Well, not really. ^z is a somewhat silly signature, but it's all I've got. I started using it about 18 years ago at the ends of email and USENET newsgroup posts, and now I'm stuck with it. People sometimes ask where it came from, but there's not much to tell. I simply made it up. It's short, arguably a virtue; it's somewhat different; it's more-or-less memorable; it has a computerish flavor. My last name begins with "Z", as have virtually all my userids over the years.
Some folks whom I later met in person told me they pronounced ^z as "caret-Zee" (or "carrot-Zee"?!). Others called it "hat-Zee". I prefer to say "control-Zee" (or "control-Zed" at times). To a computer, the symbol ^z represents the ASCII decimal value 26, or in binary 11010. To MS-DOS it's an end-of-file marker; in UNIX it's a request to interrupt a process; for some other operating systems it means "kill" or "quit".
End of mystery ... ^z
- Friday, August 03, 2001 at 04:47:12 (EDT)
With ten minutes to spare before a meeting yesterday morning, I wandered into a medium-sized research library down the hall. On the shelves near the beginning of the "QA" section (math) I happened to see Logic and Information by Keith Devlin (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991). The title sounded interesting; Devlin writes well; I pulled the book down and opened it. Some quotes that leaped out from the up-front material:
It is therefore quite possible that we are not too far from the limits which can be achieved in artificial automata without really fundamental insights into a theory of information, although one should be very careful with such statements because they can sound awfully silly in five years.
- John von Neumann, 1949
Should it ever come about (and I think it will) that some of the ideas developed in these pages turn out to be of real 'use', I would hope that this book serves as a testament to the stupidity, even in those very terms of 'usefulness' that were foisted on the British university system, of judging any intellectual pursuit in terms of its immediate cash value.
- Keith Devlin, 1991
Of some fields it is difficult to tell whether they are sound or phony. Perhaps they are both. Perhaps the decision depends on the circumstances, and it changes with time. At any rate, it is not an objective fact, like 'the moon is made of green cheese'. Some subjects start out with impeccable credentials, catastrophe theory, for instance, and then turn out to resemble a three-dollar bill. Others, like dynamic programming, have to overcome a questionable background before they are reluctantly recognized to be substantial and useful. It's a tough world, even for the judgement pronouncers.
- Gian-Carlo Rota, 1985
TopicScience - TopicThinking
- Thursday, August 02, 2001 at 06:32:50 (EDT)
Now I've begun experimenting with Wiki approaches to building and cross-linking notes to myself ... sort of a personal set of notecards (remember the Xerox PARC "Notecards" system? --- a clever hack that perhaps inspired Bill Atkinson of Apple to develop "Hypercard" ... and that therefore may be an intellectual grandparent of WikiWikiWeb). I'm developing and learning at the moment on a Macintosh iBook laptop under OS-X, Apple's new UNIX-based operating system, using and adapting the Wiki code shared by Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham in their book The Wiki Way.
As readers (if there are any besides me!) may have noticed, ^zhurnal entry titles for the past week have been WikiWords, run-together capitalized strings. There are now similarly-weird Topic words and, starting today, Datetags. Some other aspects of layout and format have also changed.
Yep, I'm attempting now to write my little essays in Wiki itself, and then translate them into "classic" ^zhurnal posts. Those WikiWords are thus live links to other pages --- or will be, if and when I manage to get a true Wiki up and runnning online.
A Wiki will allow anybody to comment on or add to the ^zhurnal (again, assuming anybody else wants to!). The Wiki markup language is extremely simple compared to HTML and produces nicely æsthetic formatting with minimal effort or distraction. Hyperlinks appear as if by magic; search through other Wiki pages is fast; and a click or two can uncover backlinks (pages with connections to this one). There are doubtless issues of content control, but I think that those can be solved.
So, please bear with me during this on-the-job training as I learn from my mistakes. The result, knock on wood, should be a better, more interesting, and more useful ^zhurnal. A static preview of it can be witnessed at http://www.his.com/~z/ZhurnalWiki/ZhurnalMainPage.html and on the ~600 other pages in that directory. (cf. ZhurnalWikiPreview, 22 July 2001)
Thank you, meanwhile, for your patience!
TopicZhurnal - TopicProgramming - TopicWriting
- Tuesday, July 31, 2001 at 21:37:47 (EDT)
Sounds silly in retrospect, and it was. I got back about half of what I had put in when I gave up in 1971, luckily for me. Silver prices didn't skyrocket, the US dollar didn't collapse, and the governments of the Western World didn't seize private holdings of precious metals.
But the lesson was a good one to learn: be skeptical of articulate, charismatic storytellers. Most critically: beware of futurists who plot exponentially rising curves for carefully-selected parameters. Real-world trends don't persist indefinitely. Geometric growth can't continue.
As Richard Hamming (cf. ResearchAndLife) and others pointed out long ago, "...a change of a single order of magnitude produces fundamentally new effects in a field." (Introduction to Applied Numerical Analysis, section 1.10). A few doubling times, and you're playing a completely different game. New rules mean new relationships and new patterns. New feedback loops among and within systems will produce new results. (cf. FifthDisciplinarians)
So disbelieve financial catastrophists when they forecast global monetary meltdown --- and disbelieve boom hucksters when they predict glorious global prosperity. Discount ecological catastrophists who fear imminent environmental disaster --- and discount their opponents who argue that pollution, ozone layer depletion, greenhouse gases, etc. are sheer fantasy. Raise eyebrows at technophiles who foresee effortless and ever-accelerating scientific/engineering progress --- and similarly wrinkle the forehead at technophobes who anticipate network gridlock, uncontrollable bio-nano-info-terrorism, and social infrastructure collapse.
The right attitude:
Be prepared, in other words, to be surprised --- and to recover quickly.
(cf. MoneyWisdom and BennettOnLife)
TopicEconomics - TopicSociety
- Sunday, July 29, 2001 at 12:08:06 (EDT)
In the middle of a successful working life, what starts to matter most is who you know --- your network of connections, your ability to tap into the right experts, and your power to bring a team together to get a big job done effectively.
But if you reach mature status in an organization, what really makes a difference is who you are --- your reliability, honesty, vision, helpfulness, and the other classic "Boy Scout" virtues. Mere cleverness isn't enough. You need to have built trust.
TopicOrganizations - TopicLife
- Saturday, July 28, 2001 at 14:47:37 (EDT)
All pleasant pastimes for a Sunday afternoon....
- Friday, July 27, 2001 at 05:42:02 (EDT)
- Wednesday, July 25, 2001 at 05:21:27 (EDT)
Tina added, "Today, we care a lot!"
- Tuesday, July 24, 2001 at 05:48:23 (EDT)
The ^zhurnal, with its ~600 interrelated entries over the past 2+ years, cries out for restructuring into a Wiki web. I'm learning as I go ... it's taking a lot of time and by-hand editing ... but I hope within a few weeks to have cleaned up and posted a static "snapshot" of the ZhurnalWiki which I've begun running on a laptop at home. Eventually it would be nice to have a dynamic ZhurnalWiki which anybody could add to and improve --- but to implement that will require a bit more computer privileges on the server (to run CGI scripts) than I have, as well as more time and cleverness. Maybe some day!
Meanwhile, for the record and to share an outline of what I've done and plan to do, the major steps are:
- Sunday, July 22, 2001 at 17:14:44 (EDT)
The Internet is sick, just as ham radio was sick back in the years after the First World War, when bad amateur operators and lawless commercial stations fought for control of the airwaves. The good hams --- who sought to use radio for fun, learning, public service, and emergency disaster aid --- were getting drowned in the noise
Hiram Percy Maxim (call sign W1AW, "The Old Man" and founder of the American Radio Relay League) discovered the answer, or actually, a couple of answers. The Wouff-Hong is a mystical object of unspeakable terror, "amateur radio's most sacred symbol" which "stands for the enforcement of law and order in amateur operation." Its partner, the Rettysnitch, "is used to enforce the principles of decency in operating work." Physically, the Wouff-Hong looks like a couple of rough chunks of wood banded together in a forked configuration; the Rettysnitch is a pointy metallic probelike device. Their method of use is too gruesome and horrible to describe.
OK, for the unromantic realists who haven't yet understood: they were jokes. But what the Wouff-Hong and Rettysnitch stood for was real. There was no technological way to keep abusers off the air, and there were no governmental regulations that could be enforced. But if social pressures could be generated and brought to bear, there was a chance. If decent hams refused to tolerate or talk (telegraphically speaking) to rotten ones, the bad eggs would learn to clean up their acts. If violating the rules was shameful, and if violators were exposed whenever they were identified, then even the lids who lacked any sense of propriety would hesitate before interfering with legitimate amateurs.
Where are the Internet's Wouff-Hong and Rettysnitch now, in our time of desperate need?
- Thursday, July 19, 2001 at 16:52:02 (EDT)
Author Blake Eskin wrote about Scarne and his hubris in the Washington Post Sunday magazine recently (15 July 2001, "A World of Games", pps. 18-22, 26-28). About 35 years earlier, I had an encounter of my own with John Scarne that corroborates Eskin's judgments. In the mid-1960s I somehow heard of a game that Scarne had created and was selling. Probably it was mentioned in a Martin Gardner Scientific American "Mathematical Games" column, or maybe an advertisement for it appeared in Chess Life & Review; I forget.
