Friday, March 31, 2006

Scilab: Correlation Matrix

This is a Scilab-related post that may be of little interest to most of the people who read this blog.

The following code is provided as is with no warranties express or implied or statutory or whatever, standard disclaimers apply, use at your own risk, yatta, yatta, yatta. If you find any problems, please make a comment.

Here's a little Scilab function for calculating a Correlation Matrix.

function [y] = correlation(m)

// copy source

x = m;

// subtract mean and scale appropriately

[nrows,ncols] = size(m);

for i=1:ncols

mu = mean(x(:,i));

sgi = 1.0 / (sqrt(nrows-1) * stdev(x(:,i)));

x(:,i) = (x(:,i) - mu) * sgi;


// x'x

y = x' * x;


And here's a shorter version...

function [y] = correlation(m)

vc = varcovar(m);

t = inv(diag(sqrt(diag(vc))));

y = t*vc*t;


Note: If you're concerned with issues of stability and performance, see Knuth, this Wikipedia entry, etc.

Scilab: Variance-Covariance Matrix

This is a Scilab-related post that may be of little interest to most of the people who read this blog. I'll try to title any future Scilab posts similarly for easy avoidance. This mostly serves as a personal note, but, hopefully, others might find it useful.

The following code is provided as is with no warranties express or implied or statutory or whatever, standard disclaimers apply, use at your own risk, yatta, yatta, yatta. If you find any problems, please make a comment.

Here's a little Scilab code I wrote to calculate a Variance-Covariance Matrix (MathWorld, NIST).

function [y] = varcovar(m)

   // copy source

   x = m;

   // dimensions

   [nrows,ncols] = size(m);

   // scaling factor

   scale = sqrt(1.0 / (nrows-1));

   // subtract mean from each column

   for i=1:ncols

      x(:,i) = (x(:,i) - mean(x(:,i))) * scale;


   // x'x

   y = x' * x;


Example using NIST data

-->x = [4.0 2.0 0.60; 4.2 2.1 0.59; 3.9 2.0 0.58;
 4.3 2.1 0.62; 4.1 2.2 0.63]

 x  =

    4.     2.     0.6

    4.2    2.1    0.59

    3.9    2.     0.58

    4.3    2.1    0.62

    4.1    2.2    0.63


 ans  =

    0.025      0.0075     0.00175

    0.0075     0.007      0.00135

    0.00175    0.00135    0.00043

Note: If you're concerned with issues of stability and performance, see Knuth, et al.

Heirs of Enik

There are many single issue blogs, and there are a few to which I subscribe. Some I have trouble reading regularly, because I find them too redundant for my tastes, but that doesn't mean I think they're doing anything wrong; it's simply their format, how they function, the purpose they serve.

Some of these single issue blogs are dedicated to battles against ignorance and stupidity.

This is the year 2006. Two hundred years ago, although he was not without his faults, we did have a president who was a genius, a deist and a firm believer in Reason. That was a long time ago, before Darwin, before Crick & Watson, before Einstein and countless other brilliant minds and discoveries. Looking at the situation two hundred years later, today's America seems unthinkable and surreal.

In many single issue blogs, I see a lot of brilliant people spending a good proportion of their time fighting ignorance and stupidity. This leaves me with mixed emotions. I find satisfaction and hope in seeing passionate people making an effort. On the other hand, there's an accompanying anger and sense of hopelessness in seeing so much precious brain power spent fighting battles won long ago.

The war between Reason and ignorance has gone on for millenia and, frankly, at this particular point in time, it really doesn't look like Reason is gaining ground; quite the contrary, it often seems like Reason is spinning and stumbling around the ring trying to keep its gloves in the air. It's very frustrating.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Pleasure & Piety

Pleasure & Piety

San Diego Chicken weak link in bird flu preparedness

Once again, the obvious has been overlooked.

Experts continue to analyze the threat of avian influenza (H5N1) mutating and making the leap from chicken-to-person communicability to person-to-person transmission. Meanwhile the obvious evolutionary stepping stone for the virus, the bird man from San Diego, continues to roam freely without raising the slightest concern. It's a mad world.

The bird man from San Diego must be stopped!

The Best Way by The Jazz Butcher


A large-scale study of brain development pinpoints the anatomical changes that are linked to IQ. (MIT Tech Review). My sympathies to KWC for all the silliness raining down him from The Discovery Channel. There are thin clients and there are thin clients. How about a PC taking the form of a wall jack? I realized today that one can get RSS feeds of new DVD releases from Netflix. Nice! Bad marketing ideas is a topic to which I've considered devoting time. Washington State's new slogan: Say WA! Thinkers at Crooked Timber have been debating Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science. Scientific American: Why Are Some Animals So Smart? (via 3QD). MIT invents a device that determines if you're boring (via BoingBoing). One explanation Why Ugly Web Sites are Successful (via Design Observer). And, finally, actually saying something remotely on topic given the alleged mission of this blog, MIT Tech Review on new photo-sharing sites with The Photo-Sharing Bubble. (Wow! Three MIT links in one post!) Also, Stewart and Caterina on the cover of the Rolling Stone, um, I mean the cover of Newsweek. (Also, there's yet another How Geeky Are You? quiz in the issue as well.) Scientists discover T. rex soft tissue (MSNBC).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Generality, Specificity & Computing

Tom Evlin's post about David Isenberg & The Rise of the Stupid Network left me thinking about a design principle that I try to follow. It's also one that I try impress on software engineers I mentor. It's really pretty simple:

Find the most general solution possible.

A more general solution translates into a solution that is applicable to a larger domain. Introducing unnecessary specifics always translates into a reduction of the solution space, the solution will be unnessarily less useful and capable of solving fewer problems.

For example, one might create a software function to calculate the volume of a building. The question to ask is whether or not a function that calculates the volume of a space can be used instead. A more general implementation might be useful in calculating, say the volumes of ice cubes. This is the general idea.

Over the course of years and years of creating software, I have repeatedly run into cases where I needed to solve a problem very similar to one I had already solved, but I was unable to use my original solution because I had introduced all sorts of unnecessary specifics from the original problem domain. "Ack! If I'd written this more generally, I'd be able to use it here too!"

