Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Some Alan Kay Quotes

You've probably heard Alan Kay's famous quote "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." I was looking for a reference for this, when I came across some more quotes from him, some of which I thought were pretty good:

"It [the computer] is the first metamedium, and as such it has degrees of freedom for representation and expression never before encountered and as yet barely investigated."

and on similar lines

"It (the computer) is a medium that can dynamically simulate the details of any other medium, including media that cannot exist physically. It is not a tool, although it can act like many tools."

(though I disagree that this means it isn't a tool).

Two Types of Intuition

More rough notes...

Intuition often gets talked about as if it was just a single type of thing which, depending on the context, is considered either a good thing or a bad thing. I think there's two different forms of intuition, one of which is more reliable than the other.

The reliable type is derived from a large mass of solid experience or knowledge. The ins and outs of the situation the intuition applies to, the subtlties, the important factors, the irrelevant details -- these are all burnt deeply into your brain and, put simply, the intuition corresponds with the way the world is. I will call this learned-intuition.

The other type is derived from the innate and learnt heuristics our brains apply to perceive, and reason about, the world. There is much variation in these heuristics, and comprable variation in their reliability, but being heuristics they are all ultimately shortcut replacements to considered thinking about the situation. This makes them generally less repliable than learned-intuition and -- appropriate!* -- considered thinking. I won't argue this point further in this post (though this is defintely something I want to talk about in the future), and you may not agree with me on this. I will call this type of intuition heuristic-intuition.

Accompianing both forms is a "gut feeling" that tells you the intuition is correct, though often you won't be able to put your finger on why it's correct. People often talk about intuition as if the reliability of both learned- and heuristic- intuition was the same (this and this give some sense of this) -- or rather, they fail to make any distinction between them.

Being aware of the differences between these two forms of intuition means being aware, when an intuitive view comes to mind, of which type it is (I think it should in general be fairly easy to tell if you think about it), and consequently how much trust you should put in it, and consequently whether you should ignore its judgement and instead bring in considered thinking.

[*] Certainly conscious, considered thought is not that great at "fuzzy" tasks, like picking out subtle patterns in things. This is due to its symbolic nature, I'd say.

Wet Floor...

.. Posted by Hello

Wet Floor... Everybody BREAKDANCE!!

Taken outside Toowong Village Shopping Center

Monday, August 30, 2004

Illustration of Person's Psychology Incorrectly Blamed

Some excerpts from Anthony Daniels in The New Criterion (via Arts & Letters Daily). I'm posting this mainly because of my interest in how people tend to assume, unless it is unequivocally shown otherwise, that psychological factors are responsible for other's illnesses -- which this illustrates...


Whenever I think of medical progress and its effects upon human existence, which are both profound and yet not quite fundamental, peptic ulcers always come to my mind. This is because much of my childhood and adolescence was dominated by peptic ulceration—my father’s, to be precise. Looking back on it, his ulcers affected the mood in our household (gloom tempered by storm), and even what we ate.


In my father’s day, it was more or less an orthodoxy that duodenal ulcer was caused, if not entirely, then at least largely by psychological factors. Indeed, research into the kind of people who got ulcers was almost the foundation of psychosomatic medicine. In a book published in 1937, entitled Civilization and Disease, by Dr. C. P. Donnison, the flowing statement is made: “The statistics indicate that chronic peptic ulcer shows a low incidence in the more primitive races and a greater incidence in those races more in contact with civilization.”


In the early 1980s, two Australian investigators showed that duodenal ulcer is, in most cases, an infectious disease, caused by a germ called Helicobacter pylori. This was so novel an hypothesis, rendering so much previous work and opinion nugatory, that the medical world had difficulty in accepting it. I remember the shock of reading the papers in The Lancet twenty years ago. The exasperated Dr. Barry Marshall, who was ridiculed at first, followed Dr. Hunter’s apocryphal example, swallowed a culture of Helicobacter himself to prove the hypothesis, and promptly suffered from severe gastritis.