I ordered the game, which was modestly named "Scarney" by its developer. It was fun, in an abstract set-theoretic sense: two players took turns placing tokens down on a 4x4 board, and then took turns removing tokens and scoring points. The pieces came in four colors and were each marked with from one to four spots.
Pretty mathematical, in other words ... but after studying Scarney and playing a few test matches with my brother, it was clear to me that its designer was no mathematician. The rules were badly flawed: the second player could win trivially every time, just by playing in a symmetric pattern opposite to the first player's moves. Ugly-o!
I wrote to John Scarne, told him about the error, and suggested a small modification that would break the symmetry without otherwise marring the game. Scarne wrote back --- but instead of graciously acknowledging his mistake, he claimed in his letter to have already found the problem and to have independently chosen the same fix that I proposed. Coincidence? Or an attempted face-saving cover-up when a young teen-ager spotted a big boo-boo in a game that somebody hoped would make his name a household word?
Sure, everybody's insecure, at least most of the time. Sure, almost everybody dreams of fame, and maybe fortune. The tough job is to be uncorruptably honest with oneself ... hard-headedly realistic about one's abilities and achievements --- and then go on from there to find joy in doing one's best, without regard for mass recognition or lack thereof. It's part of growing up....
- Wednesday, July 18, 2001 at 00:12:54 (EDT)
Many years ago during times of stress I found great comfort in Doc Smith's quaint yarns, especially the parts where modest self-effacing characters triumphed over impossible odds. Those were folks to identify with! A better-than-average sample of Smith's prose follows; I remember enjoying it one night before a Caltech physics department comprehensive graduate written exam. (Those were tests of one's problem-solving abilities in classical and quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, nuclear physics, etc.; cf. ^zhurnal 2 February 2000.) Our Hero, Kimball Kinnison, is working with a reference librarian to pick out a team of ~50 super-geniuses, the "... most eminent scientists and thinkers of all the planets of Galactic Civilization ...", for a special project to create some new black-hole-like artifact. The librarian has been asked to identify candidate mega-brainiacs:
"Such a group can be selected, I think." The girl stood for a moment, lower lip held lightly between white teeth. "That is not a standard index, but each scientist has a rating. I can set the acceptor . . . no, the rejector would be better --- to throw out all the cards above any given rating. If we take out all ratings over seven hundred we will have only the highest of the geniuses."--- from Gray Lensman, Chapter 8.
"How many, do you suppose?"
"I have only a vague idea --- a couple of hundred, perhaps. If too many, we can run them again at a higher level, say seven ten. But there won't be very many, since there are only two galactic ratings higher than seven fifty. There will be duplications too --- such people as Sir Austin Cardynge will have two or three cards in the final rejects."
"QX --- we'll want to hand-pick the fifty, anyway. Let's go!"
Then for hours bale after bale of cards went through the machine; thousands of records per minute. Occasionally one card would flip out into a rack, rejected. Finally:
"That's all, I think. Mathematicians, physicists," the librarian ticked off upon pink fingers. "Astronomers, philosophers, and this new classification, which hasn't been named yet."
"The H.T.T.'s." Kinnison glanced at the label, lightly lettered in pencil, fronting the slim packet of cards. "Aren't you going to run them through, too?"
"No. These are the two I mentioned a minute ago --- the only ones higher than seven hundred fifty."
"A choice pair, eh? Sort of a creme de la creme? Let's look 'em over," and he extended his hand. "What do the initials stand for?"
"I'm awfully sorry, sir, really," the girl flushed in embarrassment as she relinquished the cards in high reluctance. "If I'd had any idea we wouldn't have dared --- we call you, among ourselves, the 'High-Tension Thinkers'."
"Us!" It was the Lensman's turn to flush. Nevertheless, he took the packet and read sketchily the facer: "Class XIX --- Unclassifiable at present ... lack of adequate methods ... minds of range and scope far beyond any available indices ... Ratings above high genius (750) ... yet no instability ... power beyond any heretofore known ... assigned ratings tentative and definitely minimum."
He then read the cards.
"Worsel, Velantia, eight hundred."
"Kimball Kinnison, Tellus, eight hundred seventy-five."
- Monday, July 16, 2001 at 04:02:20 (EDT)
That little book brought back some haiku-related memories of a friendship of mine from about the same time. Joe Walling and I were students together at J. H. Reagan High School in Austin, Texas. We were comrades but parted ways at graduation, when he went to Rice University and I stayed nearer to home at the University of Texas. But a year later I transferred to Rice, and Joe invited me to share an apartment with him and a couple of other students. We exchanged banter and wordplay constantly. I remember commenting, at dinner when I had cooked green peas and one of my roommates refused to eat them: "All we are saying, is give peas a chance!" (OK, so maybe you had to be there, in the early 1970's, for it to work. Sorry....)
