All posts for the month January, 2012

Just a list of headings from Alain de Botton’s TED talk.

  • Religious vs atheist – some confusion of gods and religions?
  • “There is no god” is just the start of the story.
  • Ritual, moral, communal aspects – cherry-picking “the good bits”
  • Shakespeare, Plato, Austen (etc) – cultural sources of morality tales.
  • Universities have forgotten to teach “how should we live” – as if we don’t need help, we don’t want to be treated “like children” – whereas most of us are barely holding it together.
  • Repetition of old truths (nothing new, etc.) rather than valuing novelty for its own sake.
  • Religious calender to ensure ideas cross our paths regularly.
  • Looking at the moon – a ritual
  • Oratory – rhetorical skills for communication. Praise be to Shakespeare. Plato, Austen
  • Associating the physical with the moral lessons – to cement / anchor.
  • Art – no such thing as art for art’s sake, always a message / lesson / reason for art. (Explanatory labelling in art galleries.)
  • Love, fear, hate and death in religious art. Reinforcing (propagandising) old truths. Art organized according to their didactic message.
  • Branding of massive common institutions. Not just individual books by individuals – they can’t change the world, without scale and repetition.
  • Travel as pilgrimage.
  • You may not agree with the ideas, but you have to admire the processes.
  • Politeness is a much overlooked virtue.

I did quite a few jobs at The Coryton Refinery over the years in the Mobil, then briefly BP, days before it was sold to Petroplus. Interesting that it is the Swiss parent company that is actually going bust – wonder where the losses actually are? And I wonder what their ownership is  – oil majors, or more general investors? (They also own one of the Teeside oil depots.)

Would there be any value in BP buying the concern back – I don’t believe they actually own and operate any UK refineries directly these days since Grangemouth was also sold to Ineos. Are old refineries just not viable in Europe/UK? What were Petroplus expectations when they originally bought Coryton, not really all that long ago?

(Pretty sure shortages is a non-issue other than distribution logistics adjustment.)

All my posts go to twitter, and selected one’s are filtered by to facebook and linkedin (and a few other targetted channels).

I’ve only recently – last 2 or 3 months – started actually following anything (#) or anyone (@) on twitter. (Since for me it was just a channel to other discussion spaces I never really saw the point of watching a twitter feed, and I’m trying to understand who does actually use twitter as their primary user interface.)

None of the people with big followings seem to watch responses to their own general feed, except from people they are already following or have addressed explicitly – not even “replies”. They are just one-way “look at me” feeds.

@GeorgeGalloway is predictable, but a good source of contentious political stories that don’t break in the mainstream media, oh and “me, me, me” posts about is own media appointments – mercifully few.

@AlanSugar and @PiersMorgan are like eight-year-olds – all “me, me, me” promotion of follower numbers and slaves to inane re-tweet requests, and yobbish partisan footie comments. (Stopped following both … pity ‘cos I had a a lot of time for Sugar’s business sense.)

@RichardBranson is interesting and intelligent, both earnest and fun. Most of his tweets are fed from one or other of his other blogging / publishing channels – always related to Branson & Virgin initiatives – but not specifically self-promoting.

@RickyGervais – you already know whether you love or hate his comedic style – and his tweets don’t disappoint – they seem honest. All about him, his media output and I suspect testing out his comedy ideas (as well as his atheist agenda). Cruelly merciless in mocking the “twonks” who don’t always get it – as you’d expect. Making heavy use of “phones smarter than the twonks who own them” at the moment.

Since someone asked – where does IP fit with the MoQ ?

First – IP is about (legal / contractual) rights to use copyright – not about property ownership per se. (See previous SOPA / PIPA threads especially the Kinsella reference.)

In a world where democratic mixed-economy is already the evolved norm, then contracts are clearly very common social level patterns, and could hold true whether the considerations were financial or in-kind / deferred / social-contract terms.

As one social pattern amongst a massive complex of trading and commerce patterns, there are clearly also many level-crossing patterns involved too. Socio-intellectual patterns in establishing and adjusting fair terms for such contracts, particularly in cases near or moving boundaries of existing legislation – where terms are not already established social patterns – (though of course in an evolved society the processes of debate and intellectual freedom are themselves regulated by established social patterns and institutions of governance). And there obviously socio-bio-physical patterns where cases of enforcement arise.

If we’re not in a world of democratic mixed economies, then we have a different starting point. We’re in another possible world, but we’d need to address questions of where trading and commerce (or their equivalent) fit as patterns.  That’s a different question, that would require a great deal of intellectual debate, not to mention social (even biological) evolution before we could start (would even need) to address IP.

Seems pretty straightforward ?

[Post Note : Oh, and another example of illegal internet uses
and more from Megaupload – see previous

Excellent Edinburgh TED talk from Alain deBotton. Good on so many fronts, will need to comment more later. Even made BBC R4 Today programme this morning. Atheism2.0

I’ve always resisted identifying with the term “atheist” preferring non-theist or new-humanist, or maybe Spinozan pan-theist,  if I must choose a religious label. Mainly because atheism really has become an extreme anti-theist religion, that misses or debases the spiritual experience dimension of life, and is profoundly “anti” … devoid of love and respect … both words Alain is happy to use. The placing of scientific rationality on a pedestal to the exclusion  all others – scientism – is itself a religion based on misplaced idolatry.

Anyway, enough about me. It’s a must watch.

Thanks to Horse for this Register link “SOPA is dead, are you happy now ?

I’m for fair IP Copyright licensing. Fair is a tough question – but I’m for answering it.

I’m against bad legislation – Duh, who isn’t, that’s what bad means, let’s improve it.

There is already legal enforcement of copyright in most democratic mixed economies, what new arrangements need to cover is how it’s enforceable when it crosses national boundaries via intermediary services. If people don’t make fair effort to comply, and knowingly encourage and enable others to break IP terms, then I can’t see any defence.

Half the rants seem to be anti-authoritarian – against mis-application of the legal powers of enforcement – ulterior motives of the establishment to use the cover of such legislation to trample unfairly over otherwise legal but inconvenient uses of internet communications – see fair.

The other half of the rants seem to be anti-capitalist – against any tendencies to make “loadsa” money (or even any money at all ?) out of selling fair use of copyrighted content – see fair.

Fair ? In a mixed-economy democracy ? These are the clues.

Previous threads

Former Mozilla CEO John Lilly argues:

What’s extremely discouraging to me right now is that I don’t really see how we [the tech  world and the US Congress] can have a nuanced, technically-informed, respectful discussion/debate/conversation/working relationship.

Instead all we get is the media industries engaging in back room lobbying to get bad bills passed while the tech world shotguns abuse until Congress capitulates. Talk about a dysfunctional relationship.

[Ha – Megaupload were not averse to a little illegal capitalism then, magic.]

Several people noted yesterday that it was significant that Wikipedia was joining today’s internet blackout – given the fact that Wikipedia are pretty hot on honouring IP copyrights. This Jimmy Wales interview reinforces that fact. I still despair at the rhetoric being traded – of course collaboration is needed to improve the wording of any bill – none of the bill content I’ve actually heard quoted seem at all unreasonable, the criticisms are simply being generalized. Freedoms (of speech and others) are a separate issue. The problem as ever is mistrust of authority applying its powers fairly. There can be as many self-policing arrangements as people want, but law enforcement is still the last resort. In the final analysis legal enforcement of copyright needs to have teeth where crime is committed.

Interesting to contrast Dean Windass and Gary Speed, the day after Mancini aims to emulate Rooney – not even with any apparent irony. Mancini is the kind of superstar fashionista dipstick the game could do without, as opposed to Phil Brown, speaking up here for Deano. It’s a funny old game, more important than life and death some have said, and City’s points tally pales into insignificance in my book.

Gary Speed was so much the cerebral professional – player, manager and TV pundit, that you can only agree his suicide – with signs not even seen by closest friends – was inexplicable. Some specific trigger beyond career depression, surely. Deano, never the brightest or most eloquent communicator always seemed to be struggling with (but enjoying) his Sky TV match reporter role, you nevertheless had to smile along with him and Jeff Stelling; he was after all a good-old-fashioned centre-forward at the end of his career, not a rocket-scientist.

I’v always liked Deano, even a match I recall when he became the bogey-man-we-love-to-hate for most Royals supporters. In April 2004 (Bantams vs Royals) Ivar Ingimarsson was the inexperienced but promising defender and the seasoned centre-forward niggled away at him for an hour before Ivar responded with a frustrated but deliberate kick – and got the first red-card of his career, on the losing side, naturally.

You can understand the career-end depression, drinking, gambling, spending almost all he’d ever earned – not that uncommon we are led to believe. But suicide? You could learn a lot from Deano. Ivar did. It’s a game.

This year’s Edge question 2012 is:


Many of the responses don’t really answer the question, but there are hundreds of responses on many subjects. These are a few that caught my eye – almost all mean further reading! Some are just interesting to see in this context even if not new; some are frankly disappointing in that same sense.

Richard Thaler – “Commitment” – more optimal to restrict choice by prior commitment.
Charles Simonyi – Boscovich was right, a recurring claim.
Dave Winer – on not wearing a watch (me too).
Tim O’Reilley – Pascal’s wager generalized for decision-making.
David Dalrymple – principle of least action
Tania Lombrozo – Metaphysical half-truths engrained in our psyche – realism and causation included – including professional scientists, who should know better.
John McWhorter – From a lobster to a cat. Guts / nerves – front / back ?
Andrew Lih – Information theory and Ernest Shannon.
Eric Weinstein – The Geometric Quantum (Einstein’s Revenge). New to me.
Virginia Heffernan – In the beginning was the word, and still is.
Stuart Kauffman – cell types as attractors.
Bruce Hood – complexity out of simplicity
Timo Hannay – Feynman’s lifeguard (See David Dalrymple’s principle of least action – explanation of light)
Giulio Boccaletti – Fooled by habits (See Tania Lombrozo)
Brian Eno – on the limits to intuition
Simone Schnall –  Metaphors Unify Perception, Cognition and Action
Joel Gold – Dark Matter of the Mind –  The conscious mind—much like the visible aspect of the universe—is only a small fraction of the mental world.
Jon Kleinberg – ” Sometime in the past 4000 years, there have been two people in your family tree—call them A and B—with the property that A was an ancestor of B’s mother and also an ancestor of B’s father. Your family tree has a “loop”, where two branches growing upward from B come back together at A—in other words, there’s a set of parents in your ancestry who are blood relatives of each other, thanks to this relatively recent shared ancestor A.”
Marti Hearst – Why programs have bugs. “The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff”. (Code is Poetry, remember.)
Thomas Metzinger – Simplicity itself.
Rebecca Goldstein – why the question (deep, elegant & beautiful) is valid (or not).
Ernst Poppel – Trusting trust. (Intriguing, another one of my focus subjects.)
Charkes Seife – “Even something as simple as counting one, two, three can lead to a completely unexpected realm”. (See Hofstadter, but also another reference to the Pigeonhole Principle – see Jon Kleinberg above)
Davdi Myers – Group polarization problem. (Intriguing.)
Hans Ulrich Obrist – Cagepatterns. (Reminds me of Hofstadter – Intriguing.)
Hugo Mercier – Metarepresentations Explain Human Uniqueness
Philip Zimbardo – Time Perspective Theory. “I am here to tell you that the most powerful influence on our every decision that can lead to significant action outcomes is something that most of us are both totally unaware of and at the same time is the most obvious psychological concept imaginable. I am talking about our sense of psychological time.”
Elizabeth Dunn – (see Zimbardo)
Frank Wilczek – (see Metzinger)
Stanislas Dehaene – The Universal Algorithm For Human Decisions.
Freeman Dyson –  the search for a unified theory could turn out to be an illusion.
Dan Dennett – ” [Some] species of sea turtles migrate all the way across the South Atlantic to lay their eggs on the east coast of South America after mating on the west coast of Africa. [When] the behavior started, Gondwanaland was just beginning to break apart (that would be between 130 and 110 million years ago), and these turtles were just swimming across the narrow strait to lay their eggs. Each year the swim was a little longer—maybe an inch or so—but who could notice that? Eventually they were crossing the ocean to lay their eggs, having no idea, of course, why they would do such an extravagant thing.” Magic – if true; any volunteers to test / prove / disprove.
Jennifer Jacquet – Tit for tat. (Hofstadter’s Tabeltop ?)
Steven Pinker –  Evolutionary Genetics Explains The Conflicts of Human Social Life.
Clay Shirky read Dan Sperber.
Jonathan Gottschall – Faurie-Raymond handedness and survival of the sportiest. Interesting twist on “fittest” – as in best fit.
Richard Foreman – A matter of poetics.
Timothy Taylor – why the Greeks painted red people on black pots. “Anyone can understand what is going on (for which reason museums often keep their straight, gay, lesbian, group, bestial, and olisbos [dildo-themed] stuff out of public view, in study collections)”.
Arnold Trehub – The Anthropic Principle (Great to see it make this context !)
David Christian – The idea of Emergence.
Nicholas Carr – The mechanism of mediocrity (The Peter principle)(The memetic problem, I say. Easy is most popular, Correct can be hardest to promote.)
Howard Gardner – The importance of individual human beings.
Nicholas Humphrey –  A Beautiful Explanation For Why The Human Mind May Seem To Have An Elegant Explanation Even If It Doesn’t. “Elegance can be misleading. Consider a simple mathematical example. Given the sequence 2, 4, 6, 8, what rule would you guess is operating to generate the series? …” (Hofstadter again?)


