-series and many instances of present in the universe. Therefore rejecting the A-series alone is not sufficient to prove the unreality of time. Moreover, since the speed of light is real and the speed of the observer is also real, time as a function of those two must also be real.

In step 2 of McTaggart’s argument, he claimed that the B-series indicate permanent relations. Therefore the B-series cannot describe the nature of change in time. McTaggart has made an assumption about the deterministic worldview of time. The B-series is only capable of describing past events. The very last event in the B-series is the now event marking all the possibilities are lying ahead in the future. Take McTaggart’s own example, the death of Queen Anne. Before the event actually happen, there are all sorts of possibilities that Queen Anne could escape death. She could be adducted by aliens preserved as a frozen specimen or she could ascend into heaven like Jesus. If N is earlier than O and later than M, it will only be so if all three events have already happened. If O is in the future, then there is no guarantee this event will exist in the B-series. Therefore, a growing B-series is sufficient to describe time, at least time earlier than the present moment. The becoming of an event is described by its position relative to the now event in the B-series. In this sense, a B-series is equivalent to an A-series after we apply some transform function between the two series using now as the operator.

At last, in step 1 of McTaggart’s argument, he claimed that we never observe time except forming both A-series and B-series and he also claimed that time can be subjective which cannot exists independent of human mind. Let’s try to imagine the following scenario. There is a third world war and every man on earth is killed by nuclear weapons. The earth is heavily polluted and will be inhabitable for the next several thousand years. However, there is a great scientist come up a plan to save humanity. He builds a modern version of Noah’s art safe keeping DNA of every species on earth, including human. The art is controlled by a super computer, which monitors the atmosphere. When the earth becomes habitable, it will populate man and animals from the art’s DNA database through cloning. It is obvious that computer would also keeps track of the time between the last man is dead and the first cloned man is born. During this period, there exists no human mind to subjective perceive time and yet time exists. This thought experiment demonstrated time exists independent of human mind. Moreover, we can also describe time through forming paths in light cones instead of forming the A-series and B-series. The future light-cone is the path of a light pulse from an event and the past light cone is the path of all the lights pulse that will pass through an event. For an event A to be affected by another event B, event A has to lie within the future light cone of event B, since nothing can travel faster than light. Therefore time can be described by the path of lights passing thought the light cones of events. If we use the framework of quantum physics, events change is just a secondary property of time. An event happens on the moment all the probability of the quantum wave equations collapsed into certainty. Then the becoming of an event can derives the change of an event. Therefore, change is not essential to time, instead becoming is essential to time.

In conclusion, in this essay I have rejected every single statement in McTaggart’s argument on the unreality of time. Therefore we have no reason to believe time is unreal based on his arguments. On the other hand, there are plenty of evidence in modern science showing time is real. Hence as a rational being, we should accept the reality of time instead of the unreality of time. In the matter of facts, the questions about the nature of time should no longer be a metaphysical question. It should follow the example of gravity, which moved from the department of philosophy to the department of physics.

[1] J.M.E. McTaggart, “The Unreality of Time”
[2] Michael Dummett, “A Defense of McTaggart’s Proof of the Unreality of Time”
[3] Stephen Hawking, “A Brief History of Time”
[4] Stephen Hawking, “The Universe in a Nutshell”
[5] Wikipedia, “The Unreality of Time”, “Notes of McTaggart, The Unreality of Time”, “Philosphy of space and time”

Vietnam crossover Japan

We tried and failed to have lunch at Estea again this afternoon. Although the bubble tea place has big signs at the front saying it is open for business during lunch hour, it was closed. In order to avoid moving our cars, we head to a sushi place in the same plazza. That place is opened by Vietnamese, therefore on top of sushi, it serves Vietnamese menu. Last time when I went there, I didn’t have a very good eating experience. Therefore I decided to stay away from raw food today. I am surprise the resturant doesn’t not take advantage of the dual cultural heritage and offer mix-and-match Vietnam fusion with Japan, instead they keep the two menu totally seperate. I would like to try chirashi-bun (vermicelli) instead of chirashi-don or yaki-pho (rice noodle) instead of yaki-soba, or even try dip sushi with fish sauce and washibi instead of soya sauce.

Birthday Party

Tonight I went to a very special birthday party, it is the birthday of the Fr. Pierre of St. Mary. He is turning 60 this year, and he has been a priest for 25 years. The party starts with the usual Thursday party meeting and Eucharist adoration. It was planned as a surprise party, but the father saw our decoration and food prepared downstairs. The prayer meeting is shorter than normal today, which is a good thing. After the party meeting, we have pot luck, cut the cake and a trivia about Fr. Pierre downstairs. Someone even bought a chocolate fondu fountain. The highlight of tonight is two people dressed as Fr. Pierre’s favourate saints. I know the lady cosplaying Mother Theresa. I joked to her that how come she had became a sister just before getting marry. I think being a church leader doesn’t have a private life. He have to celebrate his birthday with the church-goers, and turn the day into a special get together event to make the church life a bit more fun.

