^zhurnal - v.0.16

This is Volume 0.16 of the ^zhurnal --- musings on mind, method, metaphor, and matters miscellaneous ... a rather cluttered set of sporadic Good Mistakes. What's it all about? Maybe "... to create moments of philosophy --- that is, to pass from opinion to thought ...." It's also the journal of ^z = Mark Zimmermann. See the ZhurnalyWiki on zhurnaly.com for a parallel "live" Wiki experiment. For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes 0.01, 0.02, ... 0.40, 0.41, ... Current Volume. Send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com". Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2004 by Mark Zimmermann.)

Wiki Configuration Notes

Today, setting up a Wiki Wiki Web of one's own is a nontrivial enterprise. It's rather like baking a cake before the era of packaged mixes or frozen thaw-and-serve confections. One must be able to follow a sometimes-arcane recipe, interpret ambiguous instructions, and correct for variations in local circumstances ( ... my oven runs 25 degrees too hot ... I'm out of baking powder, but baking soda plus cream of tartar should work ... ). Perhaps a programmer with the right expertise can craft a click-and-go Wiki soon. Meanwhile, here is a step by step outline of the recipe that I followed to get my local Wiki operational.

Note: At the moment I am on an Apple Macintosh iBook running OS-X version 10.0.4 --- essentially a variety of UNIX with a nice graphical user interface on top. I may be the only Wiki user of OS-X right now on the planet ("Hello! Anybody home?") ... but the procedures described below, mutatis mutandis, should help erstwhile Wiki installers with other configurations.

WARNING! Do not attempt to perform the following steps unless you understand them and are willing to accept responsibility for all the consequences!

  1. Do you really want to run a local Wiki? Consult The Wiki Way (by Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham) and/or experiment with online Wiki systems. If the answer is "No", skip the remaining steps below.
  2. Can you run a local Wiki? You need a computer that has or can support a web browser, a web server, and a programming language for Wiki scripts. You need to be able to put a small amount of software onto the computer. You also need some time, probably several hours, to invest in the project. If the answer is "No", skip the remaining steps below.
  3. If you do not already have one installed, get a web browser running on your computer. (The browser must be able to support simple forms, something which virtually all browsers can do nowadays.)
  4. Identify a Wiki system, acquire it, and examine it. The comments and documentation that accompany the Wiki will describe what software (programming language, operating system services, etc.) that it needs in order to operate. (E.g., the Wiki scripts in The Wiki Way require a Perl interpreter.)
  5. Confirm that the Wiki system you are planning to use is complete and ready for installation. Consult with the supplier and/or with other users of the system. (E.g., the CD-ROM provided with the original edition of The Wiki Way had some problems which were introduced during the production process. They were straightforward to fix, once they were identified.)
  6. If you do not already have one running, identify a web server, acquire it, examine it, and install it. The web server you use must be able to accept "http:" GET and POST commands from your browser, and must be able to execute simple programs, called "cgi-bin" scripts, in order to generate dynamic web pages in response to the browser's requests. (The Wiki Way CD-ROM includes a Perl mini-server called "Quicki" which works, given some tweaks which are discussed elsewhere. Alternatively, the Apple Macintosh under OS-X has a built-in Apache web server. To activate it, from the "System Preferences" control panel display select "Sharing" and click the "Start" button to turn "Web Sharing On". You need to log in as an Administrator to do this.)
  7. Configure your web server to run cgi-bin scripts from a selected directory within into which you will put the Wiki system's program files. (The "Quicki" mini-server will do this from its own directory. If using the Apache server on a Mac under OS-X, edit the configuration file "/private/etc/httpd/httpd.conf" and insert the line: ScriptAliasMatch /~(.*)/cgi-bin/(.*) "/Users/$1/Sites/cgi-bin/$2" in the config file immediately after the point where "ScriptAlias" is defined. This permits users to run scripts in their own directories "Sites/cgi-bin/"; otherwise all scripts have to be in the directory "/Library/WebServer/CG?I-Executables/". Note that you have to log in as an Administrator to do this editing of "httpd.conf"; note also that you have to turn Web Sharing off and then on again for changes in the configuration to take effect. Tnx to Jeffrey Ubersax for suggesting this approach.)
  8. Make a directory for the Wiki scripts. (E.g., assume that the user is called "username". Create a directory "cgi-bin" in the user's directory "Sites"; in the Finder go to the home directory of "username" and choose "New Folder" in the "File" menu; or alternatively, from a Console window do "cd ~username/Sites" and then "mkdir cgi-bin".)
  9. To confirm that your web server and browser are now working together properly and are ready to interpret Wiki programs, put a test cgi-bin script into the directory you have created and execute it from your browser. (E.g., take a copy of the script "printenv" from the default Apache "/Library/WebServer/CG?I-Executables/" directory, and put it into your user directory "~username/Sites/cgi-bin". Run a browser and point it to URL "http://localhost/~username/cgi-bin/printenv" and make sure that it loads and runs the script. If it does not, you may need to change the permissions of the directory or the file mode bits of the script to make it executable. From a Console prompt, "cd ~username/Sites/cgi-bin" and then "chmod go+x printenv".)
  10. Take the Wiki system files you wish to install, place them in the cgi-bin user directory, and make sure that they are executable by the web server. (E.g., from The Wiki Way's distribution CD-ROM put "wiki.cgi", "changes.cgi", "refcount.cgi", "search.cgi", "template.html", "edit.cgi", and "save.cgi" into "~username/Sites/cgi-bin" --- making sure that you use the Apache version of "save.cgi". Edit these files so that all references to "pages/$page" are changed to "../pages/$page" --- this will let you keep the "pages" directory with your Wiki pages outside of the cgi-bin directory, and thereby Apache will be happy and will not try to interpret your Wiki pages as executable scripts. In the "template.html" file edit the reference to the logo to read "../logo.gif" for the same reason.)
  11. Put initial Wiki content files (e.g., a logo image and "seed" pages) into the directory which your Wiki system requires. (E.g., for The Wiki Way system put "logo.gif" into "~username/Sites", along with a directory "pages" of Wiki pages. Set permissions so that the web server can write to "pages": from a Console window, go to the "Sites" directory and "chmod go+w pages". If you have preexisting pages, give the server permission to edit them too: "chmod go+w pages/*".)
  12. Run a browser and point it to your Wiki. (E.g., go to URL "http://localhost/~username/cgi-bin/wiki.cgi".) If all is well, you will see the home page of your Wiki. Browse by clicking on links, and add pages via the "Edit" and "Save" buttons (or, e.g., by going directly to them via "http://localhost/~username/cgi-bin/wiki.cgi?PlaceNewPageNameHere").
  13. Enjoy your personal Wiki!

