Abusive language

One criticism of contemporary life is the tendency to treat everything, and everyone, as a resource to be optimized and exploited. This was part of the idea behind Ian Bogost’s satire on Zynga-style social games, Cow Clicker:

In social games, friends aren’t really friends; they are mere resources. And not just resources for the player, but also for the game developer, who relies on insipid, “viral” aspects of a design to make a system replicate.

Now, it’s one thing to treat someone like a resource, but it’s something else to use that sort of language about someone with their knowledge, even to their face. Yet it happens. It really is quite bizarre.
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Upgrading Ubuntu

I’ve recently started doing a bit of work for a non-profit IT organization. Submitting a bug-fix turned out to involve some yak shaving that I really can’t be bothered to describe, which gave rise to this:


I knew there was a reason I’d been avoiding upgrading my Ubuntu installation. (I mean, apart from the obvious one.)

For what it’s worth, I think the upper button probably said something like “Show details”, since clicking caused a text pane (also containing a large number of squares) to appear. The lower button presumably said “OK”.

Once upgraded I ran into other trouble of various kinds. Fortunately, this was a virtual machine, so I could just rollback to a previous state. Also, there’s more than one way to shave a yak.

I intermittently attend a “science and literature” reading group. The last thing I read for the group was “The Languages of Pao”, by Jack Vance. Actually, we only read the first nine chapters.

I’m not really much of a science fiction fan—I’m not much of a novel-reader in general—and to start with the book was a bit of a grind. But once the story got going I found it quite intriguing: perhaps it had some sort of personal resonance.
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A couple of things we saw on Vatersay: the desiccated remains of a gannet, on a beach; a memorial for a crashed plane, together with some of the wreckage.

Dead gannet

Wrecked Catalina


Call me Ishmael.

Over the past few years I’ve rather lost sight of the joys of programming. In fact, the whole business was causing me to grow grim around the mouth. I therefore accounted it high time to learn a new programming language.

I’ve picked Go.

It’s a bit too early to say where that might lead: so far all I’ve done is to run through the introductory tutorial and attend a meetup in a pub. So far, though, it seems quite jolly.

The last exercise in the tutorial involved implementing a parallelized web crawler. I was a bit surprised that the sample solution involved explicit locking, but rather pleased to discover that the trick I used to avoid this in my solution (namely, having a counter for the number of worker threads) isn’t unique to me. (See, e.g. the crawler in Russ Cox’s introduction to the language.)

No fun

I was recently lent a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy. I read it, but didn’t quite engage. This is no doubt in part because—for personal reasons—I’m a bit dubious about the whole idea of literature and “the life of the mind”, Lewis’ stock-in-trade.

I did, however, like the following, in which Lewis describes his experience of serving in the army during World War I rather favourably (relative to his experience of boarding school):

It was, of course, detestable. But the words “of course” drew the sting. […] Straight tribulation is easier to bear than tribulation which advertises itself as pleasure. The one breeds camaraderie and even (when intense) a kind of love between fellow-sufferers; the other, mutual distrust, cynicism concealed and fretting resentment.


Complaining about corporate jargon is almost too easy to be worth the effort. But I did want to have a little whinge about my own pet peeve: the misuse of the terms “positive feedback” and “negative feedback”.
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Stress as an idea

In a sort of continuation of the theme of embodied and environmental cognition, here’s a quote from Michael Bond’s review of One Nation Under Stress by Dana Baker (in this week’s New Scientist):

The original medical definition [of stress], which, as its derivation from mechanics suggests is concerned specifically with an organism’s response to external pressures, has all but vanished from view. […] The focus has turned inward, from environmental causes to medical solutions and what individuals should do to cope.

Reading Heidegger

These days, now that I’m a card-carrying God-botherer, I find Matthew Stewart’s The Management Myth a bit too cynical for my tastes.

That said, the book was quite an eye-opener as a history of management theory; especially when read in conjunction with Kiechel’s The Lords of Strategy. And the original essay still has a certain charm. Consider this:

As I plowed through tomes on competitive strategy, business process re-engineering, and the like, not once did I catch myself thinking, Damn! If only I had known this sooner! Instead, I found myself thinking things I never thought I’d think, like, I’d rather be reading Heidegger!

There has been the odd occasion when I’ve read everyone’s favourite Nazi windbag philosopher, for fun. Perhaps it’s just a matter of finding an occasion that’s sufficiently odd.
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Need To Know

I’ve previously mentioned Rodney Brooks approach to robotics, and also “bottom up” views of knowledge. Here’s a nice quote (from Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign, p115):

Brooks’ attachment to the bottom-up procedure is also performative, ruling the description as well as the content of his approach. Thus, not only mind—problem solving, central control, representation—is subordinated within his model of intelligence but also its sociocultural correlates—philosophy, abstract thought, theory—are likewise invoked by him on a minimal, need-to-know basis.

This appeals to me, in part, because it chimes with my views about another form of abstract knowledge that’s central to programming: knowledge of programming languages.
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