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All posts for the month November, 2011

Interesting. I remember thinking when I saw John Gosden explaining reassuringlyfreakish, but it happens (painlessly?) all the time” as he tended to Rewilding, being put-down at Ascot in July, that race horses must have fragile cannon-bones. In fact not being interested in horses I had to look up cannon-bones on-line at the time. (Only interested because son-of-a-friend William Buick won the particular race on Gosden-trained Nathaniel.)

No-one wants to be watching the Derby, Kentucky Derby or Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2018 and to see another horse fall, broken under its own weight and heritage.

To avoid such problems in thoroughbreds, and to maintain the genetic health of these most athletic of animals … the thoroughbred industry should periodically, every 5-10 years, re-check to see what the levels of inbreeding are.

Should they illuminate Stonehenge at night ? Why does this have to be a dichotomous, binary question ? Why not illuminate it Wednesday to Friday nights, in darkness with minimal starlight pollution Saturday to Tuesday ? Or alternate nights, or … before and after midnight, or …

Sarah Lund’s sweater.

Loving the second series as much as the first. Even though the relentless plot twists and red-herrings are infuriatingly, yet somehow predictably unpredictable, with motives and suspects ten-a-penny, a la Morse, it is still gripping stuff. Forget the knitting patterns, the question is – is it always necessary to cross the bridge to Malmo to avoid the rain in Copenhagen ? This week’s cliff-hanger – is her sidekick already dead ? Probably.

It’s not the plot, it’s the character(s) – though the political players are less believable this time around. Brix is the hero, and no, her sidekick did survive for another week.

Interesting to hear this morning’s news item on Google and Microsoft pointing out to the UK Government that knowing how computers work is more than learning “office and social network tools” – those are purely functional ICT skills anyone should have.

Slightly worrying that people don’t see anything between “code” and “office tools” – there’s more to information “science” than computer code, and even code comes in many architectural levels. Still, encouraging to get this on the education agenda.

Also in a Zen and the Art kinda way, encouraging to hear the parallel with engineering and the motor car. Anyone benefits from “appreciating” how their tools interact with themselves and their world. It’s worth remembering:

“The real motor / computer you’re working on is yourself.”

Coding the new Latin ? Surely not, but catchy phrasing by Alex Hope used as Rory’s headline, and who knows maybe the classical take on “knowledge” will get picked-up as the real point.

Interesting too that the background to the Raspberry Pi was driven by school-leaver / university-applicant low-quality computer science knowledge. A whole Linux computer on a thumb-drive. Not sure why the focus on video graphics capability ?

I’m reading The Arabs – A History by Eugene Rogan – lots of positive reviews by the likes of Max Hastings for example as well as Arab speakers. I’m only 90-odd pages in (out of 600ish), but I’m baffled. There are less than 10 pages from 1200 to 1500, and by page 90 we’re already in the post-Ottoman Greece of 1832. There is nothing pre-1200 !

Given the fact that it is hard enough to maintain distinctions between regional tribal origins, nomadic, sea-faring, agrarian and urban, the Arab language(s), the Moslem religion and its factions (and its neighbours and rivals), the imperial ebbs and flows of custody over the Moslem holy places of Medina and Mecca as well as the more strategic imperial resource and trade machinations – I’m simply amazed there is absolutely nothing about the origins of any of these before these dates ? What makes an Albanian an Arab ? It’s almost as if once-an-Ottoman is the definition of Arab – without any explanation.

The book is scholarly, with sources translated from contemporary Arab (and colonial) writers where available, and maybe it’s the availability of written records that limits the book’s time-frame ? Or maybe this is book 2 of a pair ? Either way, I’m missing something. I can’t believe it’s political correctness that excludes (say) the crusades from the story – or can they be irrelevant ?

So far what it does contain gels well with my readings of T E Lawrence, Edward Gibbon and Barbara Tuchman for example, but it seems a pity to skim the history just to get to the “hegemony” of France, UK and USA …. if that’s what we’re doing. Why is Moslem history pre-1200  not Arab ? And that’s not a rhetorical question.

Wikipedia offers (quite carefully IMHO):

Arab people, also known as
Arabs (Arabicعرب‎, ʿarab), are a panethnicity[13]
primarily living in the Arab world,
which is located in Western Asia and North Africa.
They are identified as such
on one or more of genealogicallinguistic, or cultural grounds,[14]
with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships
playing an important part of Arab identity in
tracing descent of a national from an Arab state.[15]

And …

The earliest documented use of the word “Arab” to refer to a people appears in the Monolith Inscription, an Akkadian language record of the 9th century BC Assyrian Conquest of Syria (Arabs had formed part of a coalition of forces opposed to Assyria).[16]

There is a British myth that, apart from perhaps Belgian beers, British “real ale” is the the best beer there is. Now much as I do love traditional English ales, in all their varieties (Ordinary/Sessions, Specials, Extra-Specials, in a beer garden, by the river, on a summer’s day, etc.), there is so much more to “foreign muck” than the assorted lager / pils much branded around US, Europe, Far East, Australia and Scandinavia. And in the right circumstances I’ve nothing against a light sharp pils / lager / beer either. The issue is variety.

