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Saturday, April 26, 2008

dignity with computers

What does it mean that computers get fast, and that we can more clearly state some of our approaches to life in terms of algorithms? What happens to people in this process?
Does the fact that computers can beat us at chess mean that we shouldn't play chess? And is it really computers beating us (really somebody has programmed that computer).
Just a lot of disconnected thoughts, trying to say something about how to maintain integrity in the midst of our toys/tools seeming to surpass us.
One sees in the story of Stephen Wolfram for example, a person who thought that his computer tools are so powerful that nobody needs to do math or science anymore.
I don't want to say that computers can't do the things we do. I just want to say that we should stay clear about who we are and what we care about. If we create a computer that we believe experiences things as we do or does things that we respect, well then, let us respect that computer and what went into creating it. But we should not lose ourselves in the process. As long as we understand and experience self-worth and respect, then life is worth living and we don't need to worry so much about whether some other person or machine or computer has accomplished more, or is more than us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

falling trees

There's a gigantic tree in my back yard that fell down a month or so back. It has just been a part of the general background chaos that doesn't effect me until I realized that it really wasn't too far from my own apartment. And there are more of them that could fall.

I'm feeling very ungenerous these days. Like just keeping up some kind of schedule is all I can manage. And this schedule doesn't even serve me so well. Ungenerous to myself as well.

I ran out of propane and got the tank filled up again. But I have yet to reopen the pipes and light the pilot lights of my heater and stove. Partially completed tasks everywhere. Open bags and spare coins sit around useless.

I look out my window as usual and delicate pink and white flowers are blooming on one of these dangerous trees. Behind it there is fog, and birds in this wilderness landscape that is still so foreign to me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


There's a nice article at the Institue of the Future of the Book blog about TeX and whether or not its a technological backwater.
I've been thinking about this kind of thing lately, feeling like I really need to get better at documenting my work. My typical approach is to learn lots of different things, none of them particularly well. So I know LaTeX passably well, a little bit of Word, a little bit of PowerPoint, and in order to keep a foot in the open source world, I've been trying out NeoOffice. For presentations, I also tried out the LaTeX Beamer class and created a PDF for a short talk a few weeks back.
I guess the general theme here is emphasizing (or at least not deemphasizing) the human element in the human-computer interaction/relationship.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Page 137, Kafka on the Shore:
I walk on for a while and reach a round sort of clearing. Surrounded by tall trees, it looks like the bottom of a gigantic well. Sunlight shoots down through the branches like a spotlight illuminating the ground at my feet. The place feels special, somehow. I sit down in the sunlight and let the faint warmth wash over me, taking out a chocolate bar from my pocket and enjoying the sweet taste. Realizing all over again how important sunlight is to human beings, I appreciate each second of that precious light. The intense loneliness and helplessness I felt under those millions of stars has vanished. Bat as time passes, the sun's angle shifts and the light disappears. I stand up and retrace the path back to the cabin.
This passage for me is a wonderful description of what it is like to have a moment of clarity and respite amidst a difficult time.