If the bacterial cause of duodenal ulcer had been known during my childhood and adolescence, how different would my life have been? My father would not have paced the floor night after night; he would not have been nearly killed by surgery; his temper would have been more equable. There would have been more affection in the household, and we should not have wasted so much of our substance in silent emotional strife. My father would not have died a lonely old man, little mourned because unloved, knowing that he would not be missed.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

What I'd Like in a Version Control System

When I started the PhD I wanted to use a version control system to keep track of all the PhD-related files. So I installed CVS. But now I've come to the view that it doesn't suit my needs very well, and I'm looking into other options. And I thought the first step there would be to get it clear what I'd like a version control system to do.

When I'm writing something, especially if its something that takes me a lot of effort to put into words, I tend to be constantly creating new files. And passages of text get cut and pasted all over the place and files frequently get renamed. For various reasons, CVS doesn't seem to be suited to this kind of situation.

As a bit of a digression, here's a little on how my writing process seems to go. At any point in the process what I've already written will have tried out certain angles, and explored certain connections or aspects of the concepts, and at certain points it makes sense to start a new file.

I'm might start a new file if it seems more productive to explore something a bit different (because it's more of a "fresh start" and seems to keep things a bit clearer).

Or I might start a new file to "start over again", as what I've already written might give me a better sense of how "it all fits together", and it's usually much more effecient to just start with a new file than to go through and edit what I've already written.

When I put some information about the chronology of files into their filenames, which helps manage things. And at some point I'll go through the earlier files and see if there's anything in them that I should take out and use in the later files (though this description makes it sound a lot more straighfoward than it is in reality).

Back to version control systems. Here's what I'd like one to do (keep in mind this is just a wish list):

  • Seamlessly integrate with the file system and other tools. Pretty obvious, at least as a high level goal, though perhaps not as obvious in the details:
    • being aware of file-system events and the ability to automatically respond to them:
      • whenever a new file/directory is created, automatically put it under version control
      • whenever a file/directory is deleted, no longer keep track of it in the version control system, but retain the older versions of it
      • dealing with file and directory renaming and moving
      • etc
  • be able to automatically commit changes, such as when the file is saved or when the computer is shut down. Optionally present a dialog box for entering comments when the file is commited.
A major theme is that I want version control that doesn't require me to do anything in addition to the way I usually manage the files. Because I'm frequently creating, renaming and removing files, there's too much overhead with something like CVS that requires things like manual commits etc.

I understand there are reasons why you would want the ability to have manual control, and what I'm saying is that I'd like a system that lets you choose what sort of behaviour -- manual or automatic -- you'd like.

And ideally, a system that has this functionality built in / bundled with it (rather than requiring you to write your own tool to implement the automated functionality by itself making the manual calls to the version control system when the file system events occur).

I was going to write a bit about the investigation into version control systems I've done, but I need to finish up this post now... so I'll just briefly say that so far Subversion seems to be the best freely available one. Here's some more info: a book on Subversion; a version-control system comparison; and an article on the newer version-control systems out there.

What I'd really like is a system that does version control down to the level of individual characters, and keeps track of them when they're cut and pasted within and between documents. This is one of the things the Xanadu people wanted to do, and while they had trouble getting their ideas into working systems, there is a system that I recently saw a talk about, called TeNDaX, which actually does this for documents you're editing. From what I could tell from the talk and demo, it seemed pretty good.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Internally Quiet For a Day

I wonder, if you were completely alone for a day, could you suppress all verbal thoughts? Just how dependent on them are you, and how hard is it to shut them down? Would you just be drifting, or could you make decisions and carry out everyday tasks?

I'm really not sure what I'd expect. I'm trying to think whether I've ever been 'internally quiet' for extended periods of time, but I can't recall how long I've ever gone like that.