The more I made a conscious effort to avoid unnecessary specifics and create general solutions, the more I've found myself in situations where my software could be reapplied in domains I'd never even considered when I did the original design, just like the Stupid Network that went on to do all sorts of things beyond the intentions of its designers.

Why do so many unnecessary specifics creep into software design? Part of it may be human nature, my first inclination is to strictly design a solution for a specific problem, and this seems to be the case with the people with whom I've worked. Designing generally takes a little more time, because it requires extra thought and sometimes some extra work; unfortunately, time is usually a scarce resource.

It might sound silly, but part of the problem is that many computer languages, such as C++, naturally seem to steer engineers toward specifics. This is the case, because there are other advantages to be gained in being specific; e.g., it's easy to check for errors at compile time before an application is even run. This is a complaint made by many advocates of "dynamic languages" (that debate needs to be the subject of another post).

Specifics are the bane of some computing problems, especially problems involving a lot of communication. Mr. Evslin's post demonstrates the power of generality over specificity in solving communication problems. In a Stupid Network, general data is organized into generalized packets that are addressed and shipped across a network; this Stupid Network has proved to be much more powerful than so-called "Intelligent" Networks by exploiting this principle.

Most communication problems can be considered even more generally in the form of transportation problems. Communication amounts to the transportation of information. Transportation networks have existed much longer than communication networks, and words like "packet" and "address" find their sources in transportation. Generalizing communication problems as transportation problems allows one to leverage experiences gained over ages spent searching for solutions to transporation problems.

In the real world, there are some companies that specialize in transporting specifics; take for example, house movers and piano movers. But most of our shipping companies, Fedex, UPS, et al. ship generalities in the form of packages. Almost exclusively, they ship generic packages, packages encapsulating all sorts of specifics. As is often the case, there are algorithmic lessons to be learned from a good real world analogue; in this case, the value of principles regarding generality and encapsulation when it comes to transportation of both information and things.

In my opinion, there's a great deal of room for improvement in computer science when it comes to the development of computing languages and the problem of communication. In the beginning, most of our computing problems were problems of calculation. The need for calculation was the primary impetus. After that, came the era of large corporate databases. This created a need for storage, more calculation and some communication (but nothing like what we see today).

With the advent of the Internet, graphical user interfaces (which rely on sending messages) and web applications, the computing problems that seem to be occupying most of our time are problems of communication (aka data transportation). The programming languages and supporting systems we use don't seem to be particularly well suited for this.

Expressed as simply as it can be expressed, these communication problems amount to moving data from point A to point B. This is a succinct definition of the general problem. In theory, it is a much easier problem than it currently is in practice using existing tools. There appears to be a lot of room for generalization and improvement in this area; much of the trouble seems to stem from hassles coming in the form of unnecessary specifics.

Visual Least Squares

Simple examples demonstrating important mathematical concepts are beginning to translate into a recurring theme here (1, 2, 3). This is largely motivated by a desire to collect them so they're available when the opportune time comes to explain the ideas to my children. This time, it's a visual demonstration of least squares fitting.

(via Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Statistics)

Walk the Line by Johnny Cash

Hidden CJD is a New Threat to Thousands

If the global warming link wasn't enough, this isn't particularly reassuring either:

"THOUSANDS of people in Britain may be infected with variant CJD, the human equivalent of mad cow disease, without knowing it, research suggests.

Experiments have confirmed that it is possible for a much wider group of people than had been assumed to be infected with the incurable brain condition. The presence in the population of undetected carriers of the infection has serious implications for the safety of the blood supply, and it increases the risk of passing on vCJD to others through infected surgical instruments."

London Times

Time: Global Warming

Time gets serious about global warming.


Monday, March 27, 2006


Nemester is an online community that connects paranoids, egotists, villains, and monomaniacs through networks of competing agendas and incompatable ideologies for bitter conflicts, mutual loathing, or to find their one, true nemesis.


(via Ego Food)

Be My Enemy by The Waterboys

The Rise of the Stupid Network

A must-read post at Fractals of Change:

"Over one weekend in May of 1997 David Isenberg, who then worked at AT&T Labs Research (nee Bell labs), wrote a paper called The Rise of The Stupid Network which explained (and still explains) with breathtaking simplicity why the Internet is superior to the “intelligent networks” favored by traditional telcos and was about to crater the value of these expensive networks. The paper is especially relevant now at a time when telcos and organizations like the ITU (a communications arm of the UN) are trying to use regulation to reconstitute the outmoded intelligent network regardless of the demonstrated success of the stupid network in doing everything the intelligent network was designed to do and much, much more at a fraction of the cost (could that be their problem?)"


Dare to be Stupid by Weird Al

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Down with the Shutters

The Economist has a piece on the digital camera market:

"In little more than a decade, sales of digital cameras have soared; they have now almost completely replaced film cameras. But now even the digital camera business is maturing. After growing by 670% in 2000-05, unit sales of digital cameras are slowing. Worldwide sales are expected to rise to just over 100m a year by 2009, an increase of only 26% (see chart). At the same time, prices are tumbling. Digital cameras have rapidly become a “mature” consumer product."


Peg by Steely Dan

Gates Mocks MIT's $100 Laptop Project

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates on Wednesday mocked a $100 laptop computer for developing countries being developed with the backing of rival Google Inc. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."


(via Bostonist)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus


Bizarre, fascinating, filled with great cinematography and excellent music. Musician Jim White and film-maker Andrew Douglas take you on a surreal trip through the American South... swamps, Pentecostal churches, bars, jails and trailer homes.

The Guardian writes:

"White says that 'sometimes I'm labelled an oddball', but he must have been called worse things than that. His life story has been a hair-raising ride through rejection, drug abuse and breakdowns, except for the past few years when he finally found his identity, and began making some of the most haunting, tantalising music you could wish to hear. Drill a Hole is his third album for David Byrne'sLuaka Bop label, following on from Wrong-Eyed Jesus and No Such Place, and it's remarkable for the way it blends White's dense imagery with a funk/blues/Cajun/ambient fusion that seems to exist as much in the mind as in a defined physical space.

It was the Wrong-Eyed Jesus album that seized the attention of film-maker Andrew Douglas, whose documentary for the BBC's Arena, Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, uses White's music and natural talents as a mythologiser as guides on a mysterious journey through the hinterlands of the American south. From bayou shacks to trailer parks, ecstatic Pentecostal services to the Where Jesus is Lord truckstop diner, it illuminates a land that time forgot, riddled with folklore, poverty, raw and soulful folk music and a sense of holy dread that most city-dwellers have lost touch with."