- Sunday, September 23, 2001 at 11:10:41 (EDT)

Ten Thousand Hours

Michael Shermer, in a recent interview (by Suzy Hansen in Salon [1]) comments:
"What does it take to be a creative genius and reach the top of your field? First of all, there's a minimal 10,000-hour rule. If you want to master a sport or a skill or a subject, that comes out to about 60 hours per week for about three and a half years. That's true in all professions. It doesn't mean you'll make it. Good biology and genes help. But look at Mozart. He didn't just plop out of nowhere as some people think. He had the father and the training and did the 10,000 hours when he was 6, rather than 26, when most of us find our way in life. Earlier devotion, of course, does help the genius to come out."

Good rule of thumb ... and it correlates with a cute story from magician John Scarne's autobiography (repeated in several of Scarne's books ... cf. [2]) of how he learned to cut to the aces in a deck of cards:

They had me repeat this feat about twenty times and I finally said to Rothstein, "If you do the same thing for three or four hours a day you'll be able to do it too, in about twenty years." I wasn't trying to be smart but they had asked me a question and I was trying to give them an answer as best I could.

"And how old are you?" someone asked rather skeptically.

"I'm nineteen," I replied matter-of-factly.

His rejoinder was quick in coming as he said, "You're nineteen and you practiced twenty years!"

"No," I replied. "But I practice ten hours a day."

(cf. Learning Investment, Self Reliance, Book Houses, ...)

- Thursday, September 20, 2001 at 08:38:59 (EDT)

Ink Blots

A feature, alas, of public commentary after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks: far too many pundits simply trot out their favorite hobby-horse and take it for a media ride.

Some interpret the tragedy as God's wrath, a response to the United States's tolerance of abortion, homosexuality, etc. Some are inspired to leverage events into political gain for their party. Some suggest immediate investment in a quick fix --- new security technologies, intelligence strategies, law enforcement powers, and so on. Some beg subsidies for their suddenly-threatened industry. Some call for military strikes, or diplomatic initiatives, or economic sanctions. And the lawyers are already out in force, preparing to file suits.

Thus far, based on major press coverage, there's not a lot of visible evidence of thinking. Most broadcast and printed commentary could have been predicted based on the spokesperson's prior record. "The usual suspects...", in other words.

But on a more individual scale, things may indeed be different now. William Butler Yeats wrote (in Easter, 1916) some lines which echo:

 All changed, changed utterly:
 A terrible beauty is born.

Maybe a shift has begun, in subtle ways, in diverse directions. A friend (JS) tells of "a cold and steely-eyed determination in the air" --- much different from what he sensed back in the Persian Gulf and Viet Nam era. Another friend (JD) writes: "I will garden in the dirt all weekend. I imagine that dirt is very significant if one is to remain connected with what is good about being alive."

Real people seem to be a little more polite ... more appreciative of their loved ones, friends, neighbors, colleagues, communities ... more aware of life and its beauty. Some talking heads and op-ed writers show signs of the same awakening.

The wind has begun to shift. Dawn is nearing. Hope....

- Tuesday, September 18, 2001 at 20:48:30 (EDT)

Vernor Vinge

An example of the "small world" phenomenon: mathematician, professor, and science fiction author Vernor Vinge (of San Diego, California, USA) has also over the years been a personal acquaintance of DD, my wife's "oldest and dearest friend" from her college days. Every year or so, DD and VV used to go out for dinner or a movie or just conversation. Striking coincidence! --- since (in complete independence of that link) for ~30 years I've been a fan of Vinge's writings. His yarns appeal because of their roller-coaster technological fun rides and optimistic, if at times terrifying, visions of the future. For some quotes from VV's flagship novel, True Names (Copyright (c) Vernor Vinge, 1980) see http://www.his.com/~z/vinge.html.

- Monday, September 17, 2001 at 05:57:18 (EDT)


CorrelOracle3 is the program that generated the links at the bottom of most ZhurnalWiki pages. It's the most recent, and perhaps the last (for a little while) ^z attempt to automagically cross-correlate files using co-occurrence measurements of words and word patterns. See CorrelOracle and CorrelOracle2 for lengthier background discussion; see CorrelOracle3SourceCode for the Perl code that did the link-building. For additional and specific details of why two pages are connected, consult the CorrelationLog.

To improve the quality of the inter-file connections, version 0.3 incorporates several changes from earlier editions:

The actual code has been cleaned up a tiny bit as well. I've learned how to test for non-existence of array and hash elements, for instance, so running "perl -w" on CorrelOracle no longer produces a sea of usage warnings. On the other hand, I have done nothing to optimize the software for speed or memory efficiency, so perhaps that should be considered in the next major re-write.

Meanwhile, I hope to be looking into clustering algorithms and other potential improvements. Please send me comments, criticism, pointers to anomalies, suggestions, and any other feedback that comes to mind concerning CorrelOracle. Thank you!