And could you spend a day interacting with other people, doing tasks and verbalising on the outside, but not on the inside?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Fact Coupled With Opinion

I've decided that I might as well start typing up quite rough notes to this blog, rather than waiting till I have something a bit more solid to say and concrete examples to illustrate the concepts with. So here goes...

In the current climate, saying that you understand a viewpoint is tantamount to saying that you approve of that viewpoint. The truth of the matter is, of course, that it's possible to understand a viewpoint that you are very critical of, and which you strongly disaprove of.

Unfortunately, the current climate it is assumed that statements are always expressing opinions. That is, statements of facts and statements of opinions are always coupled.

The standard way of expressing strong disapproval of something is to say that it's "crazy" or "illogical" or that you "don't understand it". I think the reason why understanding is equated with approval is that, it's believed that if something can be understood then it must "make sense".

And behind this view is, I believe, the notion that a view is constructed from some logical chain of reasoning, such that an incorrect view (this is why you strongly disapprove of it) is the result of poor logic. I've previously given some reasons why I think this view is wrong.

As I gave some explanations for then, I think views are more the result of perception and their underlying assumptions than the logic that goes into them.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

David Deutsch on "And Why?"

David Deutsch's answer to the Edge World Question Center 2001 "What questions have disappeared?". I've noted this down largely for my own future reference. My come in handy for PhD stuff.

"What Questions Have Disappeared...And Why?" Funny you should ask that. "And why? " could itself be the most important question that has disappeared from many fields.
"And why?": in other words, "what is the explanation for what we see happening?" "What is it in reality that brings about the outcome that we predict?" Whenever we fail to take that question seriously enough, we are blinded to gaps in our favoured explanation. And so, when we use that explanation to interpret regularities that we may observe, instead of understanding that the explanation was an assumption in our analysis, we regard it as the inescapable implication of our observations.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

Illustration of Ungrounded Concepts, By Way of Phillip Seymor Hoffman

Once again, some fairly quick and rough notes on how it seems to me people think...

A month or so ago, I was watching The Movie Show, and they had an interview with the actor Phillip Seymor Hoffman about the movie he was in, Owning Mahowny. In the interview, Hoffman commented on acting.

The way I remember it, he compared being an actor to being one of those people who balance spinning plates, because it involved mentally keeping track of a lot of thigns at once as you go about the performance.

One of the people I was watching it with said that they didn't think that was necessary for acting -- basically, that you could just do it as a natural expression of a character, that once you were familiar with the character and role, it should, to some extent, flow out from you.

Their point was, there's no need for acting to be so "calculated". And the fact (or at least it seems to be a fact -- I don't know this myself) that some of the best actors past and present have had a more "natural" style seems to support the point that it isn't necessary.

I disagreed with that point, becuase... because.. well, I couldn't put it clearly into words then, but I think I can now. The thing is, while some people might not need to be so calculated in their acting, others may well be. Their nature, the way they think, the way they go about doing things - any or all of these things just may not be suited to a particular style of acting.

You might argue that a natural style is better than a more calculated style. The issue here, however, was whether a more calculated style was necessary or not. (In passing I would say that I think this view that the use of "natural talants" makes something surperior is a myth -- but that's something I'll have to talk more about some other time).

Now, to the point of this post. I believe the mistaken view that a calculated style is unnecessary stemmed from thinking in terms of the concept "acting" without bringing "real world" considerations into the thinking. Rather than thinking through this issue of whether the calculated style was necessary in concrete terms, it was thought through in abstract terms.

Why was it thinking in terms of the concept "acting" and not concretely? I'm not sure best how to explain this. Perhaps the following might help. It's meant to be analogous to the stream of thoughts that might've gone through the person's head. It's just mean to be illustrative of the general nature of those thoughts:

you are thinking of the issue of whether a calculated style is necessary or not to be able to act well

you can think of examples of actors who act well, who do not require a calculated style

thus, to act well you do not need a calculated style.

That is, all of the thoughts are referencing the person's concept of "act[ing] well". This is what I meant about when I said they were thinking in terms of their concept of acting.