Nathan Myrvhold – Scientific Method – too much faith.
Vilayanur Ramachandran – Consciousness is genetically evolved – this isn’t news.
Scott Sampson – The Gaia hypothesis.
Haim Harari –  “All of matter consists of six types of quarks and six types of leptons, with seemingly random unexplained mass values, spanning more than ten orders of magnitude. No one knows why, within these twelve building blocks, the same pattern repeats itself three times.”
Susan Blackmore – Darwin and Natural Selection.

Darwin’s Natural Selection is probably the most mentioned, naturally since it is generally held to be the biggest dangerous idea ever across the most fields of enquiry. Feynman and Einstein get plenty of mentions. I see Hofstadter everywhere these days, but I didn’t see a mention.

The term cybernetics tends to be associated with computer control systems and AI these days, but when the term was first coined it was originally about how systems of any kind – social systems – governed themselves.

It was back in 2002 I read Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s work on the origins of cognitive science “The Mechanization of the Mind“. It was the first I’d heard of the Macy meeting in New York in 1946, and although I’d been on the systems engineering and information science track in my psychological research for some time and Psybertron clearly shared some of the same roots, it was the first time I’d been able to put the name Cybernetics to my interests.

Mechanisation of mind was the very problem being lamented in retrospect by Dupuy. Since I was already investigating what was wrong with “classical” science and logic at the metaphysical level, I quickly latched onto this string of comparative quotes from Dupuy:

“Beyond the dualism; the schizophrenia …

American Neo-Positivism
and French Post-Structuralism

Hidebound Savants
and Cultured Ignorami (or Foggie Froggies)

the philosophies of science, mathematics and logic
and the philosophies of the human and social “sciences”

the analytic, rigorous, democratic, shallow and tedious
and the rich and meaningful on the other

knowing everything about almost nothing
and knowing almost nothing about everything

the need for formal models
and the nevertheless deeply held belief that ….
literature is a superior
form of knowledge than science.

Especially that last highlighted quote. Remember I was a techy geek who’d barely read a book that wasn’t a technical manual for the previous 35 years. All different now, as a born-again reader of literature with any philosophical content.