In a more poetic vein, Joe Walling occasionally tried his hand at verse. His best haiku was beautiful, striking, and cannot be repeated here --- since, besides issues of copyright, its imagery is rather too explicit for this journal. Joe's effort begins:
and goes, hmmm, up from there. Typically sophomoric, in other words ... but hey, we were all sophomores at that time.
(cf. ^zhurnal 29 September 2000 for other notes on the Rice experience.)
- Sunday, July 15, 2001 at 05:36:42 (EDT)
- Saturday, July 14, 2001 at 05:49:42 (EDT)
When its mission is accomplished, MockMack™ retracts instantly to its stow-away position on top of your car. You smile ... and remember our corporate slogan: It's not just the mind that boggles!
(Cf. ^zhurnal 16 June 2001)
- Friday, July 13, 2001 at 04:44:50 (EDT)
So far we have examined six major avenues of access to information: controlled vocabulary searches, systematic browsing, key word searches, citation searches, searches through published bibliographies, and those done through computers. (Computer searches use elements of the other methods but add the possibility of post-coordinate Boolean combinations.) The seventh major avenue --- that of talking to people --- is the one most favored by journalists, but it is also valuable for anyone else.Thank you, Thomas! (Cf. ^zhurnal 30 June 2001 and 21 June 2001)
It is particularly important for academic researchers to be aware of this method, as most academics have an overly strong print bias, that is, they often unconsciously assume that if information cannot be found in print, then it cannot be found at all. This mental set is frequently complicated by two other assumptions, that calling people on the phone is "bothering" them, and that spending a few dollars on long-distance calls is totally beyond the pale of acceptable behavior.
... In obtaining information, the "secret" that is so hard for so many people to believe is this: There is no secret. Just make the call anyway and be perfectly honest about your reasons. It's O.K. to ask for help. The odds are that you'll succeed if you are simply persistent in developing a chain of referrals.
Only a few things must be kept in mind to make your calls productive. First, if the nature of your inquiry is particularly complex, do a little homework first. ...
Second, explain the purpose of your research --- that is, what your're ultimately trying to do, and what you will use the information for (e.g., personal curiosity, publication, broadcast, etc.). ...
Third, respect the expert's intellectual property rights. Don't simply "milk" a person for information and then pass it off as your own --- be careful not to infringe on your source's own potential use of the information. ...
Fourth, when you talk to people about a subject you're not familiar with, it is very important to ask for more contacts. Few researchers will rely exclusively on one printed source; it is similarly unwise to rely on only one spoken viewpoint. ...
And fifth, after you have talked to someone who has been helpful --- especially if the person has gone out of his or her way for you --- it is very important to write a thank you note.
- Wednesday, July 11, 2001 at 20:23:57 (EDT)
But skipping along from that, I suddenly recalled a science-fiction story of the 1960's. It was a tale that involved some products of materials science as plot devices: a cliché-evil Earth government versus cliché-nice libertarian asteroid miners who were armed with strange and powerful artifacts, including supertough threads that could cut through metal like a wire cheeseslicer through cheddar. I reckoned that I had read it in an Analog anthology some time around 1967-69, based on a mental timestamp from associations that the memory had with an outside corner of my old public high school building, J. H. Reagan in northeast Austin Texas. I could almost see the cover of the book that I was carrying as I walked toward the school door....
Zwowza! After that decades-old subterranean vision blasted through the surface of my brain like a volcanic eruption, I simply had to check it out. A quick web search provided solid confirmation: Randall Garrett, writing under the pseudonym "Jonathan Blake McKensie" (or Mackenzie? --- Internet sources vary) published "Thin Edge" in Analog, December 1963, well before I began to read the 'zine. I must have seen it in the collection Analog 3 which came out in 1965 and reached my teenage hands a few years thereafter.
So even though I can't remember to take out the garbage some mornings, there are still a few functional neurons hiding out in the old ^z cranial crevasses! (But don't ask me to comment on the first issue of Playboy magazine that I ever saw --- May 1966, in my Uncle Lloyd's living-room magazine rack. Nowadays it would be rated a mild "PG = Parental Guidance Suggested"; back then, it was eye-opening. The centerfold's name was Dolly Read; she wore an electric purple sweater, pulled up a bit too high for comfort, and ... but I digress. Apparently certain images are etched rather deeply into an adolescent's mental substrate. Plasticity....)
- Tuesday, July 10, 2001 at 06:04:07 (EDT)
"Human existence is girt round with mystery: the narrow region of our experience is a small island in the midst of a boundless sea, which at once awes our feelings and stimulates our imagination by its vastness and its obscurity. To add to the mystery, the domain of our earthly existence is not only an island in infinite space, but also in infinite time. The past and the future are alike shrouded from us: we neither know the origin of anything which is, nor, its final destination."As for the mystical dimensions of belief, and the possibility of religion without them, Mill then argues:
"The value, therefore, of religion to the individual, both in the past and present, as a source of personal satisfaction and of elevated feelings, is not to be disputed. But it has still to be considered, whether in order to obtain this good, it is necessary to travel beyond the boundaries of the world which we inhabit; or whether the idealization of our earthly life, the cultivation of a high conception of what it may be made, is not capable of supplying a poetry, and, in the best sense of the word, a religion, equally fitted to exalt the feelings, and (with the same aid from education) still better calculated to ennoble the conduct, than any belief respecting the unseen powers."Mill postulates a system devoted to great and real things, such as humanity writ large. (Elements of his description perhaps echo in Larry Niven's science-fiction novel Protector.) Mill suggests that:
"The essence of religion is the strong and earnest direction of the emotions and desires towards an ideal object, recognized as of the highest excellence, and as rightfully paramount over all selfish objects of desire. This condition is fulfilled by the Religion of Humanity in as eminent a degree, and in as high a sense, as by the supernatural religions even in their best manifestations, and far more so than in any of their others."In a discussion of the theory that the universe is a battleground between Good and Evil --- a belief which he finds intellectually and morally acceptable in spite of its mystical elements --- Mill's comments are reminiscent of George Eliot's stirring philosophy expressed in her novel Middlemarch. Mill writes:
"A virtuous human being assumes in this theory the exalted character of a fellow-laborer with the Highest, a fellow combatant in the great strife; contributing his little, which by the aggregation of many like himself becomes much, towards that progressive ascendancy, and ultimately complete triumph of good over evil, which history points to, and which this doctrine teaches us to regard as planned by the Being to whom we owe all the benevolent contrivance we behold in Nature."As Mill says, a "... pleasing and encouraging thought ..."!
(Cf. Cardinal Newman's Definition of a Gentleman (1852), Samuel Johnson's Letter of Condolence (1750), and ^zhurnal notes re George Eliot 6 November 2000 and 21 May 1999, Albert Schweitzer 23 July 2000, and Mary Midgley 3 July 2001 and previous posts.)
- Sunday, July 08, 2001 at 19:44:58 (EDT)
1 -(thanks to Gray and other members of ^z's family for suggestions and advice!)
clocks- coffee filters 2 - china- disposable diapers 3 - glass- day-planner refills 4 - appliances- napkins & tissues 5 - silverware- paperback novels 6 - wood- cardboard boxes 7 - desk sets- local newspapers 8 - linens- sticky notepads 9 - leather- pogs & collectible trading cards 10 - jewelry- coffee-table books 20 - platinum- cute animal calendars 25 - silver- piñatas & party hats 30 - diamond- autographed photos of politicians 40 - ruby- excelsior, confetti, & streamers 50 - gold- disposable diapers
- Saturday, July 07, 2001 at 21:13:09 (EDT)
"On 20 September 1980 I took part in a Cube competition held by a local department store. The store had offered $100 gift certificates to anyone who could solve a Cube in under five minutes. I was the seventh to succeed that morning; there were a bunch of students from the University of Maryland there ahead of me. The store didn't keep its promise ... all I got was a T-shirt."But my ledger indicates that the store did in fact (two weeks later) mail the gift certficate to me. Apparently the notes I relied on in March had been written before the reward arrived, and my memory was incomplete. (It still is; I have no recollection of the certificate and no idea what I bought with it. Clothes, or something equally ephemeral?) The ledger entry also records that it took me 4.5 minutes to do the job, and that my algorithm to attack the Rubik's Cube began with getting the edge cubelets into their correct places, bottom-to-top, followed by putting the corners into position, and finally working to orient the corners properly.
Nowadays I'm sadly out of practice on the Cube; I can recall the general principles but not enough of the specific moves to solve one efficiently. My time would probably be half an hour or so. Cubis fugit...
- Friday, July 06, 2001 at 04:57:23 (EDT)
The American flag is a symbol of that founding philosophy. The flag is an overused cliché, but on occasion the underlying spirit manages to surface. For me a striking moment occurs in the movie Executive Decision, an action flick starring Kurt Russell. At one point the co-pilot of a hijacked US aircraft is sent by terrorists down into a cargo hold to investigate an electrical problem. Hiding there are a handful of soldiers and their consultant Kurt, smuggled aboard against all odds. The co-pilot startles; Kurt signals him to hush; a soldier quietly lifts a shoulder patch on his camo uniform and reveals a small American flag insignia. The message: "Courage --- we're here to help you." It's a minor scene in a minor motion picture, but whenever I see it, it moves me. It reminds me of what a flag can stand for.