At no point did the person actually think that acting well (thus acting) requires people to do the acting, and that this fact might have some bearing on the matter. Making this realisation and considering whether it had any bearing is what I meant by bringing "real world" considerations into the thinking and makint it concrete.

If acting were just a single thing, as it implicitly was in the above train of thought, then if we can find any examples of where this thing does not require the calculation, then it shows that such calculation is not required.

In other words, the problem is when concepts are being applied, to think about real or imagined situations or issues, but not being grounded in the concrete details of the situation.

I hope this does not sound like an argument against the use of abstraction in thinking, because it's just an argument against inappropriate use of abstractions in thinking.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Jon Udell on The Scalability Myth

IT Myth 6: IT doesn't scale: Virtually any technology is scalable, provided you combine the right ingredients and implement them effectively

Here's some quotes:

In the end, scalability isn’t an inherent property of programming languages, application servers, or even databases. It arises from the artful combination of ingredients into an effective solution.

To get a bit off topic, and into my interest in perception, I'll point out that the view he's arguing against, that scalability is an inherent property of things, is another example of people perceiving properties as inherent parts of things. As if a certain application server simply has this property of scalability, regardless of how it is used. What this picture leaves out is that properties are usually context-sensitive, and arise because of the particulars of the given context. For example, colour is not a property that is inherently in an object, but is contextual, as it is dependent upon who the perceiver is - different types of animals have different types of colour perception machinery. The thing is, seeing properties in a context-free fashion is easier to do, and I think you have to learn how to, in general, see them in a context-sensitive fashion.

Formats and protocols that people can read and write enhance scalability along the human axis.

I thought this bit in the article was a bit vague. Scalability of what exactly? The number of varied people that can read and write it? I suppose that would be what he means.

Article on Free-will / Reponsibility

The Guardian reports:

A leading neuroscientist caused a sensation by claiming crimes are the result of brain abnormalities.

The idea that someone should not be punished if their abnormal neural make-up leaves them no choice but to break the law is contentious but not new. However, one prominent neuroscientist has sparked a storm by picking it up and turning it round. Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany's leading newspapers, Wolf Singer argued that crime itself should be taken as evidence of brain abnormality, even if no abnormality can be found, and criminals treated as incapable of having acted otherwise.

His claims have brought howls of outrage from academics across the sciences and humanities. But Singer counters that the idea is nothing but a natural extension of the thesis that free will is an illusion - a theory that he feels is supported by decades of work in neuroscience.


Sunday, August 15, 2004

Misinterpreting Negative Obeservations

As with everything on this blog but in particular here: this should be seen as a rough draft. At this stage, I'm not writing this to try to convince anyone, I'm writing it as a starting point for understanding and building my argument

Consider the following

P1: Teddy is unfair to others
P2: That's the way he is, do you expect him to act differently?

Imagine that P1 was just saying this because they wanted to express their disaproval of Teddy, and they wanted to make this disaproval clear to P2. P1 might want to get P2's help in doing something about Teddy's behaviour. In this situation, P2's response to P1 was inappropriate.

P1's statement was an observation that was critical of something (Teddy's behaviour), yet P2 took it as a statement of disbelief and/or a statement that the past should have been different. I think P2's response is illustrative of a common way of thinking. I think kind of thinking people don't necessarily explicitly interpret the statements in the mistaken way, but implicitly interpret them this way, through the way they think about them and respond to them.

In some situations it may be the case that P1's statement really was an expression of disbelief, and/or it was an after-the-fact expression that the past should have been different, such that P2's response would have been fine. But the point I'm trying to make here is that in the situations where neither of these things are the case, it is very common for people to interpret statements as if they were. I'm saying that there's some bias there in the way many people think that makes them interpret statements in this way, even if they really don't have any grounds for doing so.

