Saturday, April 26, 2008

Quotation Phase Space

There is a phase space of excellent quotations.

As the human race progresses human thought will expand through this phase space.

One day in the dim and distant future every thought that can be expressed will be expressed beautifully.

However as things are today this cannot be so.

So I have to add a lenthy addendum; what applies to programming languages also applies, in a slightly altered form, to natural language.

Natural language and expression can either be practical (easy to create and understand, efficient, complete) or beautiful (witty, concise, pleasing to read and hear).

Sometimes it is both.

The quality of being concise in natural languages can be both practical and beautiful. It depends on the user. Sometimes superfluous words aid understanding to someone who is new to the idea, but cause irritation to someone familiar with the idea.

On the other hand in some situations it is important that meaning be transferred as quickly and accurately as possible.

As such safety instructions are rarely written in iambic pentameter.

"Behind the line of white could patrons please remain."


"Beware the dog that lives within."

Perhaps one day we will learnt he basic principles behind the creation of natural language, and perhaps then we will be able to "create" one that works really well.

Someone Within Earshot is Perpetrating Morris Dancing

And as such I am doing a roundup of definitions:

Culture: something invented by the Victorians to describe the things people did that weren't directly connected with business, science, sex, politics, or making things.
Culture is nowadays afforded too much respect and taken too seriously.

Politics: the name for the study and practice of groups of people make decisions. It has the potential to be an enlightening and enjoyable experience but is generally irritating, boring, and full of pointless meetings and unnecessary complaining.

Voters: the cause of most of the problems facing any democratic country.

Technology: a much-overused word that should be avoided, if at all possible, in any discussion involving practical problem-solving. It is a general term for a massive variety of things and should be treated as such.
Also it is not synonymous with "consumer electronics" - whatever the BBC and every other news outlet seems to think.
"Technology" is any tangible or material product of the human mind.

Economics: the study and practice of how scarce resources like time, energy, materials and work are distributed.

Money: an arbitrary unit that equates to a certain amount of a particular resource. Money is used to distribute resources.

Those Morris Dancers are still at it!

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Sorry for my silence over the last few days. Stuff's been happening.

Anyway I've found a new idle hobby: browsing through the images of the space in which people work on Flickr's Workspace Karma Pool and workspace.

There is something oddly compelling about workspaces. They are a reflection of our passions, desires, neurosese, habits, beliefs and ideosyncracies - a sort of voyeurism of the soul.

Voyeurism in general seems rampant on the web. Anyone who comments on FaceBook will mention the compulsively stalkerish aspect of it.

Privacy, at least as baby boomers understand it, will become a scarce and valuable commodity over the next fifty years.

Addendum: Also, what is with men and Moleskine notebooks? They're great, but most of the satisfaction in them comes from telling other people men how great they are.

This creates a pyramid-scheme-style cascade of smugness, starting with the likes of Mark Twain 100 years ago and carrying on to the present day.

And of course they are great. I mean they really are. They perfectly designed notebooks, and they cost a little more than most, but it's worth it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Nootropics and Alterable Brains

One of my big philosophical hangups is the nature of the Self. What defines what we are? I don't believe in the idea of soul (although I love Soul music...).

However I also believe that our physical brains are malleable enough to alter any identifiable characteristic of our personalities; our temperament, how we respond to different stimuli, how we react to situations; our emotional, social, philosophical, and intellectual temperaments...

All these can be altered by the twisting and rewiring of neurons in the brain.

This is a fascinating story in The New York Times about Dr Anne Adams, a teacher and scientist, who suffered from a neurological condition called frontotemporal dementia.

This caused her skills, abilities, and interests to shift away from mathematical, language-based, and scientific, and towards visual, spacial, and artistic.

FTD also changes your temperament.

Another story I noticed in the news today was a feature in The Independent about nootropics: these are drugs that improve the abilities of the brain in certain ways.

This sort of technology and this area of study is going to do the same for the 21st century what automobiles, HTA flight, and computers did for the 20th.

We don't even have the language required to describe many of the ideas of how our brain works and psychology and neurobiology are surrounded by myths and perceived weirdness.

Combining greater understanding with an ability to combat pathologies of the brain and even alter the brain to improve it's abilities will lead to a revolution, not just in medicine, but a revolution in what it means to be human.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Whining about My Generation

Considering the environment within which we have been brought up, I am disappointed in my generation.

If there is something we don't approve of we blog, or we set up Facebook groups.

Although we are supposedly incredibly "tech savvy" we only interact with technology in a fairly peripheral way. In fact there is currently a shortage of skilled, creative young programmers.

We don't take action.

It is possible that this is simply a demographic trend. But we are luke-warm on any political or ethical issue.

I, personally, have no strong beliefs whatsoever, but to hear myself going on you'd think I should be doing something to encourage my peers to action over the issues that matter.

But I honestly can't be arsed. Someone else do it. Or pay me...

Oh OK, my generation is pretty good. But we do whine a lot.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

More Felix Dennis

Felix Dennis made the front page of The Times today with this interview in which he claims he “killed a man.” It’s an extraordinary claim to make. From what I’ve read about the man it might just be possible; but it is far more likely that it is part of his usual self-aggrandising self-promotion.