The national reputation: military serving under civilian control; force working to ensure peace. The purpose of government: liberty and justice for all. Yes, the country falls short, sometimes radically so. Racism remains alive, big money corrupts politics, and short-sightedness leads to foolish decisions. Many branches are rotten and need to be trimmed --- but the tree is healthy, and over time there are more and more good trees growing in the forest, more nations which are living examples of law, democracy, human rights, equality, peace, and freedom. Progress toward universal flourishing ... worth celebrating this day.
- Wednesday, July 04, 2001 at 20:41:44 (EDT)
Mary Midgley's bottom line is an important one and appears in its purest form near the end of Chapter 18: Wholes and parts are equally real. Absolutely. But (to quote a rock music band slogan), "So far, so what?" Granted, too much reductionism is bad --- as is too much wholism. But what comes next? As she aptly notes, "Clear expressions of important mistakes are very useful things, making it much easier to move on beyond those mistakes than it is when they are wrapped in confusion." (Chap. 3) Yes. And most welcome at this point would be a clear, compact, coherent expression of the key elements of Midgley's position(s). Total quantification isn't necessary --- equations aren't always appropriate! --- but a bit of sharpness could make her ideas more easily testable against human experience. That wouldn't be bad.
John Stuart Mill's essay "The Utility of Religion" wrestles with many of the same themes as does Mary Midgley --- the scientific v. the supernatural, and method v. mysticism. But Mill manages to paint a clearer picture, particularly with respect to the tension between reverence and religion. More on that another time!
(Cf. ^zhurnal 22 February 2001 and 17 January 2000 for comments by John Archibald Wheeler and Martin Gardner re unified theories of everything; cf. "Physics Envy", 11 April 2001 re (mis)use of technical metaphors; and cf. various thought-provoking excerpts from Midgley's prior books, 17 Sep 2000, 6 July 2000, 1 June 2000, etc.)
- Tuesday, July 03, 2001 at 08:10:12 (EDT)
Some sights and sounds:
- Sunday, July 01, 2001 at 20:13:18 (EDT)
Computer searches thus have both advantages and disadvantages. To use them intelligently you must recognize their limitations as well as their strengths. The important thing to remember is that they are only one weapon available to the researcher; they are not the whole arsenal. A thorough review of the literature of any subject requires a combination of the approaches discussed in this book.(Cf. ^zhurnal 21 June 2001)
The versatility of computer searches is so dazzling that a large humber of researchers are failing to note or heed their limitations. And, contrary to the popular saying, what you don't know can hurt you. I have seen this problem repeatedly, particularly with graduate students who want to do a literature review in preparation for writing a dissertation. ...
What is just as bad is that professors who direct doctoral dissertations allow computer searches to pass for complete literature reviews --- for the professors are usually just as naive about their limitations as the students are.
What this amounts to can only be described as cultural lobotomy on a grand scale. When a significant percentage of our most educated people (prospective Ph.D.s) relies almost exclusively on computer searches for "in-depth" research, then we are fostering the growth of an intellectual system with very shallow roots. Since so much of the written memory of humanity before the 1970s is not in the computer in the first place --- or is only superficially indexed --- it is likely to be ignored by immature scholars if it isn't as easily retrievable as the more recent material. The older material --- especially the older journal articles --- "does not compute"; and to many graduate students this tends as a practical matter to mean "therefore it is not important." There tends to be a similar neglect of certain forms of literature, especially single-author books, because machines more readily retrieve journal articles and research reports. A moment's reflection will indicate that the computers are no better than the material that is loaded into them; and yet a surprising number of researchers expect them to be omniscient.
- Saturday, June 30, 2001 at 06:34:10 (EDT)
(cf. ^zhurnal 25 May 1999)
- Thursday, June 28, 2001 at 08:06:43 (EDT)
Set your heart at rest:
The fairy land buys not the child of me.
His mother was a vot'ress of my order,
And in the spiced Indian air, by night,
Full often hath she gossip'd by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune's yellow sands,
Marking the embarked traders on the flood,
When we have laugh'd to see the sails conceive,
And grow big bellied with the wanton wind:
Which she with pretty and with swimming gait,
Following (her womb then rich with my young squire)
Would imitate, and sail upon the land,
To fetch me trifles, and return again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
But she being mortal, of that boy did die,
And for her sake I do rear up her boy,
And for her sake I will not part with him.
Recently, while writing a letter to a friend I tried to find this passage to quote. Strangely enough, in the first copy of Shakespeare that came to hand --- a tiny 1924 volume "Edited with an Introduction by Ernest Clapp Noyes, A.M., Professor of English, Normal High School, Pittsburg, Penn." --- the words failed to resonate. I dug out a facsimile of the First Folio and found the problem: missing were the lines "When we have laugh'd to see the sails conceive, / And grow big bellied with the wanton wind:" and "Following (her womb then rich with my young squire)". These lacunæ seem more than coincidental. Were elements of Shakespeare's beautiful metaphor deemed too risqué? (But they're the best parts!) Also missing, perhaps for continuity's sake, was the later line "But she being mortal, of that boy did die".