- Sunday, September 16, 2001 at 16:58:27 (EDT)

Fragile Beauty

On 17 March 2000, in response to an anonymous comment about Wiki's vulnerability:
"... Still this seems like such a fragile system. Any single person could send the entire thing crashing to the ground...."

Bo Leuf wrote:

"Yes, it's true that anyone can do destructive editing, but that's a little like scribbling in the sand: no challenge and the results are transient. And 'community' expresses the concept fairly well. The place runs by consensus and by the individual actions of members and visitors. It's an ongoing experiment, a global guestbook. And there can be great beauty in fragile things. -- Bo Leuf"

I found this exchange (excerpted from http://leuf.net/cgi/wikidn?CommunityIssues) while looking for something mundane. In the context of the 11 September 2001 terrorism, its relevance staggered me. Civilization is a communal product, a naturally-evolved web, robust and stable (cf. Threads Of History, The Veto, etc.).

Skyscrapers, however, are fragile. So are human lives. And there can be great beauty in fragile things.

Thank you, Bo, for those thoughts.

- Saturday, September 15, 2001 at 14:01:15 (EDT)

Harriet Nowell-Smith

Harriet Nowell-Smith is now a lawyer in Canada; five years ago she was a student of Comparative Literature at the University of Montreal. Harriet and I shared an interest in Edward Gibbon (cf. Gibbon Table of Contents), met via Internet email, and corresponded about history, astronomy, philosophy, physics, and a host of other topics. In 1996 Harriet sent me a copy of her thesis: How Did You Know What You Were Reading? (subtitled "Gibbon's History and Eighteenth-Century Verisimilitude"). She also gave me permission to post parts of it for her as a web page. Belatedly, I have done so --- see GibbonNowellSmithThesis for the Abstract, Table of Contents, and Introduction.

In a letter that accompanied her dissertation Harriet wrote me in her always-graceful style about the huge contrast between law school and her previous work. She concluded:

"I hope you are well, & all your lovely children. The lawyer who advises us students before we go to court has a nice baby who lives in her office. It's < 1, and cares nothing for laws, which is very sensible & a nice contrast to her Mum."

(cf. Eugene Ho)

- Friday, September 14, 2001 at 12:09:57 (EDT)

World Trade Center

Free society will survive terrorism. John McPhee wrote, in The Curve of Binding Energy (1973):

To many people who have participated professionally in the advancement of the nuclear age, it seems not just possible but more and more apparent that nuclear explosions will again take place in cities. ... What will happen when the explosions come --- when a part of New York or Cairo or Adelaide has been hollowed out by a device in the kiloton range? Since even a so-called fizzle yield could kill a number of thousands of people, how many nuclear detonations can the world tolerate?

Answers --- again from professional people --- vary, but many will say that while there is necessarily a limit to the amount of nuclear destruction society can tolerate, the limit is certainly not zero. Remarks by, for example, contemporary chemists, physicists, and engineers go like this (the segments of dialogue are assembled but not invented):

"I think we have to live with the expectation that once every four or five years a nuclear explosion will take place and kill a lot of people."


"What fraction of a society has to be knocked out to make it collapse? We have some benchmarks. None collapsed in the Second World War."

"The largest bomb that has ever been exploded anywhere was sixty megatons, and that is one-thousandth the force of an earthquake, one-thousandth the force of a hurricane. We have lived with earthquakes and hurricanes for a long time."

"It is often assumed that a full-blown nuclear war would be the end of life on earth. That is far from the truth. To end life on earth would take at least a thousand times the total yield of all the nuclear explosives existing in the world, and probably a lot more."

"After a bomb goes off, and the fire ends, quiet descends again, and life continues."


"At the start of the First World War, the high-explosive shell was described as 'the ultimate weapon.' It was said that the war could not last more than two weeks. Then they discovered dirt. They found they could get away from the high-explosive shell in trenches. When hijackers start holding up whole nations and exploding nuclear bombs, we must again discover dirt. We can live with these bombs. The power of dirt will be reexploited."

"There is an intensity that society can tolerate. This means that x number could die with y frequency in nuclear blasts and society would absorb it. This is really true. Ten x and ten y might go beyond the intensity limit."

"I can imagine a rash of these things happening. I can imagine --- in the worst situation --- hundreds of explosions a year."

"I see no way of anything happening where the rubric of society would collapse, where the majority of the human race would just curl up its toes and not care what happens after that. The collective human spirit is more powerful than all the bombs we have. Even if quite a few nuclear explosions go off and they become part of our existence, civilization won't collapse. We will adapt. We will go on. But the whole thing is so unpleasant. It is worth moving mountains, if we have to, to avoid it."

And near the end of The Curve of Binding Energy, McPhee and Theodore Taylor (former nuclear weapon designer) are on the road together:

Driving down from Peekskill, another time, we found ourselves on Manhattan's West Side Highway just at sunset and the beginning of dusk. There ahead of us several miles, and seeming to rise right out of the road, were the two towers of the World Trade Center, windows blazing with interior light and with red reflected streaks from the sunset over New Jersey. We had been heading for midtown but impulsively kept going, drawn irresistibly toward two of the tallest buildings in the world. We went down the Chambers Street ramp and parked, in a devastation of rubble, beside the Hudson River. Across the water, in New Jersey, the Colgate sign, a huge neon clock as red as the sky, said 6:15. We looked up the west wall of the nearer tower. From so close, so narrow an angle, there was nothing at the top to arrest the eye, and the building seemed to be some sort of probe touching the earth from the darkness of space. "What an artifact that is!" Taylor said, and he walked to the base and paced it off. We went inside, into a wide, uncolumned lobby. The building was standing on its glass-and-steel walls and on its elevator core. Neither of us had been there before. We got into an elevator. He pressed, at random, 40. We rode upward in a silence broken only by the muffled whoosh of air and machinery and by Taylor's describing where the most effective place for a nuclear bomb would be.