But there seems to be something about licensing laws or market regulation that makes so much of the possible international variety simply unavailable in the UK – just one or two branded versions of each type. I can get just about any British (or foreign) beer in the US, I can get just about any British or US beer in Norway for example. And so many local / micro-breweries. But the availability of foreign beer in the UK is extremely limited. I’ve tried importing directly from various sources, to see what the problem is.

Now the US is a large market, so it can sustain small % of specialist (local & import) beers and still be a significant market. Norway is a small market by volume, but beer is already expensive, taxed according to alcoholic strength, and available only through state-controlled “Vin Monopolet” however, provided you are prepared to pay those prices, just about any beer is available, of any strength brewed in Norway or anywhere. The market is concentrated through the monopoly and supports huge variety and quality. (Wines too incidentally.)

Any kind of premium beer – UK or foreign – is very hard to come by in the UK, and beers over 5% or 6% appear to be impossible to buy anywhere retail, except direct from brewers; brewers like say BrewDog (see below). Is this legislation – real or imagined – that says we can’t be trusted to buy strong beers, even those strong on flavour and quality as well as alcohol ? Or is it just supply and demand. I’m still researching that. Maybe there is a stigma left by ideas like Carlsberg Special Brew, where the sell was simply the extra alcohol – get drunker faster as it were. (BTW I support the concept of minimum-pricing for alcohol to save us from cheap binge drinkers, and if higher strength demands higher duty, so be it. The market would then regulate consumption.)

BrewDog are consummate marketers – with gimmicks around their weirder and stronger beers, and in the quirky naming of all their beers in fact – not to mention the whacky little videos on their web-site. (Blogged about a few before; Sink The Bismarck 41%, Tactical Nuclear Penguin 32%, etc.) And no doubt these examples of their beers are as strong as possible, almost (explicitly in fact) to prove they can do it – sake yeasts, repeat-cold-concentrating to achieve distilled strengths and beyond, but without distilling, etc. Drink with extreme care.

Anyway, I’m no expert, but I’ve been working my way through IPA’s of the world in recent years – and some of the stronger ones are magnificent. A good base-case starting point is (say) US brand Sierra Nevada (a standard IPA) which has in fact become widely distributed, (no doubt some big brand now distributes it, brewed locally to a licensed recipe ? tell me I’m wrong) but there are so many like it in the US, Australia and everywhere except the UK. India Pale Ales, Pale Ales originally brewed a little stronger for long-distance export maturity and life in warmer climes. There are however many variations that take the idea further, “Double IPA’s” stronger, hoppier, more-intensely maltier, ever more varied, triple, quadruple, till you get to “Imperial IPA’s” – approaching or exceeding wine strengths, and with all those additional qualities in the nose and on the palate. There are of course several good UK brewers of IPA’s and double / strong-IPA’s (Fuller’s Bengal Lancer 5.3% for example, Marston’s too), but that’s where it seems to stop.

The stronger they get, the better they seem to get, and the less volume you need to drink to enjoy them. Some favourites are North-Coast Red Seal (only 5.5%), BrewDog’s Punk IPA (5.6%) Nøgne Ø IPA, Nøgne Ø Imperial IPA#500. The latter is 10% alcohol, not in fact the strongest, but probably the best. BrewDog’s Hardcore Imperial IPA (9.2%) is the closest to it in all respects – also very very good, and available in the UK (as well as in Norwegian bars that also sell Nøgne Ø – so you can compare the two side-by-side).

PS Nøgne Ø also do (did) two of my other favourites. Sweet Horizon (14%) and Dark Horizon (18%) like after-dinner-liqueur and desert-wine-Imperial-IPA respectively – switch-off beer-mode in your brain before drinking. Just right for Christmas, but now sadly available only from a smuggler’s secret stash near you.

And those are just the tip of an iceberg. Competitive pricing supports variety and quality, if the market is large or concentrated enough.

[Post Note : Apparently Tesco's Finest American Double IPA is in fact BrewDog's Hardcore IPA relabelled ... to be verified ... true according to that reliable source The South Wales Echo.  According to The Grocer, BrewDog were surprised to discover this, but it is indeed true.]

A letter from Robert Oppenheimer recommending Richard Feynman for work at UCAL Berkeley posted by “Letters of Note“. (Via Jorn Barger)

“He is a second Dirac, only this time he’s human.”

Has to be the pick of the quotes (used in the blog post title in fact). Graham Farmelo’s biography of Paul Dirac is entitled “The Strangest Man

PS Jorn Barger (Robot Wisdom) is the granddaddy of blogging – an inspiration of mine not just in blogging, but in taking a “timeline” view of complex (ie evolving) subjects – he’s really got his act together using Google+ as his blog. Must look into that; so far my Google+ account is lying dormant.