Inevitably in philosophical discussions the basis for ontology, epistemology and ethics lead to real world political cases and I was forever, after Causation itself, concluding that Governance was the overriding practical concern, whether talking at fundamental physical, biological or higher psychological and intellectual decision-making levels, or social / group management and government levels.

At root, Governance = Cybernetics, by definition – supervisory control levels as well as operational feedback levels, albeit one emergent (supervenient?) on the other. Free-won’t as the best model of conscious will and freedoms in the complex systems of individual humans and human societies. Etc.

Anyway, somewhere recently, (the IP thread, and the most recent Edge edition with a piece on the agent himself, John Brockman, I picked-up a reference to Norbert Wiener’s “Cybernetics” being most influential (*), and recalled it was a book I’d still never read, despite many references. One of the key recurring references was of course the BCS Cybernetics special interest group, and the view of information as fundamental to all other levels.

So I put that right and obtained a copy of “Cybernetics“.

I’ve so far read the 1961 preface to the second edition and the original 1947 introduction. The full title is “Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine“. I’m very impressed:

The pre-war discussions, the wartime projects, and immediate post-war exchanges that led to the multi-disciplinary Macy meeting in 1946, make-up the bulk of the introduction. The names are a pantheon –  Wiener and his long-term associate Rosenblueth; Shannon and Turing; Bose and Gabor; Heisenberg and Schroedinger; von-Neumann and Haldane; Carnap and Russell (Wiener was a student of Russell’s) ; Bateson and Mead;  and many more … Josiah Royce, Henri Bergsson and FCS Northrop included !!! Wow.

Written facing the new world of Belsen and Hiroshima, (see also Durrenmatt’s Die Physiker, and Bronowski’s Science and Human Values) the “evil” mis-use of science is an unsurprising topic, but so are the potential evils of markets and industrialised corporate war-based economies – Blake’s “dark satanic mills”.

“The answer is to have a society
based on human values
other than buying and selling.”

And …

“… there are those who hope that the good of a better understanding of man and society which is offered by [cybernetics] may anticipate and outweigh the incidental contribution [it makes] to the concentration of power – which is always concentrated by its very conditions of existence – in the hands of the most unscrupulous.

I write [in 1947] that it is a very slight hope.”

Since these days, my agenda has been much influenced by Dan Dennett’s – Turing meets Darwin – information evolution view of the world, but that’s another story.


(*) It was Brockman, back in his Whole Earth Catalogue days with Stewart Brand
” … he started having weekly ‘shroom dinners with John Cage, who gave him a copy of Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics, a book that forever informed his intellectual sensibilities.”

(Aside, talking of The Edge, didn’t one of the writers in the past year – the 2011 question – suggest Supervenience was the concept that we would most benefit from appreciating more widely? It was Joshua Greene who suggested Supervenience in 2011. Which reminds me it’s time to read The Edge 2012 Q&A. But I digress.)

[And Post Note : Of course, the connections arose through me noticing Daniel Kahneman’s response (first) to the 2011 Q&A … I had bought Kahneman’s Fast & Slow Thinking book at the same time I ordered Cybernetics last week. I found myself with ten or a dozen web-pages all open at the same time and couldn’t recall why they were connected, when I had to do a shut-down for various updates. Now I know.]

Being surrounded on three sides by a church graveyard and on the fourth by agricultural land is the setting for daily life here at our new home & office location. All life is here.

In 5 or 6 weeks so far we’ve seen at least 3 burials, so we’ve been doing some calculations. The three sides of graveyard comprise, the original old churchyard whose residents rest long undisturbed, the municipal  burial ground in current use, and an extension to that, currently without any occupants. It was suggested when we moved in it might be a hundred years before the extension had residents – we’re beginning to doubt that. Not that it concerns us, with or without good fences, they make good neighbours.

One reason is the amount of life. The garden itself is pretty undisciplined, so the premature spring we’re having, is a source of discovery as mature plants show themselves for the first time. Snowdrops by the thousand, many other spring bulbs poking through, plus hellebore’s, cyclamen with many flower buds ready to spring up through their dense leaf cover, and more yet to give themselves away no doubt – it is only January.