We went down a stairway a flight or two and out onto an unfinished floor. Piles of construction materials were here and there, but otherwise the space was empty, from the elevator core to the glass façade. "I can't think in detail about this subject, considering what would happen to people, without getting very upset and not wanting to consider it at all," Taylor said. ... Walking to a window of the eastern wall, he looked across a space of about six hundred feet, past the other Trade Center tower, to a neighboring building, at 1 Liberty Plaza. "Through free air, a kiloton bomb will send a lethal dose of immediate radiation up to half a mile," he went on. "Or, up to a thousand feet, you'd be killed by projectiles. Anyone in an office facing the Trade Center would die. People in that building over there would get it in every conceivable way. Gamma rays would get them first. Next comes visible light. Next the neutrons. Then the air shock. Then missiles. Unvaporized concrete would go out of here at the speed of a rifle shot. A steel-and-concrete missile flux would go out one mile and would include in all maybe a tenth the weight of the building, about five thousand tons." He pressed up against the glass and looked far down to the plaza between the towers. "If you exploded a bomb down there, you could conceivably wind up with the World Trade Center's two buildings leaning against each other and still standing," he said. "There's no question at all that if someone were to place a half-kiloton bomb on the front steps where we came in, the building would fall into the river."

(cf. Under Ground)

- Wednesday, September 12, 2001 at 06:07:56 (EDT)

To Protect and To Serve

The events of today, 2001 September 11, are still unfolding. Those who know something aren't talking, and the contrapositive.

It's much easier to destroy than to build, to kill than to create. The fanatics who planned the deaths of so many people aren't cowards. They are criminals, tragic in their confusion. It will take time to find them and bring them to justice. Patience.

As a US Government building was being evacuated this morning, a person walking ahead of me spoke to a uniformed security officer: "Thank you for being here."

Yes --- thank you to everyone, in all the nations of the world, who protect and serve, who help to keep the peace.

- Tuesday, September 11, 2001 at 17:39:17 (EDT)

Correl Oracle 2

Yet Another ^z programming project: the Correl Oracle takes a set of files from a Wiki (or other textual collection) and analyzes them. It looks for co-occurrences of words and builds links among pages which share a common vocabulary. (cf. Correl Oracle for an introductory discussion; cf. Correl Oracle02 Source Code for the Perl program itself.)

Correl Oracle version 0.2 includes a few new features which should improve the quality of its output:

How good is it? I would rate the current Correl Oracle as promising, maybe useful at times, but still in need of much work. Too many pages are connected because of the coincidental use of a few odd words. Perhaps the quality of links can be improved by looking at two-word phrases, or by adjusting the "similarity" metric which underlies the correlations? Perhaps the correlations will improve naturally as this Wiki gets larger? Hard to say...

And in any event, the code should be rewritten; I'm in the process of learning Perl as I go along, and it shows!

- Sunday, September 09, 2001 at 06:27:07 (EDT)

Weather Man

On March 4, 1993 I visited Francis Balint, then Chief of the Automation Division for the National Meteorological Center (NMC) in Suitland, Maryland, USA. My notes on the meeting recently turned up. (n.b.: Many of the numbers quoted below have doubtless changed over the years.) Among the tidbits:

(cf. Forecast Factory = http://www.his.com/~z/weather.html ...)

- Saturday, September 08, 2001 at 06:20:56 (EDT)

Snip Pattern

A minor epiphany came to me a few days ago. I was starting to scratch my head about how to remove "stuff" from the top (or bottom) of a set of Wiki pages --- tags, mark-up material, or obsolete hyperlinks (e.g., strings automatically created by Correl Oracle or the like). I needed to snip such material off so that I could re-process the textual core of each file.

How to do this? The Perl programming language offers fine pattern-matching facilities, so if I could specify a string that marked the end of a header (or the beginning of a footer) then, thinks I, perhaps a search routine could locate that marker, note its offset from the beginning of the file, and proceed to rewrite the file without the unwanted part before (or after) it. That's a typical way to solve such a problem in a linear array-oriented language like C or FORTRAN: scan, recognize, measure, cut. Like extracting a gene from a strand of DNA, or clipping a piece of cloth from a patterned fabric.

But as I turned the problem over in my mind, I suddenly realized that Perl offered a much simpler and better way: let the pattern itself specify what to delete. There's no need to count bytes or look for start/stop sequences. "Regular expression" patterns can include controlled wild cards and symbols for the beginning and end of a file. So by moving the work out of the program and into the pattern the job becomes almost trivial. If the pattern to snip out is called "$snip", then the one-line Perl command:

 $body =~ s/$snip//so;

finds $snip in the file's body and cuts it out. No tricky looping, byte offsets, or other overhead. (cf. Snip Pattern01 Source Code for the full program, which has the framework needed to handle a whole directory of Wiki pages plus specific examples)

This sort of productive aha! experience happens more frequently as one gets into the spirit of a programming language, or any other complex system. Beginners fight against constraints; experts leverage the strengths and avoid the weaknesses of their tools. A pencil can do things that a pen cannot, and vice versa. A spreadsheet doesn't make a very good word processor. A screwdriver isn't a chisel. High-extensibility languages, like FORTH or LISP, work best when they're used to transform tasks into simpler sub-problems and sub-sub-problems; high-efficiency mathematical languages like FORTRAN work best for deep numerical calculations; non-procedural languages like PROLOG work best when what to do is clear but how to do it requires a deep or subtle search. (cf. Resolution And Unification and Strands Of Truth)

Another example: a few years ago I was playing around and trying to write some simple Awk programs to identify which human language (English, German, Spanish, etc.) various web pages were written in. My approach was simple: look for common words and award "points" accordingly to the languages that the words appeare most often in. "THE" suggests English (though yes, it could mean "tea" in French); "DER", "DIE", and "DAS" imply German (though yes, "die" is a fine English word too); and so forth. I built my recognizer-patterns, saved them in a file, and wrote the Awk code to load them and apply them. Then I started running tests --- at which point it became clear that my approach was incredibly, intolerably slow. Argggh!

My son Merle looked at what I had done and had an aha! moment: instead of interpreting my patterns, he saw that he could write a program to compile them into another, far more efficient, Awk program. Merle's tiny compiler (itself written in Awk) was a tool to build a tool. Obvious? Only after one gets into the spirit of pattern-transformation. (cf. Awesomely Simple and Do Meta)

- Thursday, September 06, 2001 at 12:31:03 (EDT)

Torrey Pines

Some notes I took on July 27, 1993 recently resurfaced here; they tell of a hike one evening in Torrey Pines State Reserve, a parklike strip of land along the Pacific coastline just north of San Diego, California. I wrote:

"~6 pm --- walked ~5 miles --- from Sheraton hotel past golf course & driving range --- down road (closed to cars) into nature area --- to visitor center/ranger station --- called home & chatted briefly --- walked out to ocean along "Beach Trail" & took side path to Yucca Point --- excellent view of surf --- high cliffs --- steep path down to beach at Flat Rock --- tide high, some spray/splash --- a couple of other hikers along the way --- 3 rabbits (two little ones) & some birds --- return via Broken Hill Trail --- good views again at tops of ridges --- quiet --- brush burned alongside trail (South Fork). Back ~8pm"

Pedestrian prose (pun intended!) ... yet those words brought to mind again the image of one of those bunnies crouched under a dry bush, of crashing surf, and of sandy paths winding among semi-desert plants. I recall looking at an arbitrary leaf on a twig at the end of a branch and telling myself, "Remember this moment!"

But to be honest, I don't recall it, at least not with any degree of detail. Life has too many moments to record them all. But I do remember the self-admonition to store that memory, and if I scratch my head I can conjure up some mental pictures of the situation. They're probably fictional. Maybe that's good enough....

- Wednesday, September 05, 2001 at 06:15:12 (EDT)

Eugene Ho

Eugene Y. C. Ho (1960-1997) died in a tragic accident at his home in Hong Kong. I sent my condolences to his family and friends:
"Eugene Ho and I never met. We began corresponding via the Internet in late 1996, concerning Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and branched out from there to discussions of philosophy, quantum mechanics, music, liberty, and a host of other topics. Eugene's death cut off in mid-sentence hundreds of similar conversations with others around the world. Doubtless, had he lived, Eugene would have written books and shared his thoughts further, across space and time, with countless readers.

"But now he is suddenly no longer with us, and we must work to do the best we can in his absence. I hesitated long before I began trying to write these words, out of a feeling that I could never do justice to Eugene --- to his obvious brilliance in language, in the arts, and in so many other intellectual pursuits. But then, thinking of him and his life, I found that I had to write what I could, now, before another moment passed.

"Samuel Johnson, in a letter written in 1750 to a friend whose mother had recently died, said it better than I possibly can. Whether or not we accept Johnson's religious beliefs, we can all agree with his central thesis: 'The business of life summons us away from useless grief, and calls us to the exercise of those virtues of which we are lamenting our deprivation. The greatest benefit which one friend can confer upon another is to guard, and excite, and elevate his virtues.'

"Eugene was a friend, a great and good friend, and he can still guard, and excite, and elevate our virtues, if we but dedicate ourselves to preserving his memory and acting in accordance with the lessons that he taught."

(Cf. Letter by Samuel Johnson = ZhurnalWiki JohnsonCondolencesJohnsonCondolences, Gibbon Table of Contents, Deep Sympathies, and Religion And Reverence)

- Monday, September 03, 2001 at 05:15:45 (EDT)

Art & Ideas

At the Baltimore Museum of Art yesterday I witnessed countless (well, hundreds) of examples of silly "art": buzzing neon lights, meaningless splatters of paint, decaying food fragments, arbitrary arrangements of objects, ... --- forgettable foolishness that only found its way into a gallery because of the celebrity of its creator, the glibness of its promoter, or the wealth (and gullibility) of its collector.

But in stark contrast to the fluff, the BMA also showed works of art --- drawings, paintings, sculptures, etc. that struggled to represent reality and to say something about it. The genuine art seemed to have a necessity to it, an inevitability, coherence, and integration. Change any part, and the whole would become something less.

On a display of one of his small bronzes was a quote from Henri Matisse (1941):

"I took up sculpture because what interested me was a clarification of my ideas. ... It was always in view of a complete possession of mind, a sort of hierarchy of all my sensations, that I kept working in the hope of finding an ultimate conclusion."

And in a brochure at the exhibit ("Seeing with Fresh Eyes: Matisse in The Cone Collection", by Linda Andre) Matisse further noted:

"Each picture as I finish it, seems like the best thing I have ever done ... and yet after a while I am not so sure. It is like taking a train to Marseille. One knows where one wants to go. Each painting completed is like a station --- just so much nearer the goal. The time comes when the painter is apt to feel he has at last arrived. Then, if he is honest, he realizes one of two things --- either that he has not arrived after all or that Marseille ... is not where he wanted to go anyway, and he must push farther on."

