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Showing posts from 2017

notable no-no-no-notorious

infra dig. (Latin / U adj.): infra dignitatem; incredibly posh way of saying the already posh "beneath one".
shakeout (business n.): The collapse of a competitive industry into oligopoly. Wall Street word: you can hear the salivation.
ranch (computing n.): cluster. (Archaic.)
shell account (computing n.): a remote userspace. Remarkably, you can buy one of these for accessing your casual-but-nerdy forum (it's giving randos an arbitrary-execution place on your server, after all). These are how Unix-inclined programmers survived in a Microsoft world.
malocclusion (dentistry n.): misalignment of teeth between your two jaws.
ULEZ (London n.): Ultra Low Emission Zone. Tiny central circle of London that you have to pay extra to drive polluting vehicles in. Overlaps the existing Congestion Charge Zone perfectly, which makes for an interesting ontology of tax.
workforce-planned area (corporate n.): a physical area of a company where everything is highly timed and regimented, like a fac…

Alan Turing: The Enigma (1983) by Andrew Hodges

in the early days of computing, a number of terms for the practitioners of the field of computing were suggested in the Communications of the ACM — turingineer, turologist, flow-charts-man, applied meta-mathematician, and applied epistemologist.- wiki
In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next. - JAK Ferns, Turing's coroner

There have been two big films about Turing (three if you count the uselessly fictionalised Enigma (2001)). All of them are more or less dishonestly melodramatic; for instance they depict Turing's relationship with his dead love Christopher as the simple driver of his work on machine intelligence. And more generally they depict him as tragic. But he wasn't tragic: we were. In the 1950s we attacked a superlatively beautiful and profound person, because we were certain it was the right thing to do.

Hodges, whose book began the great public rehabilitation of Turing and served as the source for the films, bears …

Highlighted passages in Hodge's Alan Turing: the Enigma (1983)


"Is a mind a complicated kind of abstract pattern that develops in an underlying physical substrate, such as a vast network of nerve cells? If so... could something else be substituted for the tiny nerve cells, such as millions of small computational units made of arrays of transistors, giving rise to an artificial neural network with a conscious mind?... In short, can thinking and feeling emerge from patterns of activity in different sorts of substrate − organic, electronic, or otherwise?

...Could a language-using machine give the appearance of understanding sentences and coming up with ideas while in truth being as devoid of thought and as empty inside as a nineteenth-century adding machine or a twentieth-century word processor? ...Are understanding and reasoning incompatible with a materialistic, mechanistic view of living beings?

Could a machine ever be said to have made its own decisions? Could a machine have beliefs? Could a machine believe it made its own d…

notable intermittent explosions

Intermittent Explosive Disorder (medical n.): behavioral disorder involving sudden irrational rage. Children under 6 are never considered to display IED: their explosive disorder is instead due to being under 6. Very possibly the reason for that unbelievably petty outburst you saw in Morrison's the other day.
sport one's oak (Oxbridge v.): to signal a desire for solitude by closing one's (outer) door.
fatberg (n.): a congealed mass of cooking fat, nappies and condoms, blocking a sewer. This one is 130 tonnes.
Vouched Mozillian: A trusted volunteer for the Mozilla Foundation. Sounds like a clan from Dune.
monocoque (engineering adj.): of frames which use the external chassis to support weight, lacking an internal load-bearing frame; 'structural skin'.

Underwater basket weaving (US n.): snarky metonym for any useless university course. Decried as racist, as all things must be.
survivors movement (internet n.): People who hate the psychiatric treatment they've had. Pre…

The Dune Trilogy (1965-76) by Frank Herbert

Dune (1965), Dune Messiah (1969), and Children of Dune (1976)
by Frank Herbert.

The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better [to] rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes– Frank Herbert
'Didn't you learn the difference between Harkonnen and Atreides so that you could smell a Harkonnen trick by the stink they left on it. Didn't you learn that Atreides loyalty is bought with love, while the Harkonnen coin is hate?– also Frank Herbert
Dune shouldn't work: there's a lot of the worst of fantasy fiction in it. The spurious black and white morality, above; cod-medieval dialogue; noble-savagery and bizarro Orientalism; its spoilers for itself (through its constant first-person precognition); and the po-faced chapter epigrams about how great the main character is... *

But it does work. It works because of the loveable setting and its thrilling ecosystem; the sharp, rapid dialogue; the cyber-Muslim jargon ("he is a Zensunni prophet"…

The Great Influenza (2004) by John M Barry

A rousing history of one of the worstthings that has ever happened: the 1918 outbreak of H1N1 flu.* It focusses particularly on the great scientists who tried to fight it, none of whom I'd ever heard of, to my shame. It's also a meditation on epistemology, the modern mind, and the redemptive meaning of science for beasts like us.

