Friday, September 30, 2005

An intriguing realisation

I've had the pieces of this in my head for a long time, but fragmented. Only now do I realise the effectiveness and simplicity of it all.

Growth needs resources to feed on - cheap labour to exploit, and steady demand in one way or another. What's the quickest way to create both a cheap source of labour, and a large demand for essentials?

Why, war, of course!

Creating a psychological demand for luxuries requires work, which is why, perhaps, it's only essential for places where creating a war is (currently) out of the question. Everywhere else, destruction breeds desire.

Subsets of language and intelligence

Random. unresearched RFC: The play between language and thought is ongoing, but is there a parallel to be drawn in the world of programming? Where's the separation and interedependency between the lexical/syntactic aspect and the semantic aspect of any programming "language"? Are concepts (such as procedures, datatypes, objects, etc) influenced by the keywords as much as the keywords used are influenced by the original concepts set out by the inventors of the language? Is how a language is used (its "deeds", perhaps) partially based on what the language sets out to contain, and partially on how it expresses itself?

By way of explanation, I was wondering about machine intelligence, and intelligent design, for some reason. (AI is, by definition possibly, "intelligent design".) The relationship between concepts and internal representation, and interfacing with non-like organisms such as ourselves, through language, is still in its infancy, I feel. To get workable linguistics, you need a working internal representation - context. But all of the computational contexts are defined in terms of our own language - that's the way computers work currently. Is this, then, a paradox? Can we ever achieve a workable AI capable of linguistics if its "universe" is already defined and restricted via our own linguistics?

Roll up, roll up.

Rollyo looks very interesting. You can specify a number of sites (up to 25) and then search within them. You can also explore other people's "searchrolls", as they're called, and add them (I think). Here's me.

Unfortunately, you can only search domains, which makes it difficult to search through Thoughtstorms. You can, however, add a "searchlet" to Firefox very easily, which is good to see.

What would be really cool, though, would be searching through your bookmarks. Maybe some kind of caching mechanism on exmosis, perhaps...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

11-year-old boy can't drive until he's 12


Student target 'lacks ambition'

Lots of fringe meetings going on in Brighton this week, one of which hosted the claim that 50% of students entering university is not enough. Watching (or hearing of) many of the shenanigans going on at Sussex Uni at the present time, this comes across as particularly amusing,

Targets are targets, and seem to actually be a very bad way of measuring anything. In this particular instance, quantity in no way implies quality - the latter of which is surely what we need for industrial competition and the rest. As it is, the calls to squeeze more students into lecture halls often fail to take into account the increase in infrastructure needed to do them justice. Changes in funding and bad accounting (ahum) mean that it can be difficult for Unis to scale well, leaving a whole load of new students not being very well supported.

Of course, doing things by the numbers merely hides this fact. A judgement based on proximity to the target will give us a false sense of competition and success, and guess who'll be paying for it in the long run? Yup, the students who have paid all that money to study, and still can't get a job.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Meanwhile in Afghanistan

BBC again on not much voting in Afghanistan. Corruption, dis-interest, confusion, scepticism, too much detail... same old democracy story then ;)

Hey, at least they get a choice.

Could rigidly imposing democracy on states actually highlight the flaws of democracy? (Or of assuming that democracy "just works", at least.)

Writing your own show

BBC News have a curious quote from Blair that (once again) indicates his mind acts more like a memory hole than a whole memory. Versions of events get rewritten on the fly, apparently.

"There is no doubt in my mind at all that what is happening in Iraq now is crucial for the future of our own security, never the security of Iraq or the greater Middle East, ... It is crucial for the security of the world. If they are defeated - this type of global terrorism and insurgency in Iraq - we will defeat them everywhere."

The waters are muddied thoroughly by this statement - are we dealing with "global" terrorists here, or military insurgents that use similar tactics? Attackers or defenders?

To equate insurgency with global terrorism in Iraq is a bold statement. Here's how I recall events.

1. We apparently invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein was thought to have WMDs. Not because he supported people who were attacking other countries. (There are plenty of large superpowers who will do that anyway...) Blair has stuck by his - partially justified, I think - claim that removing Saddam was the right thing to do, and that the people of Iraq are better off.

