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Being "always on" is being always off, to something.

The Chess Master and the Computer
Topic: Games 8:18 am EST, Jan 26, 2010

Garry Kasparov:

In 1996 I narrowly defeated the supercomputer Deep Blue in a match. Then, in 1997, IBM redoubled its efforts -- and doubled Deep Blue's processing power -- and I lost the rematch in an event that made headlines around the world. The result was met with astonishment and grief by those who took it as a symbol of mankind's submission before the almighty computer. Others shrugged their shoulders, surprised that humans could still compete at all against the enormous calculating power that, by 1997, sat on just about every desk in the first world.

It was the specialists -- the chess players and the programmers and the artificial intelligence enthusiasts -- who had a more nuanced appreciation of the result.

Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.

From The World in 2009:

Someone once accused Craig Venter of playing God.

His reply was, "We're not playing."

Nicholas Carr:

Over the past few years I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn't going -- so far as I can tell -- but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think.

Freeman Dyson:

When children start to play with real genes, evolution as we know it will change forever.


Like so much else in our technology-rich and innovation-poor modern world, chess computing has fallen prey to incrementalism and the demands of the market. Brute-force programs play the best chess, so why bother with anything else? Why waste time and money experimenting with new and innovative ideas when we already know what works? Such thinking should horrify anyone worthy of the name of scientist, but it seems, tragically, to be the norm. Our best minds have gone into financial engineering instead of real engineering, with catastrophic results for both sectors.

David Golumbia:

For at least one hundred years and probably much longer, modern societies have been built on the assumption that more rationality and more techne (and more capital) are precisely the solutions to the extremely serious problems that beset our world and our human societies. Yet the evidence that this is not the right solution can be found everywhere.

Greenspan and Waxman:

"In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working," Mr. Waxman said. "Absolutely, precisely," Mr. Greenspan replied.

Alan Kay:

If the children are being instructed in the pink plane, can we teach them to think in the blue plane and live in a pink-plane society?

The Chess Master and the Computer

Kid Goth
Topic: Arts 8:18 am EST, Jan 26, 2010

Dana Goodyear on Neil Gaiman:

He wears black: black socks, black jeans, black T-shirts, black boots, and black jackets whose pockets are loaded with small black notebooks and pots of fountain-pen ink in shades like raven.


I've gotten old enough that I now understand why adults seek to escape reality. Paradoxically, I think I was better at escaping reality when I was younger.

One young fish to another:

What the hell is water?


The building blocks were either true or fictional lies, which feel like they're true. I thought, I'm going to tell it in my voice and use actual things that happened and talk about what it is to be three and be a child who has no power. It's a children's book for adults.

"Leonard Nimoy":

It's all lies. But they're entertaining lies. And in the end, isn't that the real truth?

The answer ... is No.


Writing comics afforded Gaiman his great opportunity to invent a cosmology.

Michiru Hoshino:

Oh! I feel it. I feel the cosmos!

Gaiman, at a "sushi party" with teenagers:

"Do you lot have names?" he said brightly.

"Nooooooo!" they called, in unison.

Bush, at a birthday party:

"You can't talk sense to them," he said, referring to terrorists.

"Nooooo!" the audience roared.

Kid Goth

A world of hits
Topic: Arts 8:01 am EST, Jan 21, 2010

The Economist:

Audiences are at once fragmenting into niches and consolidating around blockbusters. The stuff that people used to watch or listen to largely because there was little else on is increasingly being ignored.

What people love, it turns out, are hits.

A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better.

Jonathan Franzen, on Shanghai:

It was as if the gods of world history had asked, 'Does somebody want to get into some really unprecedentedly deep shit?' and this place had raised its hands and said 'Yeah!'"

Scott Sandage:

Nobody is born to lose, and yet failure embodies our worst fears. The Loser is our national bogeyman, and his history over the past two hundred years reveals the dark side of success, how economic striving reshaped the self and soul of America.

John Maynard Keynes:

We have reached the third degree, where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.

William Gibson:

The business of popular music, today, is now, in some peculiarly new way, entirely about promotion.

David Hajdu:

Guitar Hero and Rock Band involve musicianship in the same sense that chess involves military service. Rocking, like rooking, is the thematic action; but the content is the form, the rules.

Mark Twain:

When an entirely new and untried political project is sprung upon the people, they are startled, anxious, timid, and for a time they are mute, reserved, noncommittal. The great majority of them are not studying the new doctrine and making up their minds about it, they are waiting to see which is going to be the popular side.