Barry senses that the headline result - one-third of the entire world infected, with 25-100 million dead - doesn't produce the right reaction in us. The numbers are numbing. So he couches it in modern shocking terms:

It killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century.
Or, ten thousand 9/11s. It's worth belabouring this, because we have a weird habit of paying far more attention to human threats than natural ones, even when natural ones are far worse. (Witness our terrorism prevention budgets compared to our infectious disease control budgets,…

notable nota bene

revert (n.): a convert to Islam. We "revert" to it, however, because we reportedly already agreed to follow Allah's rules before we were born.
tulpa (n.): Tibetan spirit familiar / alter-ego / imaginary friend. More recently used for pretend, voluntary dissociation. Workflowy and this site are my tulpas.
contrafactum (n.): a cover of a song with different words. For instance, my mate called this a 'parody' of 'Hallelujah', but it is not a parody, because it is not making fun of the original.
hyperprior (philosophy n.): Andy Clark's term for the cognitive conditions of learning anything about the world (e.g. sensory co-ordination, object permanence, "the world is in one determinate state"). Previously called synthetic a priori judgments, or conditions of possibility, but unlike Kant Clark is willing to imagine that they might not be innate and/or logically necessary, but actually learned from sense data in infancy. Which is why babies are idiots…

notable not able

to glomarise (US govt v.): to stonewall; to answer a request for information with "neither confirm nor deny". After that time the Americans tried to steal a ruined Soviet nuclear sub.
pro tanto (legal adj.): as much as you can; as far as it goes. Of a fine with a cap dependent on how much the defendant actually has.
multihyphenate (adj.): doing several jobs, like "actor-director" or "scientist-playwright". Good word - but unfortunately it is largely used by pretentious fools and connotes deluded bragging about one's own complexity.
Moiré pattern (n.): large-scale interference pattern produced by a stripey pattern with lighter gaps. Old TVs were terrible at showing anything striped without moiréing.

powerless (theoretical CS adj): having sub-quadratic complexity; not having a power (greater than 1) on any term.
cryptobourgeoisie (): people who have made a lot of money (millions) through bitcoin and ether. The door is closing.
civil twilight (n.): the b…

notable no table

New Aesthetic (art n.): Best defined visually. That slightly grating half-digitised gimmick that every other alt rock album of the last 7 years has used:

surface learning (n.): superficial, merely verbal, resentful, and test-driven education. No engagement, no internalisation, no critique. Forgotten within months. Most of the 'learning' in the world is just this.
chinny reckon (sarcastic English interjection): Liar! See also Itchy Chin, Chinny chinny... My peers used this to mean "I wonder" in response to an obvious question.
damnit operator (computing n.): "!"; an error-suppressing manual override of some language feature. e.g. style inheritance priority (in CSS) or nullability (in C#).
farm (computing n.): Set of servers all slaved as one.
adult supervision (n.): Whereby a startup hires an older, outsider CEO. Started as a joke, but it is now reified.
UQ (academic n.): uncertainty quantification; a multidisciplinary field covering uncertainty in a rigorous and…

pessimistic induction about deductions

Why I am not a philosopher: The greatest minds in history have all failed to work out the nature of the world just by thinking about it, and so would I.

(Technical minds sometimes manage it, but with data, plus maths, plus just thinking about it. But that isn't philosophy, anymore.*)

*CAVEATSThe standard rejoinder to the account of philosophy implied above is that philosophy is not about adding to a body of knowledge, but instead clarifying the concepts used in other bodies of knowledge. The standard rejoinder to this rejoinder is to ask for a single natural language concept which has been successfully analysed in this way.
A literallyclassic view is that philosophy is the noble attempt to understand oneself and to rise thereby above the animals and your own mortality. But you can't understand yourself if you're not right about yourself. And seeing what strange false inferences great philosophers have made about themselves should give us pause. In general introspection…