Race track

The other two Bit-Char G I ordered from Hobby Link Japan finally arrived. The race track in Steven’s cubicle is offically opened to bussiness. The range of the remote control is very limited, so I have to close off the far end section of the track. To make things worse, the motor from my old car is dying and become very slow. On of that, one of the new remote has really limited range. Those two are not race ready. I swaped the motor of those two cars, and end up with two racable cars. I am going to order several 16000 rpm motors make the cars go faster. I am still waiting for a sales on one running on the 57MHz band to add another car to the track. People in my project team loves the racing track. It is a welcome break when you are so frustrated debugging some really messy code.

See the race track here

Dell Inspiron 6400 Laptop


My laptop (Inspiron 6400) ordered from Dell has arrived today. It is the first laptop I ever own, excluding the piece of junk PMC gave me when I started working. I am quite happy with the laptop, except it doesn’t have enough memory. I know it when I make the order to avoid buying over charged memory from Dell. I am going to order more memory online, so I will have to suffer the sluggish performance for a while. There are lots of work to do after getting a new computer. I have to install all my usual software. However before that, I have to uninstall the useless software come with the laptop. Why can’t Dell allow me choose a clean windows install without all those software cogging my registry? I am still not use to the smaller keyboard and the touch pad, that will take me a while to get use to. I will post some more review of my laptop after I have the chance to use it for a longer period.

24″ widescreen LCD again

Today the fleet of 24″ widescreen LCD finally arrived. Almost everyone in the project get a new monitor, the rest of the team will have it in the next shipment. After I had made my suggestion about bigger display has a positive impact productivity to the CEO, finally the fruit prevail. I miss my dual 19″ display a bit, there are some unique advantages two 19″ compare to one 24″. However, there is an option to add another 19″ along side to my 24″. I am no longer the previliaged guy with dual monitor in the company, but I am glad that the everyone’s work environment is improved because of my suggestion. Everyone loves the better bigger display, I doubt who would go back to the tiny 19″ monitor. The IT department has create a survey on the preformance increase due to the bigger display. The guy who come up with questions is a complete idiot. The question ask how many percentage of productivity increase you will have from a bigger display, and the options are 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%. Realistic number from other research shows anywhere from 10-40%. Having options higher than 50% is just plain stupid. On top of that, the special treatment in our department having big monitors makes other department jealous. Some of my friends downstairs complaining they are still using CRT. I think the company better speed up the deployment of 24″ to the whole company or it will hurt the morale of those who havn’t get it.


This weekend I finally have the time to organize my investments. I havn’t keep an eye on it for a few months and I didn’t even keep a good track of record of my profits and losses. I spent a whole afternoon entering all my transaction records into my yahoo profile and determine which stock I should hold and what new stocks I should get. I find my performance is just ok, on average I have about 8% of return per year. I had made some good stock picks and a few bad picks. The best peformer is Advanced Medical Optics (EYE), I got it when it first IPO at $9, after 3 years I sold it at $36 making a 400% profit. I could have hold it longer since it went up to $47 now. Oh well, I should not be too greedy. I found that picking what stock to buy is the easier part in investing, deciding when to sell much more important. Almost every stock I owned had went up at a certain time after I bought it. The key is selling it while having a profit. I have held on some stocks for too long and its value drop so much I had to take a loss. I don’t buy stock for short term gain, my goal for each stock I pick having a 50% return in 2-3 years. I don’t look at market news or charts trying to speculate the price change. It is too hard to read accurately and you can never beat the pro-traders. My approach is reading the big picture on market trends, then invest in the top companies in the industry with growth potential. My primary source of information is the Economist. I have keep track of stocks picks from the Economist, so far the record is quote impressive. Most of them goes up with a half year lag after the article is published. Too bad that I don’t have the principle or the guts to invest in all of my own stock picks. Here are some of my stock pick at the moment: RSA Security (RSAS), TVIA Inc (TVIA), Avaya (AV), Titanium Metals Corp (TIE), Monsanto (MON), Apache Corp (APA)

Farewell lunch

We have another farewell lunch today. The boss has joked it has become a monthly feature and he even nominate the lesser boss for next month’s farewell lunch. Sometimes I really doubt what is the point behind farewell lunch. In the lunch with a big group of people, you won’t have much chance to talk to the one who is leaving. You end up talking to whoever happens sitting next to you. People comes mostly because they can’t think of a reason not to come. I see it as a occasion to socialize with other colleagues, especially I have lunch with my own group of friends instead of people from the same project. The guy who is leaving belongs to my lunch group, so we will have another farewell party with him tomorrow. This will be a real party and we will have fun, unlike today’s formalized bussiness lunch. Today before I went home, I turned the cubicle of this guy, who sits next to me, into a racing track for my Bit Char-G. The only problem is my other 2 Bit Char-G havn’t arrived yet.