Listening now to Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Allowed … quoting Emily Dickinson’s “Brain is Wider than the Sky”.

Not an original idea, but Bryan Appleyard uses it as the title of his latest work. A veritable meme.

Actually drawn to this edition of TA by Laurie’s introduction:

“Bryan Appleyard and John Gray on why simple solutions don’t work in a complex world.”

Reductionism of mind to brain, the mental to matter. The hype of the “Transhumanist” “H+” “Singularity” … Aaaaggghh my entire agenda in a single edition of TA. We don’t want to believe mind-brain “explanations” – I agree with Laurie. (Previous post …) Incoherent post, but for now this is the loop of thought I’m in …

http://www.psybertron.org/?p=3931 No-one wants to believe
http://www.psybertron.org/?p=3430 Hofstadterian Algorithmic Loops
http://vimeo.com/7441291 Schmidhuber’s Humour as Compression Algorithm
http://www.psybertron.org/?p=3440 Compression Loop
http://www.psybertron.org/?p=3392 Hofstadter’s Tabletop
http://www.psybertron.org/?p=279 Rationalisation as Compression
Mandelbrot on Roughness at TED2010
http://www.cognitionresearch.org/extras/bio.htm Computing as Compression
http://www.psybertron.org/?p=278 Cornflowers – Too Blue
http://www.psybertron.org/?p=794 Edelman – Wider than the Sky
http://www.psybertron.org/?p=806 Sacks & Emily D

All these posts are inter-linked to each other, but following that link collection in order will give you the flavour. Now where’s that windmill we’re tilting at ? What was the name of the place again ?

llan_photo

It’s all Welsh to me. Acknowledgement to Gerry Wolff for the image.

Excellent short interview by Claudia Hammond (BBC-R4 All in the Mind) with economics-psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

(Also in the same edition another twist on the many studies of real-life abnormal brain lesions contributing to the understanding of normal brain-mind functions. A pair of conjoined-twins with separate-but-connected brains – 4-half-brains having more possibilities than the usual two. Interesting to consider the “case-study” distinct from the two human individuals. Personally, I don’t find the brain-mind findings in the least mysterious, there is so much reinforcement of common sense in published cases – it’s almost as if

we don’t want to believe explanations of consciousness and identity

See previous blog post on Claudia Hammond.)

[Post Note : Forgot also to attach this link to Kahneman's appearance with Kirsty on Desert Island Discs. Learn a bit about the man.]

So in practice the working rule is, when times are easy popular democracy is OK, when the going gets tough what we need is a meritocracy of peer-appointed technical experts.

I’m good with that. In practice, as I keep pointing out to over-confident UK electoral reform people, we need a balance of both. Both houses fully elected would be a disaster. There needs to be conservatism with “wise” custodians and only slow change according to popular fashion, and there needs to be liberal freedom (of speech and criticism, naturally, and) of popular mandates. An element of “elitism” in the conservative core is inescapable – the liberal freedoms need to act as checks and balances, not as an over-riding veto. Trust can only be mutual, working relationships cannot be built on criticism alone.

Oh, what was I saying about wisdom & criticism, see here.

“Critics say” they are undemocratic, short-term fix.

Shows what wisdom critics have.

Sheldrake’s conception of socio-cultural & intellectual fields which influence and are influenced by the living things within them – and contain that socio-culturo-intellectual memory.

Doesn’t seem in the slightest contentious – memes & memeplexes, Pirsigian levels of static patterns (of quality). Doesn’t seem in the slightest undermined by a holistic computer / machine / system metaphor of living / thinking things, things which perceive natural morality. Humans are “special” (a species as distinct as any) but not privileged.

Morphic resonance, the idea that new forms arise more easily within fields that have similar patterns of form – sounds just like “fit”, as in survival of. Why do people want to see “revolutionary” ideas in what is clearly common sense.

Formative causation. Laws of physics as “evolving habits” rather than mathematically fixed laws. Now that is more radical, but even then not entirely unique or original – a pan-Evolutionary model. Physics always was “nature”.

Sheldrake interviewed on PBS some years ago.

Interestingly in the closing words of that interview he reverses Shakespeare’s words (as I did)

“Such dreams as stuff are made of.”

[Also interestingly, I notice I first use the phrase in reviewing Pinker here in 2002, though even then it was clear I'd heard it somewhere before.]

In an effort to debunk brain myths, Claudia Hammond at the Beeb attempts to play down the significance left-right brain effects. Of course boiling anything down to two “objects” is absurd reductionism. Of course left and right brain are hugely connected. But as the final sentence admits they work in complementary ways, their behaviour and their effect on each other, are quite different.

One is master, the other is emissary, but the emissary is getting too big for its boots.