- Saturday, September 01, 2001 at 17:57:59 (EDT)

Parappa Rapper & Jammer Lammie

My son Merle has discovered some entertainingly-weird Japanese video games: Parappa the Rapper and its sequel, Um Jammer Lammie. Both have a minimalist style of animation, with deliberately two-dimensional characters --- paper-cutout-like figures moving through a semi-3D world. Both feature cute & catchy copy-what-I-do musical rhythmic challenges. Both send their protagonists through a series of unexpected difficulties. And both have a cynical attitude toward the clichés of standard gaming, and do a good job of parodying those clichés.

Most interestingly, however, both games feature philosophical mantras. In Parappa it's You gotta believe!, in yourself and your abilities. In Lammie the refrain is It's all in the mind!, at least for the majority of challenges in life. Good optimistic themes.

- Friday, August 31, 2001 at 06:05:48 (EDT)

Know Not

There's knowledge, and then there's metaknowledge --- knowledge about knowledge, that is. Array the possibilities in a two-by-two matrix and you get four situations (inspired by JP's recent talk):

But real wisdom has yet another dimension:

- Wednesday, August 29, 2001 at 17:56:21 (EDT)

Hippocratic Hardships

Years ago I saw unattributed on a .sig line:
"Life is short, art is long, opportunity fleeting, experimenting dangerous, reasoning difficult."
It stuck in my mind --- an archetypal aphorism. But only today did I learn that it's the first line in The Aphorisms by Hippocrates, ~400 BCE. Alternative translations include Francis Adams's:
"Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult."
or perhaps:
"Life is short, art is long, occasion sudden, experiment dangerous, judgment difficult."

Good advice, for physicians and everyone else....

- Tuesday, August 28, 2001 at 20:18:24 (EDT)

Correl Oracle

^zhurnal (and ZhurnalWiki) notes that wrestle with related themes deserve to be linked together --- but who has the energy to do so? As the number of items approaches 1,000 the task gets even less feasible for a person.

Hence, the Correl Oracle: a small software experiment in building connections between files. Early this year ^z fantasized (cf. IrWishes, or the ^zhurnal entry of 2001 Jan 4) about:

autolinker --- a system to build hyperlinks between related chunks of information. Consider a collection of web pages or otherwise delimited articles, such as this ^zhurnal itself. Humans can add cross-references (e.g., the pointer in the previous bullet), but that takes time and some amount of wit ... both of which are, alas, in limited supply. An autolinker takes the data collection, correlates items, and identifies clusters that cohere: material which has a common vocabulary, for example, or repeatedly uses certain phrases, or possesses other similarities based on a statistical metric. The autolinker then supplies bridges between related items, resulting in an enhanced set of files ready for fast and effective browsing. Auto-generated cross-links are there if needed, but can be ignored if they seem irrelevant.

The Correl Oracle is a baby step in that direction, via a hundred or so lines of Perl (see CorrelOracle01SourceCode). It ran for about half an hour (on my little machine) to produce the cross-links at the bottom of ~700 ZhurnalWiki pages. The method it uses is quite straightforward:

The "similarity" metric I used in Correl Oracle version 0.1 is one that seems reasonable, but it's rather arbitrary and lacks much of a scientific/mathematical foundation (translation: I made it up!). Essentially, two files are similar if they each contain a disproportionate fraction of the occurrences of many words --- that is, if they share a common vocabulary which isn't shared by lots of other files. My similarity measure also gives more weight to smaller files, since otherwise the larger files win too often simply because they have more words. (Read the source code for details.)

The bottom line is that when two Wiki pages have a similarity greater than 1, they tend to have quite a lot in common, at least on a word-by-word basis. On the other hand, when the best that Correl Oracle can come up with is a similarity less than 1, it means that a particular Wiki page is relatively unique.

Much more remains to be done to make a better Correl Oracle:

But Correl Oracle version 0.1 is at least a start!

- Sunday, August 26, 2001 at 18:11:10 (EDT)

Intelligence Augmentation

AI commonly stands for "Artificial Intelligence" nowadays --- though a veterinarian friend (Suzanne Schoener Burnham, aka "Dr. Suz") points out that AI is "Artificial Insemination" in her world ... and yes, over the years that meaning has a lot more weight of usage behind it. Nevertheless AI, in the Artificial Intelligence sense, gets reams of media coverage in spite of its history of big talk and relatively lightweight performance.

In contrast, scarcely noted is IA: Intelligence Augmentation, the use of computing machinery to leverage human thinking ability. Doug Engelbart is something like the godfather of IA (and by the way, the inventor of the computer "mouse" plus various other fundamental tools). He gets a nod for his decades of work, once in a while --- and then is put back in the cabinet while reporters run off in pursuit of the latest AI hypestory.

Case in point: Engelbart gave a talk at the "Fed Web" conference on 11 June 1998. The auditorium echoed like a hollow gourd; there were all of 15 people in attendance, scattered over the first dozen rows of seats. White-haired and well-dressed, Doug stood in front and spoke quietly for four hours. He talked about his Bootstrap Alliance and its goal of "raising the overall IQ" of organizations and of humanity as a whole. Adjacent rooms were packed with people listening to the latest Java sales pitches, ephemera, deservedly forgotten. Embarrassing ....

- Saturday, August 25, 2001 at 07:13:57 (EDT)

At Sea

We are like sailors who must rebuild their ship on the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry-dock and to reconstruct it there out of the best materials.

--- Otto Neurath (1882-1945), Protocol Sentences, trans. George Schick, in A Dictionary of Philosophical Quotations eds. A. J. Ayer & Jane O'Grady. (Wie Schiffer sind wir, die ihr Schiff auf offener See umbauen müssen, ohne es jemals in einem Dock zerlegen und aus besten Bestandteilen neu errichten zu können.)