Film site

Amazon soundtrack link. (Song recommendation: Still Waters)

Strange Loops

Was going to make a snappy comment about this, but this may be one of those situations where less is more.

Markets & Morals

In a 150th anniversary retrospective for the Atlantic Monthly, Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz has been doing a series titled "Markets & Morals." Included are links to Atlantic archive pieces from William Demarest Lloyd, John Maynard Keynes, John Kenneth Galbraith, Peter Drucker and Lester C. Thurow.

"Taken together, the five articles excerpted here exemplify the ways in which large-minded thinkers can illuminate the complexities of the sometimes mysterious-seeming economic world—dispelling harmful myths, opening readers’ eyes to insidious abuses or unrecognized potentials, and equipping ordinary citizens with tools not merely for weathering the prevailing economic system but for engaging with it in a positive and strategic manner."


Judging a book by its ISBN

Barnes & Noble's book buyback service will give you a price quote if you enter an ISBN.


You can even enter the ISBN with or without the dashes (perhaps my small gift to humanity is beginning to pay off. {grin}).

Friday, March 24, 2006

2020 - The Future of Computing

Nature provides free access to a collection of articles on the future of computing...

"This Nature web focus combines commentaries from leading scientists and news features analysis from journalists assessing how computing science concepts and techniques may transform mainstream science by 2020. Visit's newsblog to read and post comments on the future of computing. Image: Joe Magee"


(via Computational Complexity)

Thursday, March 23, 2006



Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Dyscalculia, Athlete, Prison Pals & The Office

"Scientists say they have isolated the area of the brain linked to the maths learning disability dyscalculia." BBC News (The next question: should this affliction bar one from running for political office?)

It's time for the periodic changing of the disc. The new winner is Tourist by Athlete. Hints of Death Cab, Coldplay, light bodied with a slight pear aftertaste...

Years ago, almost before Internet (grin), when I was just a wee lad, knee-high to a grasshopper (i.e., in college), I spent some time bantering on an ancient network called BITNET with this character. It's all a bit fuzzy, but after all these years, I ran into him again, and he still makes me laugh. In Prison Pals, Mr. Trupin takes a look at

Finally, I have to offer continued praise for NBC's The Office which has really come into its own this season. It has a great cast, excellent direction. It's truly hilarious and very well done!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Science and Meaning

In the Gay Science, Nietzsche wrote:

"A 'scientific' interpretation of the world, as you understand it, might therefore still be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. This thought is intended for the ears and consciences of our mechanists who nowadays like to pass as philosophers and insist that mechanics is the doctrine of the first and last laws on which all existence must be based as on a ground floor. But an essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world. Assuming that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a 'scientific' estimation of music be! What would one have comprehended, understood, grasped of it? Nothing, really nothing of what is 'music' in it!"

These are words that ring very true with me. At the same time, I'm a strong proponent of science, reason, progress, and discovering and understanding our world. I see no conflict between meaning and science, just different worlds with which we as human beings must contend. There is the world of existence, which is inside the domain of science, but there is also the world of meaning, which I believe is outside the domain of science. I think both the sciences and the humanities are too slow to acknowledge the boundaries separating them, and I think both are too quick when it comes to discounting the necessity of the other.

I am a fan of E.O. Wilson, but when it comes to the issue of meaning, I think he tries to push science outside of its domain. (Nietzsche wins this point.) Salon interviews Harvard's father of sociobiology on religious belief.

(via Pharyngula)

This Essay Breaks the Law

Michael Crichton - This Essay Breaks the Law

"...ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent. "

continued in NYT

Who's Who on eBay?

After Googling "metamerist" I realized there are two metamerists on eBay. Jeez-Louise, good luck with trying to think up a unique and nonsensical moniker on the Net.*

So, anyhow, I noticed metamerist on eBay has a seller's rating with 99% positive feedback. This is not me. I am metamerist1 on eBay, and I have a seller's rating with 100% positive feedback.

I am one louder, um, I mean 1% better than the other metamerist. (Not necessarily the case statistically given my 21 transactions vs. his/her 103 transactions, but...)

Just trying to clear my good name.

* "There are a billion people in China. It's not easy to be an individual in a crowd of more than a billion people. Think of it. More than a BILLION people. That means even if you're a one-in-a-million type of guy, there are still a thousand guys exactly like you.” -- A. Whitney Brown


Thought I was a decent Boggle player, but the people playing in this multi-player online Boggle are insane. Unless something has changed in the last couple days, registration requires nothing more than a nickname.

6000 ninety-year-old recordings free & online

NYT: "Last November, the Donald C. Davidson Library at the University of California, Santa Barbara, introduced the Cylinder Digitization and Preservation Project Web site (, a collection of more than 6,000 cylinders converted to downloadable MP3's, WAV files and streaming audio. It's an astonishing trove of sounds: opera arias, comic monologues, marching bands, gospel quartets. Above all, there are the pop tunes churned out by Tin Pan Alley at the turn of the century: ragtime ditties, novelty songs, sentimental ballads and a dizzying range of dialect numbers performed by vaudeville's blackface comedians and other "ethnic impersonators."

(via Leiter Reports)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Life, Liberty and a Favorable Ranking

There's no doubt about it, PageRank is a very valuable commodity. For many businesses, I'm sure a complete loss of PageRank would translate into severe financial consequences. In this respect, Google may be in position of power that is in many ways unprecedented, and it is in that position on a grand scale.

Yesterday, the legal blog Concurring Opinions offered an interesting post on an Internet site suing Google over a downgraded PageRank.

Watershed Web Event: CBS & NCAA Webcasts

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) -- CBS Corp.'s move to stream live telecasts of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship free of charge on the Web, beginning with this year's tournament, is a "watershed event" with vast implications for the television landscape, according to a former president of CBS Sports.


(via Ramesh Jain)

The 7 things you need to know to create a WPL

The Internet is perpetually home to wildly popular lists, lists bookmarked over and over and sent from friend to friend to friend via email. They wind up posted on the sides of cubicles. Some even serve as the basis of books. If you follow a few simple rules, you can create your own.

