Newish interview with Ellen Ullman.
Right now, I'm working on an essay about artificial life for Harper's magazine, and all I can say about it is this: We face a future in which we will encounter cybernetic devices that more and more closely simulate the characteristics we think of as "human." We as a society will have to talk about all this. The discussion should -- must! -- involve a wider swath of society than engineers and researchers. The definition of alive and sentient is much too important to leave to engineers, who will simply build whatever they can, left to their own devices. For the last half century, we have allowed engineers to dominate the discourse about technology. At this juncture, when engineers proclaim themselves on the verge of creating "life," a much wider section of society must participate.
What happens to people, like myself, who have been involved with computing for a long time is that you begin to see how many of the "new" ideas are simply old ones coming back into view on the swing of the pendulum, with new and faster hardware to back it up. In the time I've been involved in computing, we have swung from the centralized model (the mainframe, with dumb terminals handing off it) to the distributed model (client-server computing, a database and with most of the action happening on a smart, user-oriented front end), then halfway back to the centralized model (everything of consequence on the server, the user interface consisting of a rather dumb browser interface to the Web).
Now we're trying to add intelligence to the user interface with XML, to allow the client side (the user workstations) to "understand" the data types they're receiving, as opposed to everything just being text, as it is in the browser. I expect I'll live long enough to see client-server come back in a new disguise, then (if I'm lucky, living long and prospering) another return to the centralized model. What happens over the years is that you see there are certain intractable problems that don't have a single solution. Engineering is not about arriving at the answer but only about trade-offs, about finding the best working solution for the given situation.
As one sees solutions come and go over the years, it's hard not to feel cynical when newcomers trumpet a repackaged idea as the new wisdom. This, I think, is the challenge for old programmers: remembering that computer technology -- always thought of as "new," though it is now nearly two generations old -- has a shallow memory, to its detriment.
Tom Waits gives a great interview:
TW: [...] people are curious about all kinds of things, which takes your mind off that which is really important. They usually ask questions about things that don't matter—to them, or to me, or to anybody else. Just to take up time, I guess, and distract them from the important questions, like "Who won the World Series in 1957?" or "Who said, 'Today you will play jazz, tomorrow you will betray your country'?"
O: Is there an answer to that one?
TW: It was on a Soviet propaganda poster in the '30s. Did you know that honey is the only food that won't spoil? They found it in King Tut's tomb. Jars of honey. They said it was just as fresh as it was on the first day.
O: Did they actually try it?
TW: They tried it, yeah. Wouldn't you? If you found a jar of honey in a thousands-of-years-old tomb, would you put your finger into it and taste it?
(via scot hacker's foobar blog.)
To be honest, I was kind've mystified by the term neo-liberal in this sticker on a local newspaper box:
What seems to be the most accurate definition I've since come across is:
"Deregulated, globally-integrated, corporate capitalism" or simply put: "Capitalism Plus".
I really wonder why the term 'neo-liberalism' was used to describe this; I can understand neo-con, but I find it hard to relate to seeing Liberalism as bad, or why a renewal of Liberalism would be a bad thing.
I also find it kind of amusing to think about the wto-hating culture jammer getting these stickers printed up at Kinko. I wonder how long it took to decide that that particular font was the perfect one to enlighten the masses about the evils of The Vancouver Sun.
Well, this sucks: IBM has sold off their cool patent site to some company called delphion, which requires registration for search and/or display. Not going to do it just to show somebody the cat play laser pointer patent.
I usually don't make posts like this, but the Buffy finale was an incredible two hours of tv, no matter what the naysayers at Television Without Pity think. (By the way, 'Worst. Episode. Ever.' is no longer funny, not even in an ironic way. Worst. Tagline. Ever. - see, isn't it great?)
The disadvantage of believing that all programming languages are equivalent is that it's not true. But the advantage is that it makes your life a lot simpler. And I think that's the main reason the idea is so widespread. It is a comfortable idea.
I've taken to getting off SkyTrain a stop early and walking home via Trout Lake. See if you can figure out why:
Some of the new graffiti around the new SkyTrain line is amazing:
Wolfram effectively sidesteps the issue of degrees of complexity. There is no debate that a degenerate pattern such as a chessboard has no effective complexity. Wolfram also acknowledges that mere randomness does not represent complexity either, because pure randomness also becomes predictable in its pure lack of predictability. It is true that the interesting features of a Class 4 automata are neither repeating nor pure randomness, so I would agree that they are more complex than the results produced by other classes of Automata. However, there is nonetheless a distinct limit to the complexity produced by these Class 4 automata.
But, for three days starting last Sept. 11, meteorological researchers were presented with just such an opportunity when the FAA grounded commercial flights nationwide for three days following the terrorist air attacks.
And now it has emerged that the American climate was indeed noticeably different during those three days without air travel.
A team of climatologists presented their work Tuesday, showing that temperatures in the United States fluctuated by 1.2 degrees Celsius more when airplanes were grounded than when normal flight patterns prevailed. That is, planes in the sky dampen the variability between day and nighttime temperatures. More air travel, the researchers suggest, brings less meteorological difference between noon and midnight.
The Waking Life DVD is worth picking up: it's a great film that should stand up to repeated viewings, and there are lots of extras to enhance understanding. (I don't want to be an ant.)
Einstein's massive FBI File. The justification for the file:
An investigation was conducted by the FBI regarding the famous physicist because of his affiliation with the Communist Party. Einstein was a member, sponsor, or affiliated with thirty-four communist fronts between 1937-1954. He also served as honorary chairman for three communist organizations.
Now Mr. Wolfram is finally publishing his work, and his claims surpass
the most extravagant speculation. He has, he argues, discovered
underlying principles that affect the development of everything from the
human brain to the workings of the universe, requiring a revolutionary
rethinking of physics, mathematics, biology and other sciences. He
believes he has shown how the most complex processes in nature can arise
out of elemental rules, how a wealth of diverse phenomena - the infinite
variety of snowflakes and the patterns on sea shells - are generated
from seemingly trivial origins.
Ok, I admit I want to read this book, all 1,200 pages of it.
Ugh. Everything you've heard about projects at large corporations is true.
Godspeed You Black Emperor! tour and new album this year. I am still kicking myself for missing their last show in Vancouver. Won't happen again.