Choire Sicha:

One joke that never gets old is saying "I see you" to people, a la Avatar. It is the greatest, especially when they're mad at you. Like at the deli, when they're tired of waiting for you to find change. "I SEE YOU."

Brian Eno:

It couldn't last, and now it's running out. I don't particularly care that it is and like the way things are going. The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you'd be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate -- history's moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber.


Real anxiety comes not with influence, but with the imperative to transcend it.

Jean-Luc Godard:

It's not where you take things from -- it's where you take them to.

A world of hits

Where happiness lies
Topic: Health and Wellness 8:01 am EST, Jan 21, 2010

Julian Baggini:

Despite its prominence, the contemporary, science-backed pursuit of happiness nevertheless raises serious questions about our value system. If all that matters is that we feel good, then what about other ideals we hold for the good life? In particular, if truth and happiness conflict, which one should prevail: blissful ignorance or painful knowledge?

From last year's best-of:

What if I want something more than the pale facsimile of fulfillment brought by a parade of ever-fancier toys? To spend my life restlessly producing instead of sedately consuming? Is there an app for that?

As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you'll know that you're pure within and will find happiness once more.

They thought that if they had a bigger mortgage they could get a bigger house. They thought if they had a bigger house, they would be happy. It's pathetic. I've got four houses and I'm not happy.

Happiness exists just around the corner, it's just a matter of figuring out how to get there.

Is there a formula -- some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation -- for a good life?

You can't be happy all the time, but you can pretty much focus all the time. That's about as good as it gets.


As might be expected from a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank, this is a solid but arid assessment ...

From this week's Economist:

"Let's be honest," said Rahm Emanuel, Mr Obama's chief of staff: "The goal isn't to see whether I can pass this through the executive board of the Brookings Institution. I'm passing it through the United States Congress with people who represent constituents." That attitude, shot back Bill Galston, one of the slighted think-tank's senior fellows, all but guaranteed that Congress would duck the hard issues.


It seems that uncertainty, change, and the perception that there is a gravy train others are riding but you're not, conspire against the gains of economic growth.


Paul Graham asks what living in your city tells you. Living in the north Perimeter area for 6 odd years now has told me that everybody makes way, way more money than I do. It's not inspiring so much as it makes you sympathize with class warfare.


The issue, according to Barbara Ehrenreich, is whether we start with the facts or with our attitudes.

Have you seen "Doubt"?

Father Brendan Flynn: You haven't the slightest proof of anything!
Sister Aloysius Beauvier: But I have my certainty!

Where happiness lies

Auto-appendectomy in the Antarctic: case report
Topic: Health and Wellness 8:01 am EST, Jan 21, 2010

Vladislav Rogozov in BMJ:

As a surgeon Rogozov had no difficulty diagnosing acute appendicitis. In this situation, however, it was a cruel trick of fate. He knew that if he was to survive he had to undergo an operation. But he was in the frontier conditions of a newly founded Antarctic colony on the brink of the polar night. Transportation was impossible. Flying was out of the question, because of the snowstorms. And there was one further problem: he was the only physician on the base.

Hugh MacLeod:

The best way to get approval is not to need it.

Vladislav Gerbovich:

When Rogozov had made the incision and was manipulating his own innards as he removed the appendix, his intestine gurgled, which was highly unpleasant for us; it made one want to turn away, flee, not look -- but I kept my head and stayed.

From Haiti:

"We're using ketamine as pain relief during amputations. Ketamine is going like water."

Auto-appendectomy in the Antarctic: case report

Pre-Columbian geometric earthworks in the upper Purus: a complex society in western Amazonia
Topic: Science 8:01 am EST, Jan 21, 2010

David Grann:

In cleared-away areas of the upper Amazon basin, researchers, using satellite imagery, have recently pinpointed a vast network of monumental earthworks, including geometrically aligned roads and structures, constructed by a hitherto unknown civilization.

Martti Paerssinen, Denise Schaan, and Alceu Ranzi:

It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. The combination of land cleared of its rainforest for grazing and satellite survey have revealed a sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society in the upper Amazon Basin on the east side of the Andes. This hitherto unknown people constructed earthworks of precise geometric plan connected by straight orthogonal roads. Introducing us to this new civilisation, the authors show that the 'geoglyph culture' stretches over a region more than 250km across, and exploits both the floodplains and the uplands. They also suggest that we have so far seen no more than a tenth of it.


The latest discovery proves that we are only at the outset of this archeological revolution--one that is exploding our perceptions about what the Amazon and the Americas looked like before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

Charles C. Mann, author of 1491:

I felt alone and small, but in a way that was curiously like feeling exalted.