I want to explain why I believe it is quite valid to make disapproving observations. While it is pretty much just whinging if you're constantly making disapproving observations for no good reason, it's fine to just express your opinion on the topic -- no different to saying you liked or disliked a film, or saying that the weather has been hot lately.

There may be a point to making the disaproving observation. You may just bring up things you notice, and you may be the kind of person that tries to do what they can about things they notice. You may just bring up the thing to see what the other person has to say about the topic -- whether they think Teddy is also unfair to others or not. This could help firm up your opinion -- or you might just find out that you've just caught Teddy at a bad time and that usually he's quite reasonable.

For complex problems, you first need to understand them. And identifying the various issues is an important part of understanding the overal problem. You won't be able to consider what can be done -- or whether anything can be done -- about the overal problem until you understand it. Or more simply, you may simply be stating the issues first before talking about how you want to address them. So disaproving observations are certainly valid things to make.

While these flawed interpretations may seem fairly obvious easy to spot, in practice they can be difficult to pick up and hard to know how to deal with them. You can even end up thinking there was something unreasonable about what you said. I think the first part of the reason for this is that responses based on such interpretations are true, and since truth implies validity, can easily be taken as an effective response.

Here's why the response is true. It says "That's the way he is, do you expect him to act differently?" and it is true because: yes, that is the way Teddy is, and true, I should not have expected him to be different to how he is. The thing is, of course, that a response doesn't just have to be true, it has to also be making a relevant point about the thing it is responding to. Unfortunately, people in general seem satisfied with truth by itself; you ave to be conscious that it has to be an appropriate truth. The second part of why it can be difficult to deal with such responses is that you have to be able to think of why it is not an appropriate type of response -- which is harder to do in the heat of the moment -- and you have to be able to explain this to, or illustrate this for, the other person.

I think this issue is more important than it seems. Here's a very quick sketch of why; I will have to come back to this later on. Such modes of interpretation create an environment where it is difficult to be critical of things unless you've got a solution you want to present. It leads to simplistic views on what's wrong with things, and to simplistic views on how problems can be fixed. Real, complex problems require a deep understanding in order to chart out reasonable ways of addressing them, and a deep understanding of things require you to go for long periods of time knowing a problem exists but not knowing what is causing it or how it can be addressed. In effect, such an environment acts as a barrier to gaining an adequate understanding of problems.

I May Never Have To Get Out of Bed Again

I've just discovered that I can use my laptop while lying down in bed. I feel like... when they... um, like one of those dudes who made a major discovery.

To support the laptop I just bend my knees up a bit, so they're pointing up to the ceiling and so the soles of my feet are flat on the bed. The front edge of the laptop sits around my belly button area, and the back edge sits up towards my knees. And to see the screen clearly, I have to open it up wider than usual.

This is a revelation. Now when my back gets sore I'll be able to keep doing stuff at the computer, and I'll be able to say to people "I've just got to lie down and do some work".

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Word name as model e.g. - "Interference"

I'm just noting this example down for my future reference. I want to collect examples of words whose names suggest what they are about, but misleadingly so. (The term 'stretching' is an example of this; while it implies that you're stretching your muscles, what you're really doing is getting them to relax -- people hurt themselves stretching because they think it really is about stretching the muscles).

Clay Shirky, talking about radio:

If two or more broadcasters are using the same frequency, a standard receiver won't be able to discern one signal from another. Though engineering parlance calls this interference, the waves aren't actually interfering with one another -- rather the profusion of signals is interfering with the receiver's ability to listen to one specific signal.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Meaning, Unfolding


   o n e

  on no el

 onl non els

only none else

note: the effect depends on this being formatted properly, so if the words aren't printed in a monospace font and don't form a pyramid shape, the formatting is out. If you're viewing the page via an RSS feed -- I'm mainly talking to you, Planet DSTC people -- then viewing the original post should give you the right formatting

Understanding is Not Enough

Just a short quip:

The hard part is not recognising the existance of -- and understanding -- our perceptual and cognitive quirks, limitations and biases, the hard part is in recognising the situations when they apply to ourselves.