On the positive side of the ledger, however, a "Critical Comment" from the Introduction of that same Noyes edition, attributed to Thomas Campbell: "I have never been so sacreligious as to envy Shakespeare in the bad sense of the word, but if there can be such an emotion as sinless envy, I feel it toward him .... Of all his works, the Midsummer Night's Dream leaves the strongest impression on my mind that this miserable world must have, for once at least, contained a happy man. This play is so purely delicious, so little intermixed with the painful passions from which Poetry distils her sterner sweets, so fragrant with hilarity, so bland and yet so bold, that I cannot imagine Shakespeare's mind to have been in any other frame than that of healthful ecstacy when the sparks of inspiration thrilled through his brain in composing it."
(cf. ^zhurnal 23 November 2000 for a similarly striking feminine sailing image by Herman Melville)
- Tuesday, June 26, 2001 at 10:14:31 (EDT)
The little fenced yard in front of Grace Episcopal Church is cloaked in a mantle of peace. On the steps outside the main doors sits a young man, reading a book. We approach; he smiles, marks his place, and greets us. His name is Larry Molinaro, and he is simply enjoying the day while awaiting our arrival. His aura at that moment is the most serene of any human being I have ever witnessed. Is it the contrast with the hurly-burly metropolis surrounding us? Is it a deeper magic? No matter.
Larry is the organist at Grace Episcopal and has offered to give lessons to our 15-year-old son, Merle. We go inside and Merle plays for him on the church's harpsichord; Larry likes what he hears, and so do we. The acoustics are superb. We climb a narrow twisting stairway to the loft --- a passageway like those found in old observatories, snaking up from the foundation to the telescope. At the top, Larry shows us the hand-made church organ. It's a classical-style instrument with direct mechanical connections from keys and pedals to valves that send air through resonant pipes. The "Book of the Organ" depicts its construction: craftsman David Moore in Vermont smelted and cast the ingots of metal himself, hammered them out by hand into sheets, and formed them into pipes. The white keys are made of cow bones from his farm.
Cut to another Wednesday in Georgetown, 29 July 1998: in the Grace Episcopal Church organ loft Larry Molinaro is teaching, again within the great-spirited force field that seems to surround him and the church. During a break I tell him how memorable our first encounter was for me, two months earlier; he grins and says that the churchyard is just a marvelous place to sit and think. Larry and Merle and I joke about the stress associated with page-turning for a professional musician during a public performance, a job Merle occasionally takes on for friends of the family. Larry tells of toying with a nervous page-turner --- how sometimes Larry would tease his victim by planting small bright stick-on notes within the music, bearing little messages: Hi Bob! or Your Name Here --- and how when he knows a piece really well he can talk quietly to the page-turner while playing, thereby making his helper even more anxious. Larry describes the process of learning the organ pedals as "... like developing a second left hand ...", and then relates an anecdote of his catastrophic attempt to play while wearing new shoes --- which lead to some unexpectedly loud, dissonant chords and a sudden awakening for dozing members of the congregation below.
Jump finally to a Wednesday evening in Annapolis, Maryland, 28 October 1998: Larry shows us around the old St. Anne's Episcopal Church in the center of the city, next door to the state capitol. He tells us that, some years ago, the church tower bells were accidentally wired to the light switch in the men's room --- so that whenever a new parson went to use the facilities, the whole town knew it. Larry smiles, then moves to the organ to begin the lesson.
- Sunday, June 24, 2001 at 09:37:56 (EDT)
The coming decade (or decades) may not be as rich in material goods as many fantasized last year, when techno-mania ruled minds, markets, and media. But progress in knowledge and, if we're fortunate, wisdom, will continue. Human beings around the world are, slowly and with plenty of tragic exceptions, freeing themselves from oppressive governments. There's more sharing of technology, food, and other resources. Perhaps we'll do better now, together and overall, than we would have under a booming economy of distracting toys. Let's hope so.
- Saturday, June 23, 2001 at 06:44:26 (EDT)
(a quote from Philos magazine, via the 2 May 1999 New York Times article "Thought for Food: Cafés Offer Philosophy in France" by Marlise Simons; cf. ^zhurnal 18 Sep 1999 plus 9 April 2001 and other Philo B'fast notes.)
- Friday, June 22, 2001 at 05:41:06 (EDT)
Librarians sometimes meet with resistance when they suggest that if readers want certain information they shold browse the library's bookshelves in a particular area. Evidently, some people assume --- if it occurs to them at all --- that browsing is at best a haphazard and inefficient way to do research.