And trees; the adjoining properties and our boundary contain many of them – obvious Scots Pines, Poplars and Ash, and at least a dozen others, Beeches maybe, I’ll need to wait until in leaf before I can recognise them all.

The result is so much other wildlife. Rabbits and Weasel, so far and Foxes are expected, but no Moles presumably thanks to good site selection by the church for a graveyard. And because none of the deceased neighbours keep cats, the garden is a profusion of bird life. The birds give the Weasel a hard time when he turns up.

Pigeons; Feral, Wood and Collared Doves, plus Jackdaws and other Crows and Gulls. (Found half a dozen Jackdaw and Gull corpses in the chimney sweepings too.) All the usual Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Green and Chaffinches, Wren, Dunnock, Blackbirds male and female and Tree-Creeper. Territorial cock-Robins standing sentry at strategic points, the Pheasants, the biggest of which happily jumps up on the bird-feeders to help himself.

A spectacular female Greater Spotted Woodpecker, and a second occasional companion I believe. She’s very noisy in this emergent spring – calling at the top of her voice from the highest branches in between rat-tat-tatting, hardly pausing for breath for half an hour at a time, when not attacking the peanuts.

My favourites – the Long Tailed Tits – turning up 10 to 20 en-masse 3 or 4 times a day. I love their behaviour at the feeders. The other tits are very skittish when more than one other of their own species even flits into view, even more so if a second species appears, particularly if larger – there is a clear pecking order amongst them all – it’s amazing how they recognize each other from the merest glimpse. All constantly rushing back to the nearest bush or hedge until clear to return to the feeder – constantly alert to who’s where and ready for flight at any time.

The Long Tailed Tits on the other hand, jostle 6 or 8 at time to one feeder, a tangle of fluttering tails, wings, legs and beaks, sideways, upside down, anyhow. They seem to recognize approaches from out of view of any other – whether of their own or another, only actually leaving the feeder if the approach is a more dominant species like the Great Tit or the Woodpecker, otherwise it’s every man for himself in the communal melee, whether you’re a Long Tail, a Blue or a Coal Tit or whatever.

(No Sparrows or Thrushes evident so far ? Probably need to make the property more Sparrow-friendly, they seem so rare these days ? I’m also going to have to dig the camera out.)

Reading Kinsella as suggested by Victor in the earlier SOPA / PIPA thread

The usual “property value based on scarcity / replacement cost / value” doesn’t apply to IP since the creator / owner is not in any sense deprived of the IP however many copies others make. True, but the natural reduction in scarcity caused by the free copying reduces the value of the IP to its creator / owner. So as Kinsella continues, it is a matter of “contract” by the creator at time of publication – and what is “fair value” in return at that point. Fairness is a good concept – from both moral and utilitarian perspectives – though remember, for me, correctly applied, pragmatism IS morality (another story).

I have to conclude that most of the rest of Kinsella’s case is about difficulties (*) in fair application of copyright “contracts” to future people not party to original contracts directly, and where the “essence” of the copyrighted idea is patterned at some level below any physical artefact “copy” owned legitimately by a third-party in future. All of which says to me we should be taking exactly what is copyrighted and patented very seriously, not simply dismissing it as “untenable”. Strengthening (fair) legal arrangements not rejecting them.

Good to be reminded that for IP the questions are in fact about contracts for fair use, not ownership per se, as would be the case for property rights generally. The distinction is very important. Property is the wrong word, copyright is right.

No surprise, morally, fair value lies in multiple levels of patterns. What is surprising is how quickly Kinsella’s IP debate leads straight to metaphysical fundamentals of value. Wow. Double wow.

(*) Examples of problems include : Patents with unfair assertion of creative copyrights, occupation and “homesteading” etc … the idea of a light-bulb, things discovered (in science) not “created”, not being distinct about the actual thing created. I remember doing a master’s paper on this on Pharmceutical patenting back in the late 80’s. (Creation is the key concept here, in an aontic world-view, all reality is in fact created, a view I only recognized in the noughties.)