Or perhaps it would be better worded slightly differently (changes highlighted):

The hard part is not recognising the existance of -- and understanding -- our perceptual and cognitive quirks, limitations and biases, the hard part is in learning to recognise the situations when they apply to ourselves.


As we all know, the downside of microwaves is soft pie pastry and other such soggyness. If you want crispyness, you can heat up the oven, but it takes too long if you also want a quick result, and as an alternative a toaster oven is not that much better. I've heard of microwave ovens with a browning element (so they're a mix between a microwave and a toaster over, I assume), and though I'm not sure how much better they are, I can't imagine that in the 3 1/2 minutes the pie is being microwaved it wouldn't make the pastry that much crispier.

So I was thinking, could you get oven-style crispy pastry at microwave speed? More specifically, something that could make the pastry on a microwaved pie crispy? No having to wait for a body of air to be heated up or anything like that - just zap and it's crisp. Could you instantly generate a blast of heat and use that? Maybe you quickly expose the surface to flames (if this apparartus was part of the microwave, you wouldn't want your pie still wrapped up in paper-towels!). I don't enough to say what the alternatives are, and whether any of them would be technically feasible, nor whether any of the technical feasible options are practically feasable (eoonomically, safety-wise, etc), but I can tell you that the idea is high up there on my list of useful-devicees-I-would-like, right up there with time-machines and personal jetpacks :-).

Monday, August 09, 2004

Interesting-Sounding Talk (in Sydney) On Consciousness

I wish I was in Sydney so I could go along to this event, 'Are you conscious right now?':

Join Dr Susan Blackmore (UK expert on consciousness), Dr Alun Anderson (Editor-in-Chief, New Scientist magazine) and Dr Paul Willis (ABC TV Catalyst) for a drink and discussion on the nature of consciousness: How do you know when you are conscious? Could you ever be ‘aware’ of being unconscious? Does the stream of consciousness really exist? What can we do to develop our own unique consciousness? And what the heck is consciousness anyway? These ideas will be challenged and investigated by New Scientist editor-in-chief, Alun Anderson with questions from you - the audience.

I thought Susan Blackmore's book The Meme Machine was very good, and would like to hear her speak. The event's free and the page for it has details on booking. It's on Friday August 20 from 6.30pm at the College Street Foyer Cafe, Australian Museum, College St, Sydney.

"The Past Inside The Present"

Yesterday I bought Boards of Canada's most recent album (where 'most recent' actually means '2 years old'), Geogaddi. My reaction to this sort of music seems to always go from 'i'm not that impressed' to 'yeah, this isn't bad' to 'man, this is really good'. It's taken about four listens to the album to transition to the second reaction, and I'm currently on my way to the third.

Anyway, the original motivation for this post was the vocal sample

the past inside the present

which is in the album's second song, "Music is Math". I think it's a pretty cool sample, but I wanted to jot it down because I think it's of relevance to my PhD work, which is about the nature of information.

Consider the air particles vibrating against your ear drum (or whatever it is they vibrate against in your ear), "conveying" information about the sound source: the past (what happened at the sound source a moment ago) inside the present (the vibrations against your eardrum).

Not that I think that the line has any major relevance, mind you. (In fact, it hints at the view I think is wrong - that things carry something called information. That's why I put "conveying" in quotes earlier).

Invisible Changes

Thanks to Steven Livingstone for sending me these great visual illusions. They all involve scenes that look static but are actually continuously changing in very hard to detect ways. I thought the Workroom one was excellent, because it seems so obvious -- so there in your face -- once you know what's going on (I had to be told), yet so hard (at least for me) to see. I really like things like that which show up the "seams", so to speak, in our perception, which we are usually oblivious to. Not because there's any fun in belittling our assumed perceptual powers, but because they're illustrative of a truth I think we ought to be aware of.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

The Onion: CIA Asks Bush To Discontinue Blog

CIA Asks Bush To Discontinue Blog

WASHINGTON, DC—In the interest of national security, President Bush has been asked to stop posting entries on his three-month-old personal web log, acting CIA director John E. McLaughlin said Monday.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Everybody! Everybody! Homestar Runner Wiki!