Just the opposite is true. Systematically browsing the shelves is a very useful method of subject retrieval, and in some cases it is the most efficient method of all. ...
... Many collections of primary manuscripts or "raw materials" exist on an incredible array of subjects, and can be identified through the sources discussed in Chapter 10 and in the Appendix. However, such collections are more often than not poorly indexed, or not indexed at all, so researchers usually must simply browse through them. The principle is the same, though: first put yourself in a situation where the information you want is likely to exist, and then look around so that you can recognize valuable things when you see them.
One of the major themes of the present book is that a variety of techniques can be used to find information, that each of them has both advantages and disadvantages, and that no one of them can be counted on to do the entire job of in-depth research. What is required is always a mixture of approaches, so that the various trade-offs can balance each other. My observation, however, is that in this age of proliferating indexes, abstracts, catalogs, and databases, the research technique of systematic browsing tends to be overlooked by researchers who are infatuated with the flashier electronic approaches. The fact remains, however, that the vast bulk of humanity's written memory contained in books is not in the indexes and databases in the first place; and researchers who neglect systematic browsing of the texts of books are missing a vast store of material that cannot be efficiently retrieved in any other way.
- Thursday, June 21, 2001 at 06:10:49 (EDT)
Prepare for a rough landing. Prepare for hard times. Tighten your belts, please, in more ways than one.
(Cf. ^zhurnal 20 May 2001, 24 February 2001, 3 January 2001, 19 October 2000, 29 April 2000, 8 April 2000, 19 May 1999, etc.)
- Tuesday, June 19, 2001 at 06:16:24 (EDT)
"The only people really at leisure are those who take time for philosophy. They alone really live. It is not their lifetime alone of which they are careful stewards: they annex every age to their own and exploit all the years that have gone before. Unless we prove ingrate, it was for us that the illustrious founders of divine schools of thought came into being, for us they prepared a way of life. By the exertions of others we are led to the fairest treasures, raised to the light out of the darkness in which they were mired. No age is forbidden to us, we have admittance to all, and if we choose to transcend the narrow bounds of human frailty by loftiness of mind, there is a vast stretch of time for us to roam. We may dispute with Socrates, doubt with Carneades, repose with Epicurus, transcend human nature with the Stoics, defy it with the Cynics. Since Nature allows us to participate in any age, why should we not betake ourselves in mind from this petty and ephemeral span to the boundless and timeless region we can share with our betters?
"Only men who make Zeno and Pythagoras and Democritus and the other high priests of liberal studies their daily familiars, who cultivate Aristotle and Theophrastus, can properly be said to be engaged in the duties of life. None of these will be "not at home," none will send his visitor away without making him happier and better contented with himself, none will allow a visitor to leave him empty-handed, and they are accessible to all comers, night and day.
"None of these will force you to die, but all will teach you how. None of these will wear your years away, but rather add his own to yours. Conversation with them is not subversive, association not a capital offense, and no great expense is involved in cultivating them. You can carry home whatever you like: it will not be their fault if you do not draw as deeply as you like from their wellsprings. What felicity awaits the man who has enrolled as their client, what a fair old age! He will have friends with whom he can deliberate on matters great and small, whom he may consult about his problems every day, from whom he can hear truth without offense and praise without flattery, after whose likeness he may mold himself.
"It is a common saying that a man's parents are not of his own choosing but allotted to him by chance. But we can choose our genealogy. Here are families with noble endowments: choose whichever you wish to belong to. Your adoption will give you not only the name but actually the property, and this you need not guard in a mean or niggardly spirit: the more people you share it with, the greater will it become. These will open the path to eternity for you and will raise you to a height from which none can be cast down. This is the sole means of prolonging your mortality, rather of transforming it into immortality. Honors, monuments, all that ambition has blazoned in inscriptions or piled high in stone will speedily sink to ruin; there is nothing that the lapse of time does not dilapidate and exterminate. But the dedications of philosophy are impregnable; age cannot erase their memory or diminish their force. Each succeeding generation will hold them in ever higher reverence; what is close at hand is subject to envy, whereas the distant we can admire without prejudice. The philosopher's life is therefore spacious: he is not hemmed in and constricted like others. He alone is exempt from the limitations of humanity; all ages are at his service as at a god's. Has time gone by? He holds it fast in recollection. Is time now present? He utilizes it. Is it still to come? He anticipates it. The amalgamation of all time into one makes his life long."
(From The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, translated by Moses Hadas (1900-1966), W. W. Norton & Company, 1958. Cf. ^zhurnal 30 May 2000 and 13 June 2001.)
- Sunday, June 17, 2001 at 18:24:05 (EDT)