- My favorite thing about driving through Virginia would have to be the “SPEED LIMIT ENFORCED BY AIRCRAFT” signs. Surely aircraft alone are insufficient to enforce speed limits; presumably what happens is that observation aircraft relay information to patrol cars, and the patrol cars pull the car over and write the tickets. I can only think of two ways that the aircraft alone could enforce speed limits, both of which are awesome to think about whenever some wild driver blows past at twenty-five miles over the speed limit. The first is strafing, and the second is using some sort of giant magnet to physically remove the car from the roadway.
- I am about three-quarters of the way through Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. It's a tough book to get through, and I probably don't have the background to get as much out of it as I could, but it's rewarding in an interesting way. I've been surprised to find that my way of thinking is really congenial to historicism of many stripes. Another way of saying this is that Rorty's way of thinking doesn't seem as weird or scary as I thought it would.
- Brahmagupta once said that anyone who could solve x²-92y²=1 in less than a year is a mathematician. The other day I wrote a program that can do this in milliseconds, but I used a method from Wolfram's MathWorld so I am not sure it counts.
- I picked up the new Spoon album and I really like it. Every song is interesting, and it all fits together in a really nice way. I haven't read any reviews aside from Peter Suderman's small endorsement on The American Scene. I have noticed that the Internet encourages people to quickly and reflexively compare their reactions to art or music with the internet median instead of taking time to meditate or struggle with the experience. While this is part of the process of enjoying a show like Lost, it's the wrong way to go about appreciating anything that may turn out to have deeper meaning.
- Dickens: “I don't know where she was going, but we saw her run, such a little, little creature, in her womanly bonnet and apron, though a covered way at the bottom of the court; and melt into the city's strife and sound, like a dewdrop in the ocean.” Maybe it's a little sentimental, but there are lines in Bleak House that stay with me for days.
- I probably could have tightened some of this stuff up for Twitter, but I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I am not nearly clever enough to be tweeting.
27 February 2010
20 February 2010
“In order for this scheme to work, there would have to be some structural changes introduced gradually, as I explain in the book. This direction is the only way to create a human-centric internet, instead of one that serves the cultists who believe in information more than people. It would not attempt to make information free, but instead make it affordable. It is worth noting that this is exactly how the web would have developed if the initial design proposal for it, dating back to the 1960s, had been carried out. (This was Ted Nelson’s vision.) It is the obvious way to design the network if people are your top priority.”
I read Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget last night. It has me thinking pretty hard about what I want to use internet tools for. Lanier imagines a different web ethic than the one we have now, with a primary difference being that creators are compensated for their work instead of expected to give it away and make money on knicknacks. Though I’m not sure I buy everything Lanier has to say about the need to get away from the command line or the sorry state of music (though he’s certainly right about the sorry situation of musicians), it’s a book that demands critical thinking about the technologies we have so often uncritically adopted.
13 February 2010
07 February 2010
“Before I go on further about McCabe, let me offer a critique of RO, because if RO led me to McCabe, McCabe led me away from RO. Like a lot of Christian intellectuals over the last two decades, I quaffed a bit of the Kool-Aid served up by those in the RO constellation. Well, if I can extend the Kool-Aid metaphor a bit, drinking from the cistern of RO was refreshing and stimulating, particularly the idea that theology can be a distinct and compelling form of social and cultural criticism—of all the literature on that score, I think Graham Ward’s Cities of God is a real milestone. But as I’ve watched how some of this has played out or not played out over the last decade, I’ve concluded that the theological renaissance these figures embodied not only has waned, but also has encouraged some very bad mental and political habits. For one thing, I’m tired of hearing ‘modernity’ and ‘liberalism’ treated as though they were the spawn of Satan. Along with the other usual suspects—instrumental reason, science, universal rights, cosmopolitanism, ‘the Enlightenment project’—modernity and liberalism get hauled into the docket and found guilty, usually after a perfunctory trial, of the Judeocide, ecological catastrophe, capitalism, nuclear war, abortion, et cetera, ad nauseam. Give me a frigging break. When modernity and liberalism are this all-encompassing, they’ve become nothing more than verbal ciphers, containers for everything the writer doesn’t like, bestowing license to utter all manner of grandiose and stupid pontifications. With a lot of these people, liberalism equals nihilism, which equals the lowest circle of the inferno. The theological problem with this view is that it tends to completely strip the created world of its goodness. Can’t liberal modernity mediate grace or partake of beatitude in some fashion? Since when did Gothic architecture and the like become the only sanctioned media of Trinitarian love? Since when did Brave New World become the final word on modernity? So if you want to deride instrumental reason and technology, fine, but just remember all that when you have a toothache, or if the specialist discovers a tumor in time, or if your wife needs emergency assistance during childbirth. If you want to curse cosmopolitanism, fine, but just stop jetting across the oceans and using the Internet to do it, all the while lecturing the rest of us about nestling in the homespun joys of localism.”
I am a little curious as to how McCarraher would relate this to MacIntyre, for whom he has kind words in another section of the interview. But more generally, I think this paragraph describes pretty well an excess to which I was especially prone for several years. I don’t think I’ve adopted another point of view on the matter; I’ve just gotten much less confident in my ability to know what the boundaries of “modernity” and “liberalism” really are.
05 February 2010
I've been using Project Euler as practice. Project Euler is a list of math/programming problems. Most of them would be either extremely difficult or exceedingly time-consuming to solve by hand, whereas an efficient algorithm can solve each problem rather quickly. At least for the early problems, the good solutions take less than a second to finish.
When you solve a problem, the website gives you access to a forum where you can see how other people solved problems. Some of the top solvers use a language called J which looks really, really cryptic, even for simple operations. For example: “c=:%:@:(+/)@:*:” creates a formula for the Pythagorean Theorem. Many of the statements just look like someone going to town on the top row of the keyboard. But it's a really powerful little language, and I've been trying to get the hang of it for the past three or four days.
Well, Project Euler's Problem 29 gave me some trouble because I misread it. The question is “How many distinct terms are in the sequence generated by ab for 2 a 100 and 2 b 100?” See where it bounds a and b at 100? Well, I accidentally did the problem for 2 ≤ a , b ≤ 1000. Doing the problem for 1000 created a whole bunch of rounding errors, because, say 999^1000 is a pretty gigantic number. So I got around this by taking logarithms on one axis, which at the time seemed like a mildly creative way of getting around the problem, though in hindsight it’s the obvious thing to do. I found a second way of checking the answer which also worked nicely. And then I return to the webpage to enter the solution, and find that my bounds were way too high. The real problem was smaller, and when I ran my first line of J code it turns out that I didn't hit any rounding errors after all.
Oh well. The nice thing about math is that when you solve the harder problem, you usually learn enough that it doesn't even feel like a waste of time.