PS love the example character “Galt-Magnon” – magic, I hope Kinsella copyrighted it 😉 I’m guessing Kinsella rejects (Ayn) Rand as strongly as I do.

[Post Note : Here is an example “guinea-pig” case.]

Yes, democratized web-publishing is a great force for change, for good. That’s why I blog. That’s why I use WordPress (and a dozen other social publishing tools).

But that doesn’t mean SOPA / PIPA are a bad thing. Creative people publishing content can choose their preferred IP model. Creative musicians and artists can work outside the corporate mainstream if they want, with cheap distribution and easy access to their customer base, with a larger share of a smaller revenue stream – if they want. (That is an example of what is enabled by the democratized publishing capabilities.)

And we can all choose to ignore the offerings of mainstream publishing, not contribute to their corporate coffers. But, unless you’re a “property-is-theft” extremist, IP needs copyright protection, to the extent that its owner wants to assert that copyright (again the owner is free to choose what rights to assert, or not).

The problem as ever is potential abuse of powers of enforcement, and conspiracy theories whipped-up to focus on “censorship” and infringements against freedoms. But theft is no-one’s right. We should focus on practical implementation and safeguards against abuses, not throw out common sense.

In these days of mark-up languages believing they have made spreadsheets old-hat, I often point out that spreadsheets are a mark-up language, that they were invented by the ancient Egyptians and they still have a long life ahead of them. In fact it seems they were invented by Mesopotamian accountants before being taken across the Red Sea to Egypt.

Of course in these days where the latest mark-up language is “the best sliced bread” since the previous mark-up language, I saw a very interesting slide at a conference late last year that showed how clearly spreadsheet cells map to RDF OWL Triples. (A slide Kari Anne borrowed from Thore I understand.)

Of course Abbott’s comment was racist.

The point is was it racist with positive moral intent ? Or was it done with ignorance or negative intent ? Colour-blindness is a red-herring too. Sometimes race/colour is germane to the topic, sometimes it isn’t.

Obviously her intent was positive and race/colour was more than just relevant, it was the subject. No problem there. Her mistake was to generalize “the whites” as some group with one set of qualities & motives vis-a-vis “blacks”, even though she used the expression in the context of a particular conversation. That was clearly racist. Diane on the whole is not I’d suggest – a lack of common sense maybe, given her profile as a politician. Get over it, she’s apologised..

Nice tweet from Mr_Eugenides :

DianeAbbott: Making Other Labour MPs Look Like Intellectuals Since 1987™
Worth a chuckle. Diane Abbott is OK, it is possible to be too intellectual. That’s why the Abbott & Portillo double-act worked so well.

Interesting Garry Tan piece.

Reminds me of a conversation years ago – and several since. A colleague reporting to myself and another manager simultaneously found herself conflicted. As an engineer whose job had nothing directly to do with producing software products, she announced she was doing a course on coding (some variant of C, back in the day). Not asking specifically for funding or time off, just a bit of leeway and acknowledgement for her initiative. We needed tools and, whilst she / we never envisaged she’d be producing the tools we needed, she’d be better placed to understand the process of getting them delivered against our needs. I was game, but the other manager told her that coding was skill she didn’t need and more or less (publicly) instructed her to drop the course.

Regretted several times myself not learning coding, beyond noddy script-editing stuff. Increasing understanding of processes you need to manage is obviously part of it, but often we’ve concluded that producing a working prototype of what was needed, is much more effective than writing a comprehensive specification between engineer and developer, at either the individual or inter-organizational level. (If software is your business, interactive, iterative prototyping “agile” methods have been the rage for some time, but those for whom software is “merely” an enabler of core business could learn a thing or two.)

(The counter argument, really just a call for balance, is not to have the hobbyist hacker “secondary” developer get too far into the product process before you have an unsustainable, unmanageable, mill-stone of a product on your hands.)