The Turing apology

I’ve been away from my computer for most of the day, but what I have found is this story: there are an increasing number of people supporting a petition to make the Prime Minister to apogolise for the treatment of Alan Turing. Turing was convicted of homosexuality and as punishment, he was chemically castrated and given a cocktail of hormones in an attempt to eliminate his homosexuality.

I have often said to philosopher friends, that if anyone was to ask “what success does philosophy have?”, their response should be: the computer. Alan Turing was one of the finest minds of the 20th Century. I’ve argued at various points about how certain innovations often are based on the combination of results in other theories and projects. Turing is attributed to the invention of the modern computer.

Turing’s work developed in some parts as a response and reformulation of results by Godel regarding his research on proof theory and notions of computability. Turing’s notion of the computing machine has been compared to the work by Alonzo Church, with whom he had later worked with. The birth of the computer is an offshoot of the underