What a delightfully ambiguous mantra! Maybe it's merely the imperative verb "Achieve" (i.e., "Triumph" or "Just Do It"), followed by the corporate name. How dull.
But, as I much prefer, achieve new balance can also be parsed as a unified phrase --- an admonition to strive for fresh stability, wholeness, enlightenment, a recentering of one's self. Ahhhhh ....
In its multiple meanings the words achieve new balance remind me of the classic linguistic textbook example "fruit flies like a banana". They also bring to mind one of my favorite riddles: What did the Sage say to the hot dog vendor? The answer appears below, written right-to-left to avoid spoiling the fun. (Or see http://www.his.com/~z/index.html#Answer0 )
!gnihtyreve htiw eno em ekaM
(see also So Funny (10 Aug 1999) and Lo La (22 May 2001) ...)
- Wednesday, July 17, 2002 at 17:29:02 (EDT)
Take the Lamb Shift (please!), or the hyperfine structure of spectral lines, or the Mössbauer Effect, or any of a myriad other parts-per-million (or better) tests of the laws of Nature. That's where the real action is ... not in handwaving about fuzzy notions that aren't ever subject to refutation.
The simplest of atoms offers a lovely archetypal example. As Krauss writes:
[Rigden] demonstrates elegantly midway through Hydrogen --- when one senses his own interest in the subject really begins to peak --- how minute disagreements between theory and experiment, which otherwise would have been completely ignored, had to be taken seriously precisely because of the the underlying simplicity of the hydrogen atom itself. Indeed, at a time when many books and news reports describe speculative theories that hope to probe deep cosmic mysteries but so far have failed to touch base with a single observation or experiment, it is a pleasant change to find a book on a humble topic that demonstrates the remarkable beauty and subtlety of nature, and of the experiments scientists have developed to explore it.
Precisely! And that's why the old canard "All science is either physics or stamp collecting" is so unfair. Good science begins with stamp collecting --- the meticulous accumulation of detailed knowledge. (And philately is technically just a branch of numismatics, as a numis-bigot friend (SK) once noted at a coin club meeting. (^_^))
(see also Vulnerable Theories (17 May 1999), On Silence (30 Dec 1999), Exposure And Encapsulation (7 Jan 2000), Webs Of Evidence (15 Feb 2000), Science Versus Stamp Collecting (20 Jun2000), Science And Pseudoscience (6 Oct 2001), Universal Knowns (13 June 2002), ...)
- Tuesday, July 16, 2002 at 15:59:15 (EDT)
And of course, leaving a trail of trash is a universal human foible. We tend to expect others to clean up after us, and we too seldom look back at where we've been ... I as much as anyone.
- Monday, July 15, 2002 at 08:53:52 (EDT)
What's the distribution of Erdös Numbers? That's an interesting question, associated with the "small worlds" phenomena discussed under the label of "social network analysis", aka SNA. How are people connected to one another? Some folks are loners and associate rarely. Others are promiscuous but only within a particular sub-culture. Still others are ecletic and bridge gaps between diverse groups. The "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game shows how analogous links work between movie actors.
Now, to get personal: if one allows non-mathematicians to have Erdös Numbers based on papers published in scientific journals, then what's my Number? I tried to figure it out some years ago, with the help of an Erdös Number expert. For a while we thought it might be as small as 3, based on a chain from Erdös co-author S. J. Kovacs to Kip Thorne to yours truly. But that turned out to be a case of mistaken identity: the Sandor J. Kovacs who was a fellow grad student in Kip's group was not the S. J. Kovacs of the math world.
So, given no unexpected new joint publications, I now believe that my Erdös Number is probably 5. That estimate is based on unconfirmed but likely links between my physics co-authors to varied mathematical physicists to various pure mathematicians to Erdös colleagues. It's a small world ....
- Saturday, July 13, 2002 at 16:11:30 (EDT)
Children at Mahalaxmi played ankh micholi, hide-and-go-seek, in and out of the crowds of adult legs. This is how we are to one another, I thought, divided by generations. Do jungle animals understand the true nature of the trees among which they have their daily being? In the parent-forest, amid those mighty trunks, we shelter and play; but whether the trees are healthy or corroded, whether they harbour demons or good sprites, we cannot say. Nor do we know the greatest secret of all: that one day we, too, will become as arboreal as they. And the trees, whose leaves we eat, whose bark we gnaw, remember sadly that they were animals once, they climbed like squirrels and bounded like deer, until one day they paused, and their legs grew down into the earth and stuck there, spreading, and vegetation sprouted from their swaying heads. They remember this as a fact; but the lived reality of their fauna-years, the how-it-felt of that chaotic freedom, is beyond recapture. They remember it as a rustle in their leaves.
- Friday, July 12, 2002 at 08:25:16 (EDT)
My spherical geometry is next to nonexistent, and so it took me a while to figure out how to attack this poser. If our locations were on the same parallel of latitude then things would be easy: the answer would obviously be either the North Pole or the South Pole. But the coordinate conversions required to rotate the actual, arbitrary situation to that simple case were too tough for me to compute.
Finally, I realized that in the universe of vector algebra, the puzzle is (relatively) straightforward. In brief:
The answer is either that location or the point on the Earth opposite to it. A cross product is a standard way of combining two vectors to create a third, perpendicular to the first two ... and that's precisely what is needed in order to find the point equidistant (and maximally or minimally far) from three places. I implemented the calculation on a simple spreadsheet.
And the answer, please? For Jonathan, Bo, and me, the site as far as possible from us is (drum roll) at ~37.3 South and ~11.6 West --- fortuitously near the tiny island Tristan da Cunha in the southern Atlantic Ocean. It's ~6,750 miles from every one of us. A few hundred people live on Tristan da Cunha. They were all evacuated to England in 1961 when a volcano erupted there; most of them returned in 1963. A couple of years ago a major hurricane struck, destroying the only pub on the island and washing many cows out to sea. Probably none of the folks on Tristan da Cunha are much interested in online journalling ....
On the opposite side of the globe, however, if Jonathan and Bo and I wish to travel an equal and minimal distance to meet together then we have to go to the antipodal solution to the equations: an empty area in the northern Pacific Ocean northwest of Midway. It's ~5,750 miles for each of us to voyage. Not within my budget, alas ....
- Thursday, July 11, 2002 at 18:09:50 (EDT)
If we ask what were the special qualities that made possible his achievement, we can point to his capacity for infinite pains, his powers of concentration, his meticulous accuracy, his beautiful draughtsmanship. All these were necessary; but there was much more that is hard to define. His brain worked with astonishing rapidity, so that he could think out all the implications of a suggestion almost before it was out of your mouth. He had a keen appreciation of the realities of a situation; the Mycenæans were to him no vague abstractions, but living people whose thoughts he could penetrate. He himself laid stress on the visual approach to the problem; he made himself so familiar with the visual aspect of the texts that large sections were imprinted on his mind simply as visual patterns, long before the decipherment gave them meaning. But a merely photographic memory was not enough, and it was here that his architectural training came to his aid. The architect's eye sees in a building not a mere façade, a jumble of ornamental and structural features; it looks beneath the appearance and distinguishes the significant parts of the pattern, the structural elements and framework of the building. So too Ventris was able to discern among the bewildering variety of the mysterious signs, patterns and regularities which betrayed the underlying structure. It is this quality, the power of seeing order in apparent confusion, that has marked the work of all great men.
(see also Hearing Shapes (25 May 1999) and Ten Thousand Hours (20 Sep 2001))
- Wednesday, July 10, 2002 at 08:15:40 (EDT)
Look at the ever-increasing level of violence in so many nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America --- where some children never get a chance to learn to read and write, and others are only exposed to the most limited slivers of human knowledge. See the sweatshops, the disease, the shortened lives. Imagine the misery.
Maybe the best way (perhaps the only way?) to break multi-generation cycles of hatred and destruction between tribes is to subsidize learning. Relatively tiny gifts (of the order of $100 per kid per year?) could help families keep their children in school longer.
After a decade or two of start-up costs, a program that promoted education would likely more than pay for itself through greater productivity and reduced war. An editorial writer in the New York Times suggests "... every extra year of school in very poor countries can raise earnings by an average of 10 to 20 percent ..." (1 July 2002, "The World's Unschooled"). That's a fabulous rate of return on investment.
Of course, rather than talk about this, or try to persuade others to implement this, I really should just start contributing a bit more towards doing this ...
(see also My Business (30 May 1999))
- Tuesday, July 09, 2002 at 06:13:37 (EDT)
We're totally alike at the level of fundamental forces, particles and fields, matter and energy ... made out of the same old standard building blocks ... protons and neutrons and electrons ... hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen ... amino acids, peptides, and what-nots.
But mind and spirit, choice and experience, goal and path --- all different. It's something of a miracle that we can identify with others, sympathize with them, understand their motives, and communicate. (Maybe the most serious problems of crime and mental disability come from failures to do precisely that?)
Even at the seemingly-primitive level of cellular structure and metabolism, human individuals have already begun to diverge. A few decades ago I remember reading You Are Extraordinary, a general-audiences science book by biochemist Roger Williams which hammered home that very point. People react in wildly different ways to the very same foodstuffs, medications, stresses, and a host of other parameters.
Generalizations are risky; they need to be tested before they're believed. One size fits one, not all....
- Sunday, July 07, 2002 at 18:05:40 (EDT)
And you know how dust tends to settle in the odd corners of a room, on book edges, in crevasses, behind refrigerators, on ceiling fan blades, and so forth?
Well, in order to protect the lungs of sensitive people (asthma sufferers, allergy victims, and the like), how about putting a huge surface area on the walls of their rooms? A fractal shape, with crannies within nooks within chinks within cracks, down to the sub-micron sizes of the most obnoxious airborne particulate matter --- that's the ultimate defense. Give it an area of millions of football fields. And make it "breathe" to pull in and trap allergens and contaminants. Give it an electrostatic charge. Make it replaceable, or renewable, or changeable. And bill the cost of it to health insurance, or the government, or somebody else impersonal and remote ....
- Friday, July 05, 2002 at 08:34:12 (EDT)
On good journalism (which echoes my fantasies about this ^zhurnal):
Talent writes with coffee. Genius writes with wine. That's how Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the transcendental grape types, put it. I've never seen a wine bottle in a baseball press box, but I've thrown some ugly fits when the coffee ran out on deadline, so I know where I stand. Still, the daily sportswriter, the lifer on the beat, has consolations. After twenty years, even coffee grounds pile up.
Newspaper work can be a sort of writer's diary, a raw notebook to himself: This Is How It Seems Today. Only with time, and the variety of perspectives that it's bound to create, are we allowed to step back and see people and institutions as they transform before us. That's the fun of being in the trenches. It makes up for a hundred nights a year on the road and too much mediocre work. You imagine that you can outwait anybody or anything. Sooner or later, the picture will come into focus. Then you have a shot at figuring out how it got that way.
That's one difference between a reality writer and a fiction writer. The beat journalist's ultimate goal isn't a dramatic or poetic effect, much as any writer lusts after such moments of luck. Rather, you seek a final portrait --- or a small gallery of related and refracted portraits --- which can be held beside the living face of your subject in the light of day without the work losing its integrity. "That's right" is what we're after, more than "That's beautiful."
In a sense, a daily sportswriter is like one of those monkeys chained to a keyboard trying to write Shakespeare by accident. It's not a bad methodology for those prone to coffee and facts, rather than wine and imagination. You hang around until the details, the telling episodes, the quotes and your own various best efforts at synthesis begin to make their own compelling case. "Collecting string," reporters call it.
On seeing real human beings grow and evolve in real life:
During the seasons this book covers, 1983 to 1988, I collected a million words' worth of string --- a thousand thousand-word stories, roughly speaking. Out of all that, one thread of an idea grew so strong that it now seems like a battleship chain to me. People change. And a lot more radically than we imagine. Either you change yourself or things change you. That's the choice.
The lasting power of baseball for me --- beyond the tactical and technical fascinations of the game itself, even beyond the excitement of pennant races and World Series --- is watching how the game illuminates and probes the faces of its changing people.
An English prof once wrote on a paper of mine, by way of critiquing my naïve notion that people were pretty much fully formed by voting age, "The biggest shock in life is watching how much your peers change. In twenty years, you won't believe it." Like anyone past forty, I believe now. ...
And finally, on that which is Most Important, some Stoic-ish thought re excellence, what the Greeks might call areté:
If baseball in the eighties, with its bewildering succession of one-season winners and dethroned champions, has taught us one distinction, it's the difference between success and excellence. Many in sports think they are the same. They're not. There's no substitute for excellence --- not even success.
Success is tricky, perishable and often outside our control; the pursuit of success makes a poor cornerstone, especially for a whole personality. Excellence is dependable, lasting and largely an issue within our own control; pursuit of excellence, in and for itself, is the best of foundations. If the distinction between success and excellence were easy to grasp, we wouldn't have found so many players, managers and teams in disarray in the eighties --- particularly in baseball, but in all sports actually.
Whenever bad news hits the sports page, look for a "success story" gone wrong. ... [L]ook for people who wanted, more than anything else, to be known as "winners." Look, in other words, for people who saw a game as a way to fame. Look for people who judge themselves by what others think of them. ...
Whenever we see a player whose performance seems to guide us like a lodestar from decade to decade ... we always find a guiding passion for quality and a profound respect for the game. Over the long haul of a whole career, baseball selects for diligent craftsmen. In the end, the plodding ... pass the fly-by-nights.
Let's emphasize here that nobody ... is all one way or the other. Desire for success and love of excellence coexist in all of us. The question is: Where does the balance lie? In a pinch, what guides us?
To illustrate, listen to the best managers of recent times when they analyze a game. ... They seldom look at the final score. Instead, they discuss how the game should have been played. Usually they shrug off defeats and will discuss what theoretical threads, what possibilities for improvements lay within that game. The win or loss, except in September or October, does not obsess them. Sometimes, not even then.
The second-rate manager, by contrast, is often fixated on the result. His teams, especially under pressure, seem burdened by his absorption with success when they should be focusing on the sort of quality play that would produce victory.
In sports, poise often is nothing more than the ability to row backward toward a goal, focusing on each stroke so intently that we ignore the finish line until we are past it. ...
Success can burn up the person who achieves it. Excellence usually feeds whoever has it. For impatient, compulsive men, success may come quickly. But it doesn't tend to last very long. The pressure constantly to remain successful, especially in others' eyes, is exhausting, even killing. ...
An additional burden for the victim of the success mentality is that he's such a competitor that he is threatened by the success of others and resents real excellence. The person fascinated by quality is invigorated when he finds it in others; he can cope with being surpassed, since he respects the nature of the work itself. Don Sutton said of Sandy Koufax, "A lot of people get on top and try to keep others down. Koufax tried to help everybody else get up there with him."
Sports reaffirms that, amid the pale pleasure of watching many good losers and bad winners, it is still possible to find good winners ....
As a group they tend to be inordinately patient because they believe that, in the long run, they won't lose. If they are a bit uncomfortable and testy in the spotlight, it may be because they wish to hide how little our opinions of them matter in their eyes. At times they even seem to hum with a kind of suppressed but powerful inner arrogance that can taste like piety and make them a little hard to swallow.
Of whom do they remind us?
Perhaps the best and most rigorous teacher we ever had.
The math professor who taught us that it wasn't the answer to a specific problem that was important but, rather, learning to appreciate the interlocking coherence of the whole scientific view of the world. The English teacher who showed us the agonies of patience that went into crafting a poem so precise in its choice of words that we could read it a hundred times over fifty years and always find it powerfully true. The teachers, in other words, who taught us that love of learning --- for itself --- not love of grades, was the beating, enduring heart of education.
So too in games, the guiding principle that most often keeps people oriented through all their passages and changes is a governing passion for excellence. In baseball, that's what you discover at the heart of the order.
Splendid words ... and that's only the preface to this collection of Thomas Boswell writings about baseball and the people who live it. The pieces themselves tend to be less broad-brush philosophical, but through the specific day-to-day prose the same knife-sharp thought and humor shine. Good writing....
(see also World Series Lines (22 June 2002)
- Wednesday, July 03, 2002 at 08:48:13 (EDT)
Maybe her watchfulness was justifiable. Do people really come into stores to steal ideas? Or was this a micro-example of the increasingly commercial definition of intellectual property that our society seems to be evolving toward? It's clearly kosher to buy something and carry it away; there's cash flow then. But mere looking and learning? Go to a library (until they're shut down because they cut into bookstore revenues)...
I'm reminded of the authors who complain about the resale of used copies of their books. If it were possible, presumably a book should be an experience, like a sunset (oops, that's free) or a movie (ok, we can charge admission for that), not a physical object that persists and can change hands. Modern publishing is moving toward that, with ultra-cheap fall-apart bindings and rapidly decaying paper; even the initial purchaser can scarcely re-read a volume before it's gone. And then there are "e-books", ephemeral sets of bits that one actually rents rather than owns.
Maybe that approach makes sense for mass-market items where there are huge short-term profits to be made. But if most books were to instantly vanish upon reading, would people pay as much for them? (Hint: no.) Or buy as many of them? (Hint: no.) Would writers who want to have a long-range impact on the world have a chance? (Hint: no.)
Perhaps if an author thinks that his works are going for too little on the used-book market, then he should reach into his own pockets to buy them up. And perhaps I shouldn't write notes to myself in the vicinity of products that are for sale....
(for other remarks on intellectual property issues see Mind Me (24 Jun 1999), Trading In Ghosts (1 Oct 1999), Genomic Bookshelves (27 Feb 2001), ...)
- Tuesday, July 02, 2002 at 09:28:22 (EDT)
(Or do I have that backwards? I'm ashamed (and feel guilty) to admit that I'm not sure...)
- Sunday, June 30, 2002 at 15:30:14 (EDT)
It took me over 400 pages to realize that Upheavals is really half a dozen books, all shuffled together. Nussbaum includes essays on philosophy, history, æsthetics, sociology, psychology, and politics --- plus a lot of her own diary. Upheavals is also much akin to Douglas Hofstadter's Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language in that both hang heavy with personal statements of belief plus words of homage to a dear departed friend.
The main thrust of Upheavals? It's an examination of emotions --- "grief, fear, love, joy, hope, anger, gratitude, hatred, envy, jealousy, pity, guilt" and so on --- and an exploration of their place in life. Nussbaum tries to differentiate emotions from mere "bodily appetites such as hunger and thirst and from objectless moods such as irritation and endogeneous depression", though the distinctions are often blurry. (I suspect that there's actually a continuous spectrum; see Bits Of Consciousness (21 Jan 2000) for analogous speculation about mind.)
Martha Nussbaum sees emotions as "evaluative judgments that ascribe to certain things and persons outside a person's own control great importance for the person's own flourishing. Emotions are thus, in effect, acknowledgments of neediness and lack of self-sufficiency." Good! But in her exploration of the theme she distracts by introducing too many of her own personal experiences, ranging from dogs she has known to the death of her mother. She gets quite tangled up in discussing "disgust", a peculiarly tricky topic and one which perhaps brings in more idiosyncratic prejudices and hang-ups than any author is likely to realize. (I'm alluding here to Nussbaum's comments on various sexual issues.)
Nussbaum also shows little sympathy for less intellectual people than those that populate her circle. Her examples come from the highbrow arts, especially literature and classical music. There isn't much on football, rock, bingo, beer, monster trucks, wrestling, church choir, or TV sitcoms. There also isn't much science. Most of the book is subjective, focused on feelings. It's big on Proust and Joyce, Walt Whitman and Gustav Mahler.
And when social policy hits the fan, things really get a bit weird. Overall, although I agree with most of Nussbaum's goals, I have problems with many of the paths she suggests to reach those ends.
But amongst all its illogic and invective, Upheavals has sparkles. One of the most thought-provoking sections surrounds a quote from Adam Smith (Theory of Moral Sentiments) from a couple of centuries ago. The full version (including a clause which Nussbaum omits):
Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the more profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.
As part of a discussion of compassion and pity, this brings home some of the real-world questions that are so hard to solve. Is the answer a Maternal State? Would things be better if Good People could get control of the levers of power? Or is the harm that Bad People might do far worse, given a government unleashed to "improve" the situation? I don't know ....
Adam Smith goes on to conclude, beyond the quotation offered by Nussbaum in Upheavals:
To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it. But what makes this difference? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct. It is he who, whenever we are about to act so as to affect the happiness of others, calls to us, with a voice capable of astonishing the most presumptuous of our passions, that we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it; and that when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration. It is from him only that we learn the real littleness of ourselves, and of whatever relates to ourselves, and the natural misrepresentations of self-love can be corrected only by the eye of this impartial spectator. It is he who shows us the propriety of generosity and the deformity of injustice; the propriety of resigning the greatest interests of our own, for the yet greater interests of others, and the deformity of doing the smallest injury to another, in order to obtain the greatest benefit to ourselves. It is not the love of our neighbour, it is not the love of mankind, which upon many occasions prompts us to the practice of those divine virtues. It is a stronger love, a more powerful affection, which generally takes place upon such occasions; the love of what is honourable and noble, of the grandeur, and dignity, and superiority of our own characters.
So is the best strategy perhaps to concentrate, with fanatical focus, on fixing oneself, rather than on telling other people what they should be doing? Again, I don't know ....
(see also Shotguns And Rifles (6 Nov 1999), Cold Hard Mind (9 Feb 2000), For Your Own Good (21 Feb 2000), and Universal Flourishing (25 Dec 2001))
- Saturday, June 29, 2002 at 21:56:41 (EDT)
Suddenly, at the Recombination Era the cosmos became transparent. Photons decoupled from matter. The fog lifted.
But a linguistic quibble remains: Re in Recombination means "again" --- but there was never any "combination" before that time. Yet nobody ever says "Combination Era"....
(see Edge Of The Universe (8 June 1999) and Universal Knowns (13 June 2002))
- Friday, June 28, 2002 at 07:35:59 (EDT)
I feel the same sort of simpleminded cheerful confidence when I arise early enough to read a few pages of a good book, or write a few lines of poor poetry, or fix a few scraps of breakfast for the family, or do a dozen other tiny things that I can take pride in.
Wonder why I don't try to do something like that every morning?
- Tuesday, June 25, 2002 at 22:15:52 (EDT)
Pay your fee, bring your padlock, and stash your stuff in a 10x10x10 cubical coffin. For a surcharge you can get more room, climate control, alarms, and security guards. Your artifacts are safe.
Self Storage Locker said the sign on one business. What a perfect label! These are truly places for storing one's self --- and "self" for us is now defined by material possessions. When the house is bulging, the basement impassable, the attic rafters sagging, the garage overflowing into the driveway, and the back yard full of sheds, then it's time to move on to lease more self storage space.
Reminds me of the Tracy Chapman song Mountains of Things. We're sitting on 'em....
- Sunday, June 23, 2002 at 19:56:58 (EDT)
Lovely thoughts, relevant far beyond the ballfield. (see also Awesomely Simple (26 January 2001))
- Saturday, June 22, 2002 at 22:26:00 (EDT)
It's hard to wrap up something like this without sounding preachy. Perhaps you'll forgive us this one section since we've been so cool all through the rest of the book.
We thought of two general points that we want to leave you with. First, in our teaching experience at Berkeley we've seen many students learn the ideas of functional programming in Scheme, then seem to forget all the ideas when they use another programming language, such as C. Part of the skill of a computer scientist is to see past surface differences in notation and understand, for example, that if the best way to solve some problem in Scheme is with a recursive procedure, then it's probably the best way in C, too.
The second point is that it's very easy to get a narrow technical education, learn lots of great ideas about computer science, and still have a hard time dealing with the rest of reality. The utilitarian way to put it is that when you work as a computer programmer it's rare that you can just sit in your corner and write programs. Instead, you have to cooperate with other people on a team project; you have to write documentation both for other programmers and for the people who will eventually use your program; you have to talk with customers and find out what they really want the program to do, before you write it. For all these reasons you have to work at developing communication skills just as much as you work at your programming skills. But the utilitarian argument is just our sneaky way of convincing you; the truth is that we want you to know about things that have nothing to do with your technical work. Matt majored in music along with computer science; Brian has a degree in clinical psychology. After you read Abelson and Sussman, go on to read Freud and Marx.
Well, I don't know about those last two; I would have recommended Shakespeare and Mill. But Harvey & Wright's key points --- the importance of seeing through surface differences, and the value of a liberal education --- are undeniable ... and this is a neat way to finish up a freshman CS textbook. (See also Thinking Tools Goals (9 April 1999) for a good quote from the preface of Simply Scheme, and Strands Of Truth (2 November 2000) for some related thoughts by Richard O'Keefe.)
- Friday, June 21, 2002 at 14:11:07 (EDT)
MDCCCLII // FOUNDED THROUGH THE MUNIFICENCE AND PUBLIC SPIRIT OF CITIZENS // THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON BUILT BY THE PEOPLE AND DEDICATED TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING A.D. MDCCCLXXXVIII // THE COMMONWEALTH REQUIRES THE EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE AS THE SAFEGUARD OF ORDER AND LIBERTY
And over the entrance, simply the words
FREE TO ALL(posted from an Internet terminal in the adjacent Johnson Building of the Boston Public Library)
- Thursday, June 20, 2002 at 15:08:49 (EDT)
The well-being of the economy is a lot like the well-being of an individual. My happiness depends almost entirely on a few important things, like work, love and health, and everything else is not really worth worrying about --- except that I usually can't or won't do anything to change the basic structure of my life, and so I worry about small things, like the state of my basement. For the economy, the important things --- the things that affect the standard of living of large numbers of people --- are productivity, income distribution and unemployment. If these things are satisfactory, not much else can go wrong, while if they are not, nothing can go right. Yet very little of the business of economic policy is concerned with these big trends.
Likewise for the business of life ....
- Saturday, June 15, 2002 at 06:03:46 (EDT)
Unfortunately for me, although my recent running regime has perhaps helped improve mental fitness, the weight loss associated with exercise has sadly depleted my store of literal adipose Sitzfleisch. Perhaps I need to carry a pillow with me if I compete in chess tournaments again some day.
Not unrelated to Sitzfleisch is the phrase Bottom Power --- a West African English dialect term for that special feminine callipygean ability to sway male minds....
- Friday, June 14, 2002 at 08:21:07 (EDT)
But there are a handful of relatively sure things that I'll admit concerning the large-scale structure of spacetime:
Other universal "facts"? I'll wait until they get confirmed before I place any great weight on them ... and until then, I plan to maintain an agnostic attitude about trendy new astronomical theories.
- Thursday, June 13, 2002 at 08:27:30 (EDT)
Her words came to mind again the other day, when I was reading some of the late George Sheehan's philosophical musings about physical fitness. In Personal Best (1989) Sheehan quotes Herbert Spencer, "If you wish to be a success in this life, you must first be a good animal." And being a good animal, Sheehan goes on to say, is a prerequisite for being a good person.
- Tuesday, June 11, 2002 at 17:58:20 (EDT)
Herewith, some scrapbook entries looking back through the mists to the beginning of the year. First, with the kind permission of photographer Christina Caravoulias, a scary image of ^z studying a course map before attempting his first timed scamper in a crowd (30 March 2002).
For the record, a chart of miles covered. It begins with Monday, 31 December 2001 and ends on Sunday 9 June 2002; each row is a week, each cell a day; all entries are approximate.
|M +||T +||W +||T +||F +||S +||S =||Total|
A fist full of memories from along the way:
Some lessons taught through experience:
- Sunday, June 09, 2002 at 16:12:00 (EDT)
Some 30+ years ago I remember buying a mail-order lapel button from some libertarian/anarchist 'zine. The button said, in stark black letters, Question Authority. Not a bad sentiment.
But thinking further about it, belatedly, in light of my friends' argument I now believe a better bumper-sticker would read Recognize Authority. Not everybody has time, or mental energy, to develop a high level of expertise in every subject. We always have to rely on the judgment of others, to a greater or lesser degree. The trick is to recognize who's worthy of trust, and to separate legitimate authorities from those with personal biases (listen for the sound of grinding axes in the background!) and from those who pretend to know more than they actually do.
And sometimes authority-recognition is too tough, and we have to trust a meta-authority (e.g., a national academy, a royal society, a presidential commission) to indicate who's expert and who isn't. That can be risky. It's important to realize the delicacy of the situation, and not rely too heavily on judgments hanging by such a thin thread.
(See Bluffing Versus Humility (22 Apr 1999), Miss Judgment (17 May 1999), Idea Champions (4 Jul 1999), Negative Results (2 Nov 1999), On Hubris (27 Dec 1999), Question Authority (18 Jan 2000), Six Who Know (23 Mar 2000), Big Names (13 Jun 2000), Usual Suspects (15 Oct 2000), Expertise And Science (19 Feb 2001), Formula Story (2001 Aug 15), Sound Biters (20 Feb 2002), ...)
- Friday, June 07, 2002 at 08:13:40 (EDT)
For example, from the 4 March 1906 "Conundrums":
If you were on top of a church steeple with a goose for a companion and there was no ladder, no rope --- in fact, if there were no possible means of descent --- how would you get down?
Ans. --- Pick the goose and get down.
(Well, I like that sort of riddle!)
More seriously, the 19 December 1926 winner of a $1 prize for the best New Year's Resolution list was Sarah Richardson. She wrote:
I PROMISE ---
(I ought to sign up to those resolutions today ... especially #8.)
- Wednesday, June 05, 2002 at 20:20:58 (EDT)
But meanwhile, spending a few bucks a month on unproven magic is mighty attractive. Additives like STP and associated products to put into the gas tank are generically called "mouse milk" by skeptics. Things like that are especially popular when they claim to help complex, ill-understood conditions, and when it's hard to make quantitative, objective measurements of their effects.
I thought again of quick-fix fixations the other day when, standing in a checkout line, I saw a little gimmick that claimed to enhance cell phone transmissions. It was priced at $10 and appeared to be just a postage-stamp-sized flat metallic sticker with a quasi-resonant circuit pattern on it. It cost perhaps two cents to manufacture. The promo prose on its package touted it "As Seen On TV!" (is this good?) and recommended putting it inside the battery compartment of a handset. Somehow, mystically, the sticker would gather and focus otherwise-wasted electromagnetic energy. The device claimed to work for "up to 18 months". (Why have a time limit? To make it easier to sell more?) My bogosity meter went off-scale, for technical reasons too numerous to list here.
This is a great planet that we live on, where people can make money selling ridiculous pseudo-scientific junk. Remember the craze, some years back, for strapping magnets to the fuel lines of cars, to "align molecules" and improve mileage? Or for putting little pyramid-shapes over razor blades to keep them sharp? And don't get me started on "Alternative Medicine"! (see Altered Native, 24 Jan 2002)
- Tuesday, June 04, 2002 at 07:43:30 (EDT)
(from "One Hundred Rules for NASA Project Managers", by Jerry Madden, edited by Rod Stewart, dated 1 January 1995)
- Sunday, June 02, 2002 at 12:26:20 (EDT)
Starting just north of the DC line, a lovely 13 miles of well-groomed paths snake along Rock Creek. They hook around soccer and baseball fields, tennis and basketball courts, horse stables, and open meadows. They run almost through back yards in residential neighborhoods, cut across parking lots, cross busy streets, and parallel the Capital Beltway, a ring road around town. And the trails curve through deep, quiet woods --- perfect areas for meditation.
As a bonus, mileposts along Rock Creek Trail make great landmarks to add to a geeky Coordinate Collection. Beginning with Mile Zero, here are the latitudes and longitudes that I've found using my little GPS during various excursions.
|0||38:59:10||77:03:14||Maryland border; Beach Drive end of Western Ridge Trail|
|1||38:59:25||77:03:38||by Meadowbrook Stables, south of ?East-West Highway|
|2||39:00:18||77:03:44||woods near side path to Audubon Society|
|3||39:00:35||77:04:04||just outside Beltway; small hills|
|4||39:00:28||77:04:54||close to Connecticut Avenue crossing|
|5||39:00:56||77:05:43||near another Beach Drive crossing and footbridge|
|6||39:01:30||77:05:40||more hills in the woods|
|7||39:02:04||77:05:01||Ken Gar Palisades park|
|8||39:02:45||77:05:16||Dewey Park, south of Randolph Road|
|9||39:03:26||77:05:38||dense forest, hills|
|10||39:03:59||77:06:07||approaching Parklawn Memorial Park|
|11||39:04:40||77:06:25||Aspen Hill Park, north of Viers Mill Road|
|12||39:05:25||77:06:50||south of Baltimore Road|
|13||39:06:08||77:07:16||hills before Avery Road crossing|
(All latitudes are North, all longitudes are West; datum is WGS84. Note that this table may contain errors, both typographic and due to satellite signal problems.)
Much of the "Marathon in the Parks" route follows Rock Creek Trail, but its mile count increases in the opposite direction (see Coordinate Collection, 19 May 2002). A small memorial glade for Sue Stottmeister is not far from mile 11 above (see Sue Wen Run, 29 May 2002).
- Friday, May 31, 2002 at 08:52:53 (EDT)
In this discussion Drew also hints at some wonderful ideas on how to live better lives as human beings. It's a theme --- self-actualization --- that sometimes gets labeled "New Age" and which then gets tangled up with a cluster of beliefs to which I often have a severe allergic reaction. It's also vitally important to think about.
Elizabeth Drew writes:
Now it is one natural function of the organism to seek experience. From the flatworm to ourselves, organic life possesses curiosity. And it is another natural function of the organism to co-ordinate. None of us could live for a moment or perform the simplest movement without a most intricate ordering of the nervous system. When we pass from the simple actions of practical living to the complicated activities which determine what kind of life we shall live ,the arrangements involved in the nervous system are of quite incalculable complexity. Daily we become the unconscious and conscious battlefield of vast hordes of warring impulses, and our life is one long effort of conscious and unconscious adjustment.
These efforts are all directed towards freedom and fullness of life, self-completion, or perfection of co-ordination among all the myriad claims of our intellectual, emotional, moral, and physical being. It is the nature of the healthy organism to delight in fine co-ordination. We all know the sense of satisfaction, of fulfilment, which comes from more than usual order or coherence of any kind. It may be purely intellectual --- a lucid scientific exposition, for example; or a complex organization of human material towards practical efficiency, as a ship's crew, or a big business; or it may be emotional. We all know people, very often people of no education at all, whose human, emotional nature seems to possess perfect control, balance and beauty. And this sense of satisfaction in the presence of successful co-ordination, is matched by a sense of frustration and disharmony when we meet disorder or muddle, from the discomfort we feel at the blurred presentation of a simple argument, up to the passion of rebellion which can seize us at the warpings and distortions of the human soul. 'The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told.' Man is an ordering animal. Civilization is order imposed on disorder, cosmos created from chaos.
But individuals differ widely in their capacities and limitations in co-ordinating power, and each individual varies widely within his own scope. We all know that there are special times and special experiences and the influence of special individuals which produce a condition in us when we feel ourselves to be harmonious and at one. The psychologists tell us that these conditions of easy adjustment and ordered vitality occur at times when there is the minimum of suppression and sacrifice and frustration among our nervous activities; when the minimum of effort is needed to hold the balance of warring forces; when the maximum number of our total claims is being satisfied; when, in a word, we are most fully alive. At such times we are conscious of a general heightening and sharpening of sensibility; we recognize a quickness and fineness of response in ourselves of which we are not generally capable; and we instinctively feel and know that the times when we attain to this fully poised equilibrium are the hours of greatest value in our lives.
The causes which create such moments vary with each individual and within each individual. It may be human love, or any of the myriad adjustments of sympathetic human relationships. It may be religious ecstasy or contemplation; it may be communion with nature, or the creation of art; the passionate pursuit of what Sir Philip Sidney calls 'the tougher knowledges', or the thrill of physical adventure. Or it may be the reading of poetry. For in poetry that special harmony of vision created by the poet is communicated to the reader (if he be capable of receiving it). He too 'apprehends'. He recognizes that profound satisfaction which is the unmistakable symptom of a more perfect co-ordination of his whole nervous potentialities. It brings him finer and wider responses, or in more old-fashioned language, increased fullness of life, greater riches of the senses, the mind and the spirit.
(see also perhaps Poetic Processes (3 March 2002), Bennett On Stoicism (29 April 1999), and Readings On Thinking And Living (1 October 2001))
- Thursday, May 30, 2002 at 07:48:51 (EDT)