1. Sound authoritative. Over the years when people have asked me how to create a wildly popular list, the first thing I always tell them is to sound authoritative. If you don't, people may get the impression you don't know what you're talking about.

2. Come up with a TLA. Three letter acronyms have always been all the rage, are all the rage and always will be all the rage. If your concept is usually described with two words, add a word. If your concept is usually described with four words, remove a word. Most wildly popular lists (WPLs) contain at least one TLA.

3. Tell your audience what they want to hear. People don't like their beliefs challenged. The world's a crazy place, and it's comforting to hear personal beliefs validated by someone sounding authoritative. For example, the target audience for this list is skeptical people, who like me, believe that many of these lists are complete nonsense.

4. Include a personal anecdote to serve as a testimonial. Just the other day, a fellow came up to me with a draft of his list. He told me his list wasn't very popular. People weren't Digging it. I took a look, and immediately I saw the problem: it needed a personal anecdote. After he added one, his list became wildly popular.

5. If you run out of things to say, state the obvious. Everything you say occupies space, and things that occupy space can function as filler.

6. Repeat yourself. Either that, or you can always state the obvious.

7. Make sure your list contains the right number of items. Most successful lists contain 7 or 10 items. It is not the 8 Habits of Highly Effective People. Nobody's ever heard of the Nine Commandments.

by metamerist

Paul Graham's Blog

P.G. now lists a blog link from his main site.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Papaya in a Cantaloupe World

A Papaya in a Cantaloupe World

Taken at Whole Foods yesterday.

May as well throw in a few random thoughts. I noticed the checkouts now have signs stating that customers need to unload their own baskets so the checkers don't get repetitive stress injury. I'm not sure how something like this would go over with my employer. "I'll think up the ideas, if you type them in." KWC bought some aerogel and blogged about it. Too bad the stuff is so expensive, I'd like a large chunk of it like the one I saw at the Minnesota Science Museum a couple weeks ago. If you can hold on long enough, there is a scene in the film Dear Frankie that bumps it up no less than a full star. Good news for 3rd shift cooks, a drug that will let you do your job while you sleep. Josh Trupin cracks me up. After sniffing artist after artist on Y! Unlimited the other day, I'm trying to decide if I like the only contender for likability found: the Mercury Prize nominated London foursome known as Athlete. Yesterday in the grocery store, I noticed a steak sauce advertising low carbs. I thought by now everyone in America had finally heard about entire continents subsisting on carbohydrates and staying much thinner than us. Under interesting, check out the Speech Accent Archive to hear different accents from around the globe.

Don't Forget to Unpack Your Adjectives

When I was a kid, interspersed between Saturday Morning Cartoons was the ever educational Schoolhouse Rock. Decades later, the ditties from these little edutoons still return and stick in my head. A particularly memorable one encouraged viewers to "Unpack Your Adjectives." Until today, I never really realized how important it is to be able to unpack one's adjectives.

For example, this warship, the USS Gonzales, is a big boat...

In contrast, this tin can sailed by Somali pirates is a little boat...

It seems the pirates forgot to unpack their adjectives...

CBC News: "Sailors from the USS Cape St. George and USS Gonzalez were preparing to board the fishing boat when they saw the suspected pirates holding what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenade launchers. When the suspects began shooting, naval gunners returned fire with mounted machine guns." link


Next time you go on a trip,
Remember this little tip:
The minute you get back,
They'll ask you this and that.
You can describe people, places, and things.
Simply unpack your adjectives.
You can do it with adjectives.
Tell 'em about it with adjectives.
you can shout it with adjectives.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story

Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story

A Metacritic 80 with four 100 point reviews; the worst review, a 40, comes from David Denby at the New Yorker who writes "One trouble with the current vogue for meta-cinema is that its practioners, such as Winterbottom and Charlie Kaufman, underestimate the extraordinary difficulty of telling a good story straight."

We saw it last night. Given the subject matter and its convoluted story structure, it's hard not to compare it to Adaptation, one of my favorite films of past few years. The story of Tristram Shandy is a story within a story, the making of a movie adaptation of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. (1759-67).

The short answer: Coogan and Brydon do a great job. I went into it blind. Initially, I felt a little lost, which I found a bit irritating, but it quickly grew on me. Compared to most of the films out there, I'd say it's quite good, but it's hard for me to go beyond that without giving a greater nod to Charlie Kaufman's work.

One critic said it described the film as This is Spinal Tap meets a period piece, which is a description that also helps convey the flavor of the film.

Kernels & Marbles

At this point in life, I find myself thinking a lot about how to pass knowledge down to my children. Learning is often like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. There are so many pieces that almost fit, that look like they should fit, but they don't. Eventually, the right piece piece is found, the piece that fits perfectly in the puzzle and reveals an important aspect of the greater whole, and the accompanying insight brings with it distinct and intense senses of satisfaction and achievement. Richard Feynman was a master when it came to finding perfect kernels of truth to offer as explanation. How does one go about finding and categorizing those little kernels? Those little kernels offered that make it possible for some other human mind to make a leap?

In the past year, I've found myself reading research in unfamiliar fields such as bioinformatics, trying to cull relevant information for reapplication to the problems with which I contend. An old Norbert Weiner quote I once offered about the insular nature of various disciplines applies here. In one area, you'll find Principal Component Analysis, in another it's the Hotelling Transform, or the Karhunen-Loève transform. There's frustration and joy in finding there's been a lot useful work done in some discipline under some other code name. You're happy you found it, but you wish there was more standardization in terms of terminology across disciplines. (Of course there's so much information out there, experts within their own disciplines often prove already proven theorems or publish the already published.)

Finally, after absorbing more knowledge, I find myself wanting to throw it in a blender, mash it up and redistill it into a more cohesive whole. If there's any secret to applying knowledge effectively, I think it's having it properly organized in one's head. Every once in a while, we hear about being able to keep three things in our heads or being able to consisently remember only seven digits. In Geekspeak, it seems our brains have pretty small L1 caches. Given that, I believe it's extremely important to organize the knowledge inside our heads as effectively as possible. If I ask you to remember the positions of 10,000 marbles, good luck, but if I tell you they're all in a box, you only need to remember two things, the position of the box and the fact that marbles are inside it. With the right organization, problems get easier.

