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Showing posts from 2015

what I said to you in 2015

I reviewed Prévert, phenomenology of computing , and the New Testament in Scots. I reviewed Taleb as an evolutionary epistemologist and angry apolitician. I translated a Tang octave. I wrote a poem about the NHS. I again reflected on the awfulness of identity via a thought experiment. I translated a Golden Age Viennese lyric. I drew equivalences between key concepts in maths, object-oriented code, and metaphysics. I learned how to code out loud. I reviewed Putnam, Waugh and a sad Australian cynic.

I reviewed an appalling academic paper I was made to read. I psychologised academics who cling to one method. I enjoyed Werner Herzog and listed casualties in his vicinity. I made an attempt to criticise our new century's zeitgeist. I pulled fragments from DFW's last nachlass.

I reviewed the very best book on late-70s / early-80s pop music. I distinguished a toolchain from a stack. I reviewed lots of things I shouldn't have been reading and learned Javascript. I quoted Huxl…

Highlighted Passages in Thubron's Behind the Wall

A camera hung from every arm. And here I noticed first one of those small phenomena which (I thought fancifully) might unravel a whole society for me if I could only understand it: the flurry of Chinese snapshots was directed not at this beautiful and curious valley, but exclusively at one another. A place seemed to take its meaning only from a person's presence there. Sometimes I received the overwhelming impression that these snapshots were really statements of identity, that to be commemorated at a famous site was to be touched by its mana. 'You're travelling alone?' I was later asked, 'Then how do you manage to photograph?'

      ...These ritual snapshots seemed the heart of their journey. They never stopped to read the ancient poems carved in the cliffs, or to look down at the mottled beauty of the lake. I could not tell whether they admired the scenery at all, or simply cherished the idea of themselves in it.

By nine o'clock at night the city is alr…

comfy git

customising bash and gitconfig for fun and profit

Git is amazing but verbose. (The awkward length of its commands may well be a feature, since awkward things force us us think, and careful thinking kinda behooves nonlinear distributed development.)

We are trying to balance two forces: 1) every increase in typing ease means an increase in the risk of typo error. 2) Every ounce of effort that source control takes is subtracted from actual development.

The really terse aliases (one word, like "gits") require us to configure the bash shell rather than the git client running in it. First create a ".bashrc" file in your git bash current directory (i.e. in "~"): touch ~/.bashrc
gedit ~/.bashrc
[Enter aliases you want, save]
source ~/.bashrc

For the git aliases just put em in here (starting with [alias] )
> gedit ~/.gitconfig

If you want to keep Git's excellent branch-name auto-complete working on your aliases, you'll need to add th…

Notable words, Q4 2015

telematics (n.): Telecommunications informatics; that is, horrendous employee micromanagement via wireless reporting devices.
scofflaw (n.): person who disrespects the law. Particularly of proud drinkers during Prohibition.
havey-cavey (adj.): dubious, shady, 'the property of having hidden metaphorical caves'?.
rive (v.): To split violently. See frost riving, the destruction of rock by repeated thermal contraction of water inside it. See also "reave".lookbook (n.): A model's or photographer's portfolio. Awful
Ophiuchus (proper n.): A constellation and the 13th zodiac sign, excluded from the usual blah because astrology is a cold, dead system invented by people without a fraction of our information, maintained by people with no intellectual courage. Yet another world-cultural reference I received dimly and very indirectly from Final Fantasy. (see also Grendel, Behemoth, Leviathan, Gilgamesh, Quezacotl, Lamia, Wendigo, Sephirot, Heidegger, Bugenhagen...).
grex (Lati…

Learn PHP Without Going Mad

(c) Ian Baker (2012)

PHP, the language which runs 80% of the known internet, is renowned for its fundamentally poor design. The language began as a few little functions letting non-programmers manage rudimentary web forms. But it has expanded into the 7th most popular language there is, a veryfast, mature object-oriented thing which tries hard to manage its primary burden: itself. (Much of the horror has been patched over since PHP5, I am told by grizzled veterans.) The lead dev at my work, who's spent 10 years with it, admits that it "keeps you on your toes". (However, one would prefer that one's tools were transparent, an extension of the arm.)

Neal Stephenson notes that source code comments (the backstage cribs of your software) read like the terse mutterings of pilots wrestling with the controls of damaged airplanes. The general feel is of a thousand monumental but obscure struggles seen in the stop-action light of a strobe. This struggle is the spirit of the P…

the problem with other minds

I don't know what you're thinking, of course. Some people make much of this; all our thousands of languages are supposed to be bridges, however rickety and thin; half of all real and imagined tragedies turn on miscommunication; a large branch of world philosophy obsesses over the Angst of Being and the distant Other, incomprehensible, deep and sad.

The harsh light of Sturgeon's law is a great comfort here, since it implies we aren't missing much. 'It's no tragedy I am deaf by default if the world comprises mostly noise. Essential solitude is just a grander version of not having Twitter.'

But also that, were humanity better than it is - more thoughtful, more caring, more original, funnier - the situation would be more tragic. Because the feeling I have of missing out on you all would be, well, justified.