Martin Schwartz:

Science makes me feel stupid too. It's just that I've gotten used to it.

Have you read Grann's The Lost City of Z?

Pre-Columbian geometric earthworks in the upper Purus: a complex society in western Amazonia

You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now.
Topic: Miscellaneous 1:46 pm EST, Jan 17, 2010

We just keep thinking we can do it all -- be focused, frightened and frivolous. We can't. We don't have the money. We don't have the time.

How do you screen for a relentless mind-set?

Use it to find the photography you like using the simple idea that people whose work you like, probably like stuff you'll like.

Over time, YouTube says it plans to rely more heavily on personalization and ties between users to refine recommendations.

The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work. Alas, this one worked very well.

That's what offends me. You know exactly what you're doing.

First Person Tetris

When the default is private, you have to think about making something public. When the default is public, you become very aware of privacy. And thus, I would suspect, people are more conscious of privacy now than ever.

I expected Google Chrome to teleport maybe three, maximum five goats! What happens instead? About 3*10^6 goats get teleported! I won't be able to pay for teleportation of such huge amount of goats!

The one thing that Mr. Durant worries might spook a female guest is his most recent purchase: a three-foot-tall refrigerated meat locker that sits in a corner of his living room. That is where he keeps his organ meat and deer ribs.

Analysts must absorb information with the thoroughness of historians, organize it with the skill of librarians, and disseminate it with the zeal of a journalist. Sufficient knowledge will not come from slides with little more text than a comic strip.

The effects of a childhood goat trauma vary widely from person to person, depending on the severity of their trauma. Such problems as irrational fears, unexplained twitching, and insomnia could all have origin in a goat trauma. The Childhood Goat Tra... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

Things I am not allowed to do any more
Topic: Technology 8:14 am EST, Jan 13, 2010


Yelling "Fire in the hole!" whenever I make a checkin is not team building.

I will not refer to the head of corporate research as a "lamer," especially when he is in the same stairwell when I utter this.

David Owen:

If you and your spouse are dressed almost identically, or if you are carrying your passport in a thing around your neck, or if you are wearing any form of footwear or pants that you clearly purchased specifically to wear on airplanes, or if you make it obvious (by repeatedly turning around and talking to passengers in seats not adjacent to yours) that you are travelling with a group, the charge is fifty dollars.


At least Ballmer had the good sense to be ugly, which gave him an odd kind of dignity.

Roedy Green:

Your code should not look hopelessly unmaintainable, just be that way.
Otherwise it stands the risk of being rewritten or refactored.

Things I am not allowed to do any more

The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University
Topic: Society 8:14 am EST, Jan 13, 2010

Louis Menand:

Has American higher education become a dinosaur?

Why do professors all tend to think alike?

What makes it so hard for colleges to decide which subjects should be required?

Why do teachers and scholars find it so difficult to transcend the limits of their disciplines?

Why, in short, are problems that should be easy for universities to solve so intractable?

The answer is that the institutional structure and the educational philosophy of higher education have remained the same for one hundred years, while faculties and student bodies have radically changed and technology has drastically transformed the way people produce and disseminate knowledge. At a time when competition to get into and succeed in college has never been more intense, universities are providing a less-useful education. Sparking a long-overdue debate about the future of American education, The Marketplace of Ideas examines what professors and students -- and all the rest of us -- might be better off without, while assessing what it is worth saving in our traditional university institutions.

Mark C. Taylor:

Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning.


Bart, don't make fun of grad students! They just made a terrible life choice.

Andrew Lahde:

The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy, only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.

The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University

The Known Universe
Topic: Science 8:14 am EST, Jan 13, 2010

The Known Universe takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world's most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. The new film, created by the Museum, is part of an exhibition, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan through May 2010.


There are certain basic pleasures of the ancient world that one has to work very hard to come by today. We've cut ourselves off from things that even our grandfathers took for granted.


When most people hear "fingerprints", they immediately envision an inky mess all over their hands, which aside from being embarrassing, would also be extremely inconvenient ...

Verlyn Klinkenborg:

The turbulence intensifies. The overhead luggage racks begin to rattle. "This is nominal," I think, and I am amazed once again at how skillfully humans normalize the lives they find themselves living. It is really what explains the success of our species, our ability to absorb experience, to engulf it with our minds and accommodate it, in conditions infinitely more grievous than a bumpy flight.

Anne Frank:

As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you'll know that you're pure within and will find happiness once more.

The Known Universe

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