(Random song recommendation: Swingset Chain by Loquat)

I Rule!

My mother seems to be an expert at looking at the bright side of things, offering up aphorisms of yore like "I complained about my shoes until I met a man with no feet!" So I think I'll have to give her some credit for my coping skills and ability to shine new light on a bad situation. Thanks, Mom.

Now, rather than spewing expletives when one of my computers comes to a grinding halt, I am beginning to think of it as a gladiator battle between me and the CPU. On one side of the Colosseum is Metamerist, on the other side is Athlon 64.

Let the games begin!

My favorite weapons in this gladiator battle are Windows XP and a small cadre of demanding applications. Spartacus, eat your heart out. Just to put things into perspective, here's a little chart that demonstrates just how powerful today's processors are in terms of yesterday's supercomputers:

Everytime I bring my computer to its knees, where it's screaming for mercy, the hard drive sounds like a band saw and the system is straining to paint anything more than one scan line per second, I just want to jump up in the air with the two clenched fists of a champion à la Chariots of Fire.

I win!

I rule!

I'm so good I can't wait to take a swing at something with the power of a Cray-90.

It's all about how you look at things.

Friday, March 17, 2006

612+ Virtual Cardboard Boxes Full of Ephemera

A while back, I picked up an ultracompact digital camera. Since then it's been a miniature, constant companion, and I find myself snapping pictures nearly every day. I am wonder if this is translating into a minor lifestyle change.

Andy Warhol used to keep a cardboard box next to his desk into which he'd toss things accumulated over the course of his life. After he died, he left behind a warehouse of 612 boxes of accumulated ephemera. There's no way I can handle that level of actual clutter, but a comparable volume of virtual clutter is something I can handle.

The story of Warhol's boxes is an interesting one. Check out Warhol's Time Machine at Also, there's an online exhibition of the Time Capsule #21 at

Time to take picture of a soup can, circa 2006.

Richard Feynman

From time to time I've seen blog posts on the subject of a blogger's heroes and influences. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other technogiants are frequent picks. I feel like I could come up with a pretty long list on this subject, but sparing you that, I think I'll focus on my first pick: Richard Feynman.

In the land of Myers Briggs, Feynman was quintessentially "ENTP." Whether MBTI is nonsense or not doesn't really matter here, because the statement "ENTP" does, I believe, succinctly convey his personality: a creative, outside-the-box thinker, whimsical and, of course, brilliant.

He was puckish--cracking safes, demonstrating the cause of the Challenger disaster on national television with a C-clamp and kindergarten words, naming one of his books in mockery of Princeton's high tea.

At the same time, Feynman was earnest, approachable and true to his simple Long Island roots. He was genuinely curious and cared deeply about knowledge, human progress and teaching. His lectures on physics are legendary.

His legacy is full of anecdotes. I'll finish this post up with personal favorite:

Richard Feynman was once asked by a younger colleague: "Dick, explain to me, so that I can understand it, why spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics." Feynman answered: "I'll prepare a freshman lecture on it." Feynman came back a few days later and said: "I couldn't do it. I couldn't reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don't really understand it."

Energy Drinks & Vitamin A

About a week ago, we stopped by a new local bakery / deli. They sold all sorts of funky energy drinks. I grabbed a can of the Airforce Nutrisoda Immune tangerine + lime. Due to the size (250ml) and the good taste, it was gone before I knew it. I could have easily downed a couple more of them. A reading of the supplement facts revealed the ~8 oz drink contains (at least) 100% RDA of fat-soluble vitamins A and E. This is the first time I've noticed significant quantities in an energy drink.

The thing is, Vitamin A accumulates in a person's body, these little drinks are tasty and that seems like a quite a bit of vitamin A in a relatively small package (250 ml / 8.45 oz). Lacking a concern for cost, it would be very easy to go through several of them in a day. Each can has claims to have 5,000 IU of retinol-based Vitamin A (palmitate).

According to NIH, here are the daily recommended allowances:

(mcg RAE)
(mcg RAE)
(mcg RAE)
(mcg RAE)
(mcg RAE)
(1,000 IU)
(1,320 IU)
(2,000 IU)
(3,000 IU)
(2,310 IU)
(2,500 IU)
(4,000 IU)
(3,000 IU)
(2,310 IU)
(2,565 IU)
(4,300 IU)

For most people, I doubt there's any cause for concern, but if your kids are consuming them daily or you are and you're pregnant, you may want to do more research or ask your doctor. Some of the studies cited have connected birth defects with consumption rates above 10,000 IU per day.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Daily Conundrum

Whenever I'm channel surfing and I land on an infomercial telling me how I can get rich in real estate, like many others I'm sure, the first question popping into my head is "Why would the next Donald Trump devote so much time to trying to sell get-rich-quick-books?"

Along the same line, a thought crossed my mind. What is the average PageRank of people selling services to increase PageRank? So I Google "increase pagerank" and see the context sensitive AdWords on the right side. I see "The Link Guy" is waiting to help me out.

When I get to Link Guy's site, I see he has a PageRank of zero.

Zero? Now, if you're trying even a little bit, I would think you'd be able to muster PR1. Is this a new site that hasn't been indexed yet? But if he hasn't been indexed yet, he must be pretty new at this and how can he be such an expert? Did Google pull The Link Guy's PR for TOS violations? And if they did, it seems like they're still willing to take his money.


It's a conundrum.

Typo Prompts RIAA to Prosecute Fire Sharers

"Los Angeles, CA - Because of a recent typo in a memo from Sony's head of Root Kit Installment, the RIAA has begun suing people for fire sharing.

Around 150 people have received summons so far, including an 83-year-old widow who left the stove on after baking scones for the local neighborhood watch group."

continued at BBspot

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

You Learn

Computer science is the wrong major for those who do not like to learn. If you major in computer science, you'll hopefully learn a great deal about algorithms, computers, programming, etc., but in many respects, you'll leave the university ignorant.

Few computer science careers involve computer science for the sake of computer science (and those I can think of entail continuous learning). In most situations, you're going to wind up helping others solve real world problems using computers, and that will entail understanding the problem domain well enough to come up with an appropriate software solution.