"90% of everything is crap"

parabola not slide

What? Seest thou not how that the yeare as representing playne
The age of man, departes itself in quarters fowre? First bayne
And tender in the spring it is, even like a sucking babe.
...Then followeth Harvest when the heate of youth growes sumwhat cold,
Rype, meeld, disposed meane betwixt a yoongman and an old,
And sumwhat sprent with grayish heare. Then ugly winter last
Like age steales on with trembling steppes, all bald, or overcast
With shirle thinne heare as whyght as snowe. Our bodies also ay
Doo alter still from tyme to tyme, and never stand at stay.
Wee shall not bee the same wee were today or yisterday.
- Ovid

Winter is first. This is calendar view
not the popular petty grandiosity of life as year.
Sulk hard; see life Spring downward. The Gregorian
or astronomical fact is an unpolished scientistic compartment.
No one will have you heed it.

But childhood is a winter.
A moral desert, intellectual negligibility,
contagious illiberty, ruin of stores.
Our minds do…

Highlighted passages from The Book of Disquiet

My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.

Since we can't extract beauty from life, let's at least try to extract beauty from not being able to extract beauty from life.

I often wonder what kind of person I would be if I had been protected from the cold wind of fate by the screen of wealth... to reach the tawdry heights of being a good assistant book-keeper in a job that is about as demanding as an afternoon nap and offers a salary that gives me just enough to live on.

I know that, had that non-existent past existed, I would not now be capable of writing these pages, which, though few, I would have undoubtedly have only day-dreamed about given more comfortable circumstances. For banality is a form of intelligence, and reality, especially if it is brutish and rough, forms a natural complement to the soul. Much of what I feel and think I owe to my work as…

Very Late Review: Market Forces (2004) by Richard Morgan

So totally a book of its time: of cinematic Adbustersish rage and paranoia. By 2086, military aid has been fully privatised, making a free market out of unilateral political force:

All over the world, men and women still find causes worth killing and dying for. And who are we to argue with them? Have we lived in their circumstances? Have we felt what they feel? No. It is not our place to say if they are right or wrong. At Shorn Conflict Investments, we are concerned with only two things. Will they win? And will it pay?
Morgan’s ultra-capitalism is internally coherent, but weighed down by Chomskyan exaggeration and a clumsy Mad Max road-rage system in which people drive FAST and MEAN to get corporate promotion. (Oh shit, metaphor.) Like many a bright-eyed anti-globaliser, Morgan tends to overdo it; at one point, a senior partner at Shorn erupts into a caricature of an inhuman plutocrat. I’ve added numbering to his rant because it is such a dense cluster of Morgan's (and the anti-glo…

Pair Review: Rao vs Morozov

Breaking Smart, 'Season' 1 (2015) by Venkatesh Rao.

A grandiose and low-res narrative covering all of history from the perspective of technology (or, rather, the perspective of the tech industry (or, rather, of the solutionists)) in 30,000 words. Rao is one of the big in-house theorists for Silicon Valley*, and this is reflected in his contagious enthusiasm for just how much is becoming possible so quickly, the degree to which this time actually is different ("Software is eating the world"). Second half of this season attempts to generalise software engineering ideas - Agile, forking, sprints and all that - to all human endeavour (...) As a simple example, a 14-year-old teenager today (too young to show up in labor statistics) can learn programming, contribute significantly to open-source projects, and become a talented professional-grade programmer before age 18. This is breaking smart: an economic actor using early mastery of emerging technological leverage — in…

Been Reading, Q3 2015

(c) Grace Witherell (2015)

humans have thrived by turning every need — every vulnerability — into something high in its own right. Shelter becomes architecture. Reproduction gets wrapped in romance and love… think of all the cultural significance and artistry and labor that goes into [eating]. I wanted to bring that same creative power and meaning-making to death…

of BJ Miller

Our fundamental tactic of self-protection, self-control, and self-definition is not building dams or spinning webs, but telling stories – more particularly concocting the story we tell others, and ourselves, about who we are... we do not consciously and deliberately figure out what narratives to tell and how to tell them; like spiderwebs, our tales are spun but for the most part we don’t spin them...

– Daniel Dennett

Unintentional quarterly theme is technology as the future of control and of freedom. So a lot of political sci-fi; nice brain-cooling fun while I hammered out a machine learning thesis way too late…

Story-telling pieces of maths

When I was wee and being taught maths in the bad standard manner, I instinctively came up with little characterisations of various mathematical objects, to protect myself from boredom:

The positive and negative numbers are mortally opposed armies; the modulus denotes the size of each army; each unit can handle one unit of the enemy before dying (evaporating together, in fact). Addition and subtraction are fair fights upon the field; multiplication and division are espionage and political overthrow. The negatives hate each other as much as they hate positives (-10 x -10 = 100). The positives are very simple and can be easily tricked into fighting for the other side (-1 x 1,000,000 = -1,000,000).
Differentiation is desecration and zoom. Integration is reconsecration and overview. Going by the basic fairy-tale story arc, then, differdesecration is never the real end-point; a calculation isn't complete until it is brought back to the initial function... (Here we see the beginning of a …

adult content miscellany

Age is at least five different things which we currently treat as the same. (We do this by using just one integer, 'years since birth', as the only measure of it.) What several things is age?

Historical periodisation. The person's place in history, extremely well covered by date of birth. Through DOB we get a sense of what cluster of opinions they will probably hold.
Biological age. A person's general senescence. The age-integer is also used a proxy for how much help a person needs or deserves, with 65 years an arbitrary threshold in most of the developing world. (Philosophically, it would make a lot of sense to collapse old-age welfare into disability welfare, since old age is disability, and since both resource allocations seek the amelioration of a difficult life. But, politically, this would be a bad move for the old, since the current climate makes it pretty easy to slash disability while pensions are relatively sacrosanct.)
Total subjective time. How much has the p…