1) What's a Homestar Runner? 2) What's a Wiki? 3) Why am I so excited?

  1. A very funny web-site of various cartoons, most notably Strong Bad's e-mails

  2. A type of website that allows any of its readers to edit pages on the site and add new pages to the site

  3. Actually, I'm not that excited -- the "Everybody! Everybody!" thing is something from the Homestar Runner main page -- though the wiki is pretty cool.

The site is here. While it is just a resource of information related to Homestar Runner 1) Homestar Runner is just so friggin cool 2) it's pretty comprehensive on all things Homestar Runner, and contains some pretty interesting and actually useful information for Homestar Runner fans. Which makes it a perfect resource for all your school assignments.

Like, on the weekend, before I came across the wiki, I was introducing my dad to the joys of Strongbad's e-mails (you can tell I like Homestar Runner), and I wanted to find the one that contained the first episode of Dangeresque!, but since the index of e-mails only give their names and no other details, I couldn't find it. It was fairly easy to find via the wiki because it contains pages with synopsises for each e-mail.

And, via the site, I found some pictures of the guys behind the cartoons:

I'd always wondered who they were. Weird to think that one of these guys (not sure which) does all the character voices (except Marzipan) -- The King of Town, Homestar, Coach Z, Stongbad etc. I figure his real voice is some sort of amalgamation of these.

C'mon, Do the Locomotion

I received an e-mail containing this quote in its signature:

Most people believe that physicists are explaining the world. Some physicists even believe that, but the Wu Li Masters know that they are only dancing with it. - Gary Zukav*

Indeed, but it's been one hell of a dance, and unlike your average waltz it's had a huge impact -- both good and bad -- on this world of ours.

So what, if we don't and can't know what something ultimately is? The fact that we can survive in this world and do all the thigns we can do shows that our understanding of it is not totally broken. And we can always strive to improve that understanding.

But more to the point, why is an absolutely perfect understanding necessarily so significant? You can think of it this way: would it necessarily make a big difference to achieve that extra 0.1% of understanding if you were already 99.9% there?

* I believe this quote is from the book The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Why Would I Buy A CD I Can't Rip?

I've bought every Beastie Boys album except their first, and I would like to get their latest, except for the stupid copy-controlled CD it comes on. If you haven't heard of copied controlled CDs, they don't meet all the requirements of the CD standard, and thus only work on certain players and -- for some reason I'm not totally sure of -- can't be copied or ripped into MP3s. If you're after more details, there's plenty of pages on the topic out there.

The mark of the devil (aka the copy controlled logo)

Why would technology that stops copies of the CD being made stop me from buying it? These days I have all my music on my laptop in MP3 format. It's much more convenient, and has the big advantage that you can create playlist mixes of music that run for hours and can sample from any of the albums you have. I'm too used to the convenience, and compared to it, the CD's are a pain: you first have to locate the CD case you're after; you can only listen to one CD at a time, and if you want to music to go where you go you have to take the CD; you also have put the CD in the drive when you want to listen to it, and take it out again when you're finished; and while you're listening to the music the CD drive isn't available for use for other things.

I think there's something hamfistedly barbaric about trying to deal with piracy in a way that stops you from playing the music how you want to. I know all you big record company executives read my blog, so I hope you're paying attention, (with a sneer:) y'all!

You can apparently rip these CDs with some software called Isobuster. However, according to its online help, to do this it requires the right sort of CD drive. As I understand it, the capabilities that the drive has to have don't seem to relate to specific features -- that you could look up in some documentation -- so while I might be able to find out if my drive is one of those it will work with, who knows how long that might take -- it doesn't seem to me worth the effort.