- Friday, August 24, 2001 at 14:35:18 (EDT)


Comments overheard in various contexts around the bureaucracy:

- Thursday, August 23, 2001 at 06:23:04 (EDT)

Barry's Laws & Precepts

From a conversation with BL (4 June 2001):

Barry's Laws

Barry's Precepts

- Wednesday, August 22, 2001 at 07:10:47 (EDT)

Orchard of Thoughts

There's an interestingly-strange set of pages at http://www.ms.lt/ titled "Minciu Sodas", which in Lithuanian apparently means "Orchard of Thoughts". They're largely the work of Andrius Kulikauskas, an articulate fellow who has pulled together quite a bit of information about thinking tools of various sorts (e.g., see http://www.ms.lt/ms/projects/toolkinds/index.html and http://www.ms.lt/ms/projects/toolkinds/organize.html for excellent annotated links to important sites; see also http://www.memes.net/ for further mysterious perhaps-wiki-like activity from another source).

But it's hard to evaluate Minciu Sodas. Is it a personal playground for a few bright souls? ... an erstwile dot-com? ... an experiment in collaboration just short of critical mass? ... a disorganized shoebox of mystical ideas? ... or something completely different? I really don't know --- but it seems potentially important, or at least useful, or at least entertaining. (Speaking of which, what is this ^zhurnal?)

- Tuesday, August 21, 2001 at 17:23:24 (EDT)

Very Good

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is rumored to have advised that, whenever you are tempted to use the word "very" in your writing, use the word "damned" instead. Your editor will take it out, and your prose will be better as a result!

(I have looked without success for the actual source of this fine aphorism --- help, please, someone! - ^z)

- Monday, August 20, 2001 at 05:34:32 (EDT)

Philo B'fast Q's (2)

Some new quotes and queries from the Philosophy Breakfast gang during the first part of 2001: Finally, a philosophical Sunday School poem remembered from childhood (JJ, 1 Jun):
  For every evil under the Sun
    There is a remedy or there is none.
  If there is, try to find it;
    If there isn't, never mind it!

- Sunday, August 19, 2001 at 06:37:53 (EDT)

Kaplan On Globalization

On 9 January 2001, Robert Kaplan (author of The Coming Anarchy and The World in 2010: A Return to Ancient Times) gave a talk about global social and political issues. Some quotes:

- Saturday, August 18, 2001 at 18:29:31 (EDT)


There's a pattern, rather an unfortunate one, which my wife (PD) has noted in far too many recent feature "news" items:

The template works for almost any topic; we've heard it applied to antibiotics, national defense policy, homeschooling, television violence, day care centers, etc., etc. No need for critical thought or judgment on the part of the reporter --- just apply The Formula and you've got your story. It works equally well for radio, TV, or print.

Of course, in some ways this is a waste of time: nobody in the audience ends up knowing much more than when you started. But maybe increasing public uncertainty is appropriate, especially on issues where there is no one right answer. Some experts say Yes, and some say No. Could it be that content-free reportage is actually a good thing for Society?

- Thursday, August 16, 2001 at 07:02:49 (EDT)

Loneliness And Finality

From the recent film The Mexican (written by J. H. Wyman) --- comments by a thoughtful killer:

"Look. In my business you're surrounded by loneliness and finality.

"Now, I don't care what your take is on an afterlife. When people die, it's scary. And they go alone.

"Now, the people that I send off that have experienced love, they're a little less scared. I mean, they're still scared, but there's ... a calmness to 'em. And I think that comes from the knowledge that somebody, somewhere, loved them and cared for 'em and will miss 'em.

"Now, I see that from time to time, and I am awed by it."

- Tuesday, August 14, 2001 at 05:24:55 (EDT)


Another archetypal Russian peasant joke: Ivan is offered a chance to wish for anything, absolutely anything --- but the genie tells him that whatever he gets, his neighbor will get twice as much of.

"Each of us has two cows," reasons Ivan, "so I wish that one of my cows shall die!"

- Sunday, August 12, 2001 at 21:53:21 (EDT)


Natural selection is imperceptible to the creatures that it operates upon. The lion stalks, crouches, springs --- and the slowest zebra falls, while the quicker ones dash to safety, pause, look back, and then return to cropping the grass. No conscious (or unconscious) drive for speed. Just differential success for the survival of genes into the next generation. Simple math.

But once in a while, a zebra vanishes. It transcends the game of chase & catch, elude & evade --- and starts to play a new game, with new rules and new opponents. Wings sprout from its shoulders; it leaps into the air and flies away into a dimension beyond the lion's ken.

Can people learn to be invisible? Have some of us already done so? What's it like?

(from recent Philosophy Breakfast musings by BW & comrades)

- Friday, August 10, 2001 at 05:35:46 (EDT)


A rustic 200-mile solo drive (2001 June 23, the return trip from dropping my son Robin off at Boy Scout summer camp, Goshen, Virginia) offers some provocative views: cascades feeding the Shenandoah valley, corrugated Appalachian ridges, verdant forests ... much the same vistas that would have greeted a passer-by thousands of years ago (if one edits out the sporadic highway cuts, power lines, and radio towers) ... reminders of our Utter Insignificance in comparison to Nature.

And then, turn on the radio and hear some provocative words: laughable "alternative medicine" bogosity, rampant celebrity gossip, and fawning sports-figure interviews, intermixed with advertisements for ridiculous merchandise --- more reminders of how far we have yet to go as a species.

Humbling ....

- Thursday, August 09, 2001 at 05:25:26 (EDT)


"Gravity always bats last!"

--- original source unknown; seen as a punchline in an Isabella Bannerman comic strip, early 2001; allusion to the inevitable increase of entropy (and sagging) with time ...

- Wednesday, August 08, 2001 at 05:15:36 (EDT)


My son asked me the other day to help him come up with a real catastrophe --- something terrifying on a global scale, like a giant asteroid impact or a virulent new plague.

