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Posts Tagged ‘book’

Kevin Simler’s recent posting on ethics and programming features one of my favourite Brian Kernighan quotes. (I won’t repeat it here, as you can read it there.) This reminded me of another favourite thing: the cover illustration to The Practice of Programming, which features a little dog pointing out the book’s trio of key concepts.
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In the light of Venkat Rao’s theory of gollumization and raving fandom, it’s reasonable to ask the question: “Am I a raving Venkat Rao fan?”

There’s evidence on both sides, but here’s my case against.

Admittedly, I dutifully gave away my stealth edition of Tempo, and claimed my free Kindle edition to replace it. But, although the content was all very interesting, there was something I didn’t quite like about either edition. I didn’t like the way they smelled. To quote Rupert Giles:

Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is a — it, uh, it has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible, it should be, um, smelly.

Let’s pick a different example. Perhaps a neglected difference between a satnav nomad’s understanding of a city, and The Knowledge of London is in smell: fried breakfast, stale cigarettes, diesel, piss.

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Architecture

This from Learning from Las Vegas, quoted in Edward R. Tufte’s classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (in the section about “self-promoting graphics”):

It is now time to reevaluate the once horrifying statement of John Ruskin that architecture is the decoration of construction, but we should append the warning of Pugin: It is all right to decorate a construction but never construct a decoration.

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Ian Pindar’s Guardian review of The Prince from a few years back:

Is it better to be loved or feared? Is it always necessary to keep one’s word? How can we avoid being hated? These are just some of the fascinating questions raised by Machiavelli in this classic treatise on statecraft, although, as Maurizio Viroli points out in his fine introduction, it is odd that an avowed republican should write a book of instruction for a prince. Is it in fact a satire designed to enlighten the masses? It’s a nice idea, but Machiavelli’s cynicism is all-embracing: in his eyes we are all “ungrateful, fickle simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger and greedy for gain”. Peter Bondanella’s new translation is based on the best text available today, and he breaks up Machiavelli’s often long and convoluted sentences to clarify his ideas. It’s well worth £3.99 of anyone’s money, and the answers to the opening questions are (1) feared (2) no, and (3) refrain from being rapacious and usurping the property and women of your subjects.

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Related to this, from Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps by Peter Galison:

Over the last thirty years it has become a commonplace to pit bottom-up against top-down explanations. Neither will do in accounting for time. A medieval saying aimed at capturing the links between alchemy and astronomy put it this way: in looking down, we see up; in looking up, we see down. That vision of knowledge serves us well. For in looking down (to the electromagnetically regulated clock networks) we see up: to images of empire, metaphysics, and civil society. In looking up (to the philosophy of Einstein and Poincaré’s procedural concepts of time, space, and simultaneity) we see down: to the wires, gears, and pulses passing through the Bern patent office and the Paris Bureau of Longitude. We find metaphysics in machines, and machines in metaphysics. Modernity, just in time.

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Mathematics as Sign, Brian Rotman, pp112-113:

What would top-down over bottom-up—as an intellectual method, organizing metaphor, or cognitive style—mean? One might gloss it as the ranking of the global, panoptic, abstractly analytic over the concrete, limited, and locally synthetic; of posterior description, morphology, and structure over history, evolution, and genesis; of plans over objectives and goals; of general laws over incidents and cases; of context-free reason over situated knowledge; of realist truth over constructive emergence. But the figure is also reflexive and applies at once to descriptions of itself; the summary I have just given (which is perhaps less than helpful as an explication) is very much a top-down take on the top-down / bottom-up difference.

Michael Oakenshot—an introduction, Paul Franco, p12:

Nevertheless, despite many similarities between Hayek’s critique of central social planning and his own, Oakeshott criticized The Road to Serfdom for ultimately being too ideological. The main significance of Hayek’s book, he wrote, is “not the cogency of the doctrine, but the fact that it is a doctrine. A plan to resist all planning may be better than it’s opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics.”

Michael Oakenshot—an introduction, Paul Franco, pp177-178:

The dominant idea of Berlin’s philosophy is, of course, value pluralism. Almost everthing he wrote, from The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953) to The Pursuit of the Ideal (1988), involves an attack on monism … and a defense of pluralism … So prevalent is this master dichotomy in Berlin’s thought that is can become rather monotonous. And as many commentators have noted, though Berlin identifies with the fox who knows many things, he himself turns out to be something of a hedgehog who knows one big thing: that values are plural, and that rationalistic monism is a mistake.

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