In my experience, coming up with a good software solution requires as thorough an understanding of the problem domain as possible. If you learn just enough to get by, it's silly to expect your software solution to be any better than your limited knowledge. Some of the worst software seems to be written by people who don't actually use it and/or aren't sufficiently familiar with the real world problems they're supposed to solve.

If you enjoy learning all the time, it might be a good field for you, but if you don't, a word of warning.

Pythagorean Theorem by Rearrangement

Amateur Turns Moral Philosophy on Its Head

Amateur philosopher Syl Gilbertson of Clyde, OH struck philosophical gold this morning, antiquating the entire corpus of moral philosophy from Plato to Peter Singer with the simple two word dictum "Be Good!"

In an exclusive afternoon interview, Gilbertson described his revelation. "I was just sitting in my bathroom, after my morning coffee, pondering right and wrong, good and evil, and it was like a little light went on and the answer came to me: Be Good!"

Gilbertson went on to enumerate an extensive list of world problems resulting from people not being good, beginning with obvious biggies such as war, torture and the suppression of political speech and moving on to issues such as protection of rights to privacy, making all the information in the world available at the click of a button, putting toilet seats down and making sure the Charmin rolls over the top.

When asked how such a simple and universal solution to all moral problems managed to elude human history's greatest thinkers, Gilbertson retorted, "The problem with great minds is that they tend to overanalyze problems. When people think too hard they can easily miss a simple solution staring them in the face. Just be good!"

Photo by WiseAcreDesign. Attempted satire by Metamerist. :-)

The Return of the Thin Man?

This morning I saw Ramesh Jain's post on Novatium's sub $100 PC. Yesterday, a friend sent me this interesting ZDNet piece by WYSE CEO on thin client computing and this video interview with ZDNet editor Dan Farber. Now, of course Kish has a vested interest, but I find myself agreeing with him.

At this point in time, I think a return to server-based computing is making more and more sense due to a number of factors including wi-fi speeds, Internet speeds, computer usage habits, software configuration / management issues, security issues, cost issues, etc.

I've had a post on the subject sitting on the back burner for some time. In light of the recent articles on the subject, I think I'm going to post it. If Joel Spolsky can feel comfortable posting drafts, I think I can too. Here are some drafty thoughts.

Server-based Computing Seems to be Returning in My Home

Although I'm usually not at the bleeding edge, I do tend to be "early adopter" end of the curve when it comes to many technologies. The current trend in home computing at my house can be well summarized as a return to server-based computing.

Before personal computers were the ancient days when computing, processing and storage were handled by mainframes or mini computers stowed away in air-conditioned back rooms and input and output were handled by (no, offense) dumb terminals or the later smart terminals, which by today's standards were pretty dumb too.

When personal computers initially appeared, software and data management was pretty simple. It was easy to install an operating system, it amounted to inserting a floppy into a drive and turning on the computer. Installing and uninstalling software was just as quick and easy. All you had to do was insert a floppy and type "A:MyApp.Exe" (and you didn't have to reboot three times in the process).

Upgrading to a new computer was easy because all the software was kept in a box on a shelf above the computer. It was as simple as taking the old computer away and putting the new one in its place. Before hard drives appeared, there were no personal files to move or software to reinstall. In retrospect, it's kind of amusing. In spite of all the zeal to make our lives better, things have certainly gotten worse on this front (by orders of magnitude). Upgrading to a new computer (especially for Windows users) has gotten to be a real nightmare.

Given the pain of configuration management these days, I'd really prefer to do it in one place. I'd rather concentrate as many of the installation and management hassles as possible on a server in a back room as opposed to trying to manage multiple computers for myself and members of my family. Managing multiple computers leaves me feeling like a one man I.S. department. Home networking speeds are good enough to handle remote sessions. I even do a lot of work on my computer at the office via Remote Desktop sessions traveling over wi-fi and VPN.

I develop software. My work entails using Microsoft's compiler to convert very large projects from C++ to executable programs, and on this front, the more horsepower I can get, the better. When I need serious computing power, I control more powerful machines remotely from my laptop. It's much cheaper for me to build a high-powered server and keep it in a back room than it is to try and put all that power into laptops that quickly burn through batteries and generate enough heat to keep my lap uncomfortably warm. What a minute... A server in a back room? What a novel idea!

Thanks to digital photography, I'm generating data I want archived at a rate of megabyes per click. This, too, winds up on my server. There are other advantages to this. The images can be accessed from other machines connected to my home network. Concentrating important data on a server also makes for easier back ups, and it makes it reduces the hassle of upgrading other home computers such as my laptop, because there's less data to migrate.

Ideally, and maybe it's time to research possibilities, I'd like to see the important data on my server backed up off site. I remember early in my career when I had a side duty of taking company back up tapes to the safe place we stored them off site. A lot of people are into RAID and backing things up on DVDs, etc., but if your house burns down, you're probably going to lose your RAID drives and your DVDs and everything else. Most data security meaures won't solve the problem of a fire. Given broadband Internet connections, the right way to do this should involve encrypting important data and transferring it over the Internet to a safe place off site. That way important data and digital family photos wouldn't be lost in a fire. (I wonder if there's a practical way to do this peer-to-peer with remote friends and family. Hmmm....)

Update (3/16/2006): ExtremeTech with the latest in online storage.

Using a PC as a video recorder (i.e., TIVO substitute) translates into a need for a lot of hard drive space as well. This doesn't need to be backed up off site, but it would be nice to store it on a single server. It would be really nice if a single video server could stream video to multiple rooms in one's home and provide on-demand video streaming to any properly-equipped computer or television in one's home. The same is true for music as well. A friend of mine recently did some home automation and has a nice set up for streaming music anywhere in his home. The way I see it, all of this adds up to a greater need for a really capable home server.

Creating a good server solves other problems that echo back to the days of mini and mainframe computing. For example, the more a home server approaches mainframes in terms function (processing, storage, back up, etc.), the more other home computers are free to approach dumb terminals in terms of function (with, of course, better graphics).

If all you need is a laptop that's able to offer a decent Remote Desktop session, you're not going to need a laptop with a hefty processor or a huge hard drive. (If network speeds get fast enough, you might not need or want a laptop hard drive at all. I think one can make a strong case against keeping important or sensitive data on laptops, because they can be easily stolen.)