2. Iraq is a hotbed of inflammatory cultures. Not realising that, but trying to get the country to run anyway, has led to violence. We have, in effect, opened up a "mini war" within the country, in attempts to avoid a larger possible instability between states. Perhaps you can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs...

Where does "global terrorism" come into this? It doesn't. Not on this scale, anyway. The problem is that 2 different layers have come into contact.

On the one hand, we have the "world leader's" idea of stability and peace, in which the highest class - the bureaucratic might, as it were, of each state - maintains a power over their own state, and through a bargaining system of "I'll rub your back if you rub mine" power, the world is kept generally a balanced place. This is why many powers will happily back a despot who nevertheless is willing to comply with the status quo.

Secondly, the "lower" layer consisting of ... more "every day" people, let's say, also realises that they have an opportunity to have some control over their lives. (Power corrupts, of course, and I suspect if this section actually gained power, they'd be no less pernicious than any generation previously.)

Now these two layers start clashing because the void that kept them apart previously has been removed, and we see the political and physical equivalent of 2 tectonic plates sliding into each other. Each side has their own agenda, and whether one is more "correct" than the other, I couldn't really say. I know that each side believes that they're correct though, which is the really damaging thing.

And in the midst of this, Blair repeatedly betrays his image of co-operation that he would love to portray. What we're left with is an arrogance that sickens, and a man who feels llittle need to consult.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Won't get fooled again

A look into Microsoft's code dev revamp.

What's gets me a little bit is that, in some axis, this is parallel to the "anti-PR" PR often used by MS executives - namely, stating that the last product suffered because of X, and new, upcoming product is naturally better because they've learned and they've changed things around.

OK, this makes sense, and I guess why this makes consumers trust them "again" makes some kind of sense - so long as you assume that consumers and investors alike are short-term lemmings with the memory of a goldfish - generally, this assumption is proved true.

So, much like Moss and her coke habits, it's not a shock then. But isn't this a very real problem in itself? Should we pride ourselves on having a world in which everything we do is based upon the previous and following 2 or 3 years? What keeps us in this perpetual domain of gullibility?

Perhaps we're naturally gullible - we want to trust people, just like we want things to work out as we always dreamed they would. Maybe this goes hand-in-hand with the idea that all we're ever being sold - from the carefully-picked colour schemes of car adverts, to the psychologically fulfilling curves of mp3 players - is a fantasy. If aesthetics and branding are the "arty-farty" side of marketing wish fulfillment, then perhaps the ability to forgive and completely forget is the more "down to earth" version - the business way of finding the ideal horse to back. We want things to work, we want things to return money. So we look past ongoing inconsistencies.

The same phenomenon appears in politics, as has been well known for many years now. Only when things go really badly wrong - and I mean riots, death, gargantuan media coverage and society-stopping action - does the fallibility of the situation - and of the leaders who were meant to avoid it - get engraved into our minds. But on the whole, a moderate government can get away with many dark things, and still be forgiven. People carry on believing that the new promises will be acted out, and a few ruffled feathers can soon be put back into place by picking a universal foe. Standard tactics.

I think the problem is perhaps that we are ultimately extremely constrained, in terms of how much of any given situation we can actually ever see. We only see things once they get to breaking point - wars, suffering, floods - and the fly-by-night nature (which is inherent) of the news broadcast machine only has limited time to investigate the true causes of Why Things Happen. This, in turn, leads us to have an incomplete picture of cause and effect in our heads - in other words, we tend to only associate disasters/flaws/etc with a very small, and ultimately unimportant subset of the factors that led to them. We never get around to really understanding why things happen, so we carry on making the same mistakes, continue to believe the lies.

Changing this isn't easy. Our lives are now constructed so that we don't have the time, energy or motivation to understand things. Hopefully, as I go into academia, I'll bear this in mind - accessibility of understanding, and of uncovered research, can often be just as important as the discoveries themselves.

P.S. Is it just me, or does Jim Allchin look like Tony Blair?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


A haphazard form of the present. Just back from the sublime Múm. I have a fortnight "off" before Uni starts. I have finished 'Discipline and Punish' and am brimming with thoughts of prisons and normalisation systems - does the penal system create delinquency? Just read Phil's thoughts on Markets vs knowledge/reason and am reminded of a thought that when people talk of people as being "rational", they often define rationality in some idealistic way - according to science, according to law, according to the plot of a movie. Lose the dreams and understand that causality is the only rationale. My bonsai is weak. I have no urge to listen to podcasts. A poem.