"What if," I said, "the next generation comes along and is half as productive as this one?"

That wasn't the dramatic visual scenario that he wanted (no fireballs, for one thing) but it's pretty scary nonetheless, and maybe a genuine societal crisis-in-the-making is currently taking shape along those lines. Look, for instance, at all the time spent in front of the TV set (or computer monitor) by scions of well-to-do parents --- in lieu of reading and thinking. Look at the kids from poor families who never get a chance to learn. Look at all the "boomerang children" in their twenties (and thirties, and ...) who keep coming back home to live with their parents. And look at the crass foolishness that dominates entertainment, and politics, and "The News".

The New York Times business section not long ago (27 July 2001) carried excerpts from an interview with some semi-famous dot-com CEO types. Most of the talk was on ephemeral subjects (e.g., techno-hype, marketing, and money-making) and doubtless will seem quaint enough in a few years. But at one or two points somebody tried to talk about a significant issue. Judith Estrin noted, for instance:

"Some of it is cultural, and I think that the last couple of years made it worse because you had a whole generation of people thinking that you don't need to go to college to succeed.

"And so the notion of a computer scientist and a programmer blurred, and there is a difference. And so we have a whole generation of people who think putting up a Web site is being a computer scientist. I have nothing against people who program well, but there are different talents."

Well said. Some things are learned easily and quickly; others take thought and hard work. Not everybody has to attack the toughest problems. But if half as many people in a generation choose to take the challenging road, progress will slow, maybe even stop ... and a culture dependent on exponential knowledge growth will have to face a hard landing.

- Tuesday, August 07, 2001 at 04:46:52 (EDT)


From the front page of the 2001 July/August issue of The Art Newspaper:

All's well that ends well

Last year, The Art Newspaper and the group to which it belongs, Umberto Allemandi e C., had to fight off a hostile takeover bid by a Franco-Luxembourg internet company, which, in the lunacy of the dot.com boom, managed to persuade some of our share-holders that its shares in a virtual art-trading market enterprise were worth more than those in our publishing business painstakingly built up over twenty years. Because a few shareholders remained sane --- and it turned on a fraction of a percent of the holdings --- Umberto Allemandi was able to buy out the web enthusiasts, and The Art Newspaper, the Italian Giornale dell'Arte and the book publishing business were saved. What happened to the internet company? It never launched itself on the stock market, of course, and it continues a feeble, virtual existence, unable to pay its bills. ....

The same issue contains a thoughtful article by Simon Stokes concerning copyright issues, "The public domain and free flow of ideas are under threat". Stokes mentions:

A number of artists are looking to the "open source code" movement in the US to redress the balance. In open source software, developers make their code freely available for others to use and exploit provided users also agree to keep their code "open" and available for others on the terms of a written "public" copyright. Similarly the artists behind the "Copyleft attitude" movement (http://www.artlibre.org) have devised a "Free Art Licence" which is designed to ensure the user can copy, distribute and freely transform another's work of art whilst respecting the rights of the originator. The intention behind the licence is to encourage access to art works and creativity --- "to promote and protect artistic practice freed from the rules of the market economy". ....

There's also a "Focus on Australia" section including a kindly John McDonald essay re art critic Robert Hughes and his recent unfortunate troubles. A few decades ago Hughes wrote The Shock of the New, a book and educational-TV series which helped me begin to see that some aspects of modern art might not be not totally bogus. Hughes is now suffering from the aftereffects of a horrifying car accident, compounded by lawsuits and a family tragedy, the suicide of his son. My sympathies, Sir....

- Monday, August 06, 2001 at 05:40:09 (EDT)


"The ball is round. The game lasts 90 minutes. Those are facts. Everything else is pure theory."

(from the beginning of Run Lola Run, a film written and directed by Tom Tykwer, original title Lola Rennt; translation tweaked by ^z)

- Sunday, August 05, 2001 at 06:20:16 (EDT)


In the giveaway bin of the Library's used-book sale not long ago I discovered a copy of Andrei Amalrik's Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? (Harper & Row, 1970). This is an insightful book that I read ca. 1980 and occasionally have thought about in the years since then. Tucked inside the newly-found copy, yellowing the pages around it with its acidic paper, was an artifact of the times: a newspaper clipping from the Washington Evening Star of 22 May 1970, an article titled "Soviet Writer Andrei Amalrik Arrested by Secret Police".

Amalrik was, of course, both wrong and right. The Soviet Union survived well past 1984, and it didn't collapse as he had predicted, via war with China plus an internal explosion of nationalism on the part of non-Russian ethnic groups. Economics, perhaps, plus education and communication played a more significant rôle in the government's demise.

But still relevant today is Amalrik's diagnosis of "the most destructive aspect of Russian psychology" --- an aspect which applies to many other cultures. Amalrik saw around him the common thirst for what was called "justice", by which people really meant "... the desire that 'nobody should live better than I do' ... motivated by hatred of everything that is outstanding ...." As Amalrik also observed, "... many peasants find someone else's success more painful than their own failure. In general, when the average Russian sees that he is living less well than his neighbor, he will concentrate not on trying to do better for himself but rather on trying to bring his neighbor down to his own level."

We don't do that ... most of us, most of the time, mostly. But we have our own national neuroses. We spend a lot of money on lottery tickets, and a lot of time standing in line for a chance to gawk at the rich and famous as they perform in sports, music, movies, etc. We buy many less-than-essential things in order to emulate our idols.

But perhaps envy and waste is somewhat healthier than hatred?

- Saturday, August 04, 2001 at 14:26:11 (EDT)

This is Volume 0.16 of the journal of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... musings on mind, matter, method, and metaphor ... new posts every few days, since April 1999. See ZhurnalyWiki on zhurnaly.com for a parallel "live" Wiki experiment in shared thought. For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you!