Home servers have the potential to dramatically reduce the software and hardware requirements of other computers in the home (and reduce the time spent administrating those other computers). An immediate consequence of this is that it becomes much more cost-effective to have multiple home computers. I find this very desirable. For example, if computers are cheap enough I want a small one in my kitchen. I tend to get most of my recipes off the Net these days, and I've started bookmarking them in

The Net has radically changed the way many of us, if not most of us, use information, and it has created all sorts of new opportunities that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. If laptop and tablets were cheap enough, for example, I think I'd like a dedicated one in my kitchen just to serve as a recipe book. I already use my existing laptop to control my stereo. Kids need to use computers for their homework. If we can make laptops cheaper ($100 laptop), more people can afford them for their kids. One way to make them cheaper is by transferring some of the computing burden over to a server.

A work in progress...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ikea Dilemma

We went to Ikea tonight.

Walking through the store, I notice they have a limited two year warranty on all clocks. I start thinking that it's nice to get a warranty, but when there's a warranty, I wonder how much I'm going to pay extra for that warranty in terms of higher prices. I mean, they have to get the money back somewhere. This is where the dilemma began.

Below the warranty sign, they're selling these little plastic alarm clocks--the "Alleby" model--and they're going for twenty-five cents each. Not bad, considering the two year warranty, but this is where the dilemma really began take over.

I start thinking ahead. I imagine myself walking in the door with my brand new Alleby. Next, I decide that I better fill out the warranty card and send it in--if I don't do it right away, it never gets done, so I reach for a stamp, a 39 cent stamp...


Wait a minute, the stamp is more than 150% the price of the clock!

Given the economics of the situation, I may as well just buy two and forget about sending in any warranty cards; if the first one dies, I'll have a spare and I'll save a whopping 14 cents. And what would happen if I sent in the warranty and the first one failed under warranty? Would I have to send it back with postage costing eight times as much as the clock?

On second thought, maybe I should just get one clock, see how long it lasts and come back and get another one if it breaks down. On third thought, the gas to come back here is going to cost more than a second clock.

How do situations that should be simple become so complicated?

Scilab 4.0

Lately, I've been playing around with Scilab 4.0. It's very similar to Matlab, but it's a lot more affordable, because it's free. After evaluating a few other similar open source applications, I must say I'm quite impressed with Scilab.

Mostly, I have been using it to solve linear algebra problems. I may take the time to write a tutorial here and there, if I have time--basic stuff for an audience completely new to Matlab or Scilab.

When you start up Scilab, you'll find yourself in a text-based environment with a waiting prompt:


Oh, great wizard, what's 2+2? Enter "2+2"...

ans =

Presto! Now you have yet another tool for doing arithmetic.

How about creating a function to cube numbers?


Let's give it a whirl...

ans =

Let's assign values to some variables...

-->A = cube(5)
A =

-->B = A/25
B =

(to be continued)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Canal Park


The Knowledge -- Part I

MIT's Technology Review just started an unsettling three part series on bioweapons technology.

Soviet scientists were developing plague-like bioweapons in the 1980s. Why aren't we listening more to a key defector?

"Regarding the progress of biotechnology, Popov told me, 'It seems to most people like something that happens in a few places, a few biological labs. Yet now it is becoming widespread knowledge.' Furthermore, he stressed, it is knowledge that is Janus-faced in its potential applications. 'When I prepare my lectures on genetic engineering, whatever I open, I see the possibilities to make harm or to use the same things for good -- to make a biological weapon or to create a treatment against disease.'"


It's Rabies, Charlie Brown


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ulu, who knew?

An ulu much like the one shown above was among the gifts I received last Christmas. Initially, I was skeptical and considered it more of a novelty gift than anything else. I seriously doubted I'd ever use it. To my surprise it has become an indispensible kitchen tool. Because the center of force is directly above the center of the blade, it's great for chopping, especially the harder things that seem to require palm pressure above an ordinary kitchen chopping knife. It also works splendidly for mincing, because the curved blade is well suited for rocking back and forth over spices, herbs, etc. Three cheers for a great Inuit invention!

Pigeonholing Algorithms & Self-fulfilling Prophecies

Over the past decade, I've seen a number of online entities make attempts at categorizing my tastes. So far, Amazon's system seems to be the best, but overall, these algorithms seem to do a lackluster job and a lot of pigeonholing. They seem to make suggestions based on the results of previous clusterings.

Acknowledging that you like something from within a particular cluster seems to further reinforce the position of your tastes within the cluster and (and given how most clustering algorithms work, it probably tends to galvanize the identity of the cluster as well). A selection within some particular cluster seems to reduce the probability of system recommendations from some other cluster.

If you admit you like both R.E.M. and Idlewild, you can count on a lot of R.E.M.ish stuff, but it seems you may wind up waiting for hell to freeze over before a Cardigans recommendation comes along, because you've been marked as an fan of R.E.M.ish groups... or something like that... you get the idea. There seems to be a lot of room for improvement in this area. Too often these recommendation systems seem to translate into vicious circles of selection bias and self-fulfilling prophecies.

Update: Yahoo's Y! Unlimited music service offers a "Play Popular" songs option. If playing songs this way contributes to their popularity score, the initial popularity rankings (however they're initially determined) will simply get more and more reinforced the more the "Play Popular" choice is selected. This is another example of self-fulfilling prophecy, although in this case it is manifestly obvious. It leaves me wondering how they do handle the scoring for their popularity rankings.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Lost Opposite of Brown Nuts

My nephew is two years old, and he seems to have a basic understanding of opposites. It's interesting to see how he perceives the world, and it's fascinating to hear his responses when he's thrown challenges from Left Field.

Q: What's the opposite of black?
A: White.
Q: What's the opposite of day?
A: Night.
Q: What's the opposite of Christmas?
A: Bad baby!!!

Unfortunately, I've forgotten which of my queries elicited the response "brown nuts!" I guess we'll have to add it to the list of unfortunate holes in the vast tapestry of human knowledge.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Thank You for Smoking

Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking makes it to the big screen March 17. Trailers are on the site.