"The skip and the slide, the ominous hide
Of a beast as big as its belly.
The old leering tide lets you slip right inside
Your own reality show on the telly."

Friday, September 16, 2005

The ungathering

Yes, yes, I used to play Magic. But that makes this page all the funnier...

Well worth reading afterwards, if you haven't had it to your inbox yet: Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky write about their first-hand experience of Katrina.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Oliver 'sparks school food drop'

Hmm, backlash is always interesting. At least the issue is getting some air.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Stumbling around in the dark

BBC: Brown calls for oil price effort. The gist I get from it is that Brown thinks Opec are "hiding" their reserves, and that they should open up and let everyone have access to it.

I reckon this should have been seen coming for a long, long time (not to say I foresaw it ;). Our own naivety will kill us.

Point 4, and covered half way down the article, is the important bit:

New World Bank fund to help developing countries invest in alternative sources of energy. "Mr Brown wants more effort put into finding greener alternatives, with the World Bank to set up a fund to help developing countries do the same."

Sometimes you don't get anywhere without a crisis. The future is one big crisis, currently.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Meanwhile, in the other place...

While I remember. If anyone's wondering why isn't changing much these days, it's because the changes are going into the new version instead, but I haven't launched this properly yet as there are some big bugs in it. (The CSS, in some browsers, for example.)

But if you want (and can read) the latest stuff there, check out the above link.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Hot Air?

With all this talk of oil prices, it's good to be reminded that we're screwed for gas, too.

Plays For Sure...?

Heh, an
amusing look at HMV's DRM FAQ* from the Reg.

* 3 consecutive TLAs means this is going to be a Happy Day...

Cracks in Windows beginning to show?

Up until now, my geek fanaticism has been mostly self-interest. I like Linux because I'm a tech-head (and it's free). Using Windows is like wearing a straitjacket to start to learn how to knit.

But in the last 48 hours, things feel.. "different". I'm shifting from the point of view that Linux and OSS are merely toys for geeks, to one that actualyl believes we may be seeing the start of the end of MS as a monopoly. As Lloyd Grossman would say, let's look at the evidence...

1. This Reg article on Microsoft in China shows that a clash of global ideologies is still alive and well. The analogy to the Cold War is probably most apt and appreciated.

2. The other day, I switched my desktop to using Kubuntu - a KDE-equipped version of user-friendly distro Ubuntu. I finally got fed up of the somewhat-spurious performance of my Slackware install, and after half an hour, had a working desktop back up and running. So far, I'm glad to announce, everything I've wanted to do - using USB drives, viewing photos, burning CDs, re-formatting DVD-RWs,etc - has gone perfectly first time - I finally feel that I could quite happily give Linux to a newbie and they'd be impressed enough to keep using it.

The biggest factor that made me sit up, though, was upon demonstrating the software-installation process (browse library via Kynaptic/Synaptic, choose programs, install (download via ADSL), run) to her, my girlfriend said "Cool, why doesn't Windows do that?"

3. Using the same installation process as above, I installed 2.0 and gave it a quick try on some documents that 1.0 had stumbled a bit over. The new version feels a lot more compatible, initially. Alas, I'm not a power Office user (take note, Phil ;) so it's difficult for me to say how well the rest of the application/suite has improved. But my (limited) use of 1.0 nevertheless failed to inspire confidence in me. 2.0 restores that to a large extent.

This new rush of experience has given me hope, and joy. Obviously it's still early days, but I feel there's now a plausible x86 alternative to Windows more than ever.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Web and text vote trials dropped

Ah, smoe sense at last when it comes to voting.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Survival of New Orleans

Back from Slovenia, didn't get too caught out by heavy rain, but I was reminded how much fun listening to a storm overhead from a small tent can be.

Still, we were lucky... has a good feed from New Orleans - the self-sufficiency required by a data centre for emergency situations has proved good, and 2 or 3 teams are blogging and video-streaming from "Outpost Crystal". This bit, from an informal interview with a citizen, sent shivers down me:

The people are so desperate that they're doing anything they can think of to impress the authorities enough to bring some buses. These things include standing in single file lines with the eldery in front, women and children next; sweeping up the area and cleaning the windows and anything else that would show the people are not barbarians.