Economic Man

Harvard Magazine has a nice article on behavioral economics and the assumptions behind Economic Man:

Like all revolutions in thought, this one began with anomalies, strange facts, odd observations that the prevailing wisdom could not explain. Casino gamblers, for instance, are willing to keep betting even while expecting to lose. People say they want to save for retirement, eat better, start exercising, quit smoking—and they mean it—but they do no such things. Victims who feel they’ve been treated poorly exact their revenge, though doing so hurts their own interests.

Such perverse facts are a direct affront to the standard model of the human actor—Economic Man—that classical and neoclassical economics have used as a foundation for decades, if not centuries. Economic Man makes logical, rational, self-interested decisions that weigh costs against benefits and maximize value and profit to himself. Economic Man is an intelligent, analytic, selfish creature who has perfect self-regulation in pursuit of his future goals and is unswayed by bodily states and feelings. And Economic Man is a marvelously convenient pawn for building academic theories. But Economic Man has one fatal flaw: he does not exist.


(via 3 Quarks Daily)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lisa Store

My digital photograph of the day...

Lisa Store! Why, I haven't heard that name since Living in a Box sang Living in a Box! I always wondered what happened to Lisa Store. Looks like she's peddling retail space nowadays. She came from a tough background; the whole Store family was pretty dysfunctional. There was Ima, who thought he was Montgomery Ward, and Rob A., who wound up in the clink. And I always wondered about the future of their dear brother Watson.

I'm sorry. I realize that's so corny it borders on criminal. I've been too busy for anything more serious.

This is about the point that Monty Python would issue an apology to the audience and say...

And now for something completely different...

On the Planet: Blue vs Green

A major regional gas station chain has long had a "blue planet" marketing theme emblazoned on their pumps. It leaves me a little puzzled. The more gas we burn, the more greenhouse gases we release, the more the polar ice caps melt, the bluer the planet gets, right? So is this gas good or bad, and will it make the planet bluer or greener? In contrast, the EPA has a Green Vehicle Guide.

What Ever Happened to Conrad Bain?

Would you like to meet Conrad Bain?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Swimming Prohibited

Swimming Prohibited

Welcome to Minnesota. The sign says "Beach closed for the season. Swimming prohibited." Our lakes are currently frozen solid. This reduces the cost of enforcing these rules.

New Crustacean May Be Floyd Pepper's Nose

Boing Boing reports on the discovery of a furry crustacean:

"Scientists just announced the discovery of this strange new crustacean 900 miles south of Easter Island. According to a report in the journal of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, divers first found the creature last year at a depth of 7,540 feet."

I think this new crustacean may be muppet Floyd Pepper's Nose.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006



Monday, March 06, 2006


The Health Care Crisis and What to Do About It
New York Review of Books
by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells

Interesting read.

Regardless of your politics, man, we sure do seem to spend a lot and get little.

(via Concurring Opinions)

3D graphics, physical modeling, mammalian shock absorption & advertising trends

For quite some time I have been making comments related to graphics, science, advertising trends and whatever else happens to traipse across my mind. In light of this, in the interest of science, I think it's incumbent on me to mention the Shock Absorber Bounce-ometer. Before you follow through, I must warn that, depending on the degree to which your organization is scientifically-minded, this link might not be safe for work. FF+G combined with Extreme? Run for the hills!

(via AdRants)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mirror Neuron Update

Here's a Nova segment on the discovery and significance of mirror neurons (1, 2). I wonder what E.O. Wilson would say. A new point for contemporary moral sense theorists?

"As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is the impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our imaginations copy. By the imagination, we place ourselves in his situation."

Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, Chapter 1, "Of Sympathy"

Nuovo Guthrie

Nuovo Guthrie

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Link Menagerie

Other interestingness. Salman Rushdie, Bernard-Henri Lévy, et al. offer an anti-Islamism manifesto pleading for "universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas... that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism." (via 3 Quarks Daily). Venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki has been blogging about the prevention of Bozo Explosion; that is, when companies grow too fast and lower the bar to get more people. If you're just starting to get your feet wet in data mining and machine learning (or you'd like to), these slides and tutorials by CMU's Andrew Moore are very well done. Also, I just found a link to videos of Martin Wainwright's class on graphical models (via Machine Learning, etc.). Danny O'Brien's talk Open Source and the State of Evil is hilarious (even if you're not interested in the subject). Links to both the audio and the slides can be found here at Big Picture's Essays and Effluvia. In the strange and interesting eye candy department, Katamari Damacy wallpaper over at Drawn! Celebrity champ Ken Jennings was pretty funny on the Not My Job Quiz on Wait wait... don't tell me last week (there's a link to the quiz on the linked page). What happens when you stun gun yourself? is hilarious (via Big Picture: Essays & Effluvia again). And, this awesome real-life reënactment of the Simpson's intro (via Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant).

Reinforced Dogmatism

File this under Oddments. A favorite passage from Sir Karl Popper:

"In chapter 15 of The Open Society and Its Enemies, when dealing with 'Vulgar Marxism', I mentioned a tendency which can be observed in a group of modern philosophies, the tendency to unveil the hidden motives behind our actions. The sociology of knowledge belongs to this group, together with psychoanalysis and certain philosophies which unveil the 'meaninglessness' of the tenets of their opponents. The popularity of these views lies, I believe, in the ease with which they can be applied, and in the satisfaction which they confer on those who see through things, and through the follies of the unenlightened. This pleasure would be harmless, were it not that all these ideas are liable to destroy the intellectual basis of any discussion, by establishing what I have called a 're-inforced dogmatism'. (Indeed, this is something rather simlar to a 'total ideology'.) Hegelianism does it be declaring the admissibility and even fertility of contradictions... the psychoanalyst can always explain away objections by showing they are due to the repressions of the critic... the philosophers of meaning, again, need only point out what their opponents hold is meaningless, which will always be true, since 'meaninglessness' can be so defined that any discussion about it is by definition without meaning. Marxists, in like manner, are accustomed to explain the disagreement of an opponent by his class bias, and the sociologists of knowledge by his total ideology. Such methods are both easy to handle and good fun for those that handle them. But they clearly destroy the basis of rational discussion, and they must lead, to anti-rationalism and mysticism." -- Karl Popper, Against the Sociology of Knowledge (1945).

Before Harold and Kumar...

Before Harold and Kumar...

Minneapolis. 33rd and Lyndale. This Precambrian White Castle has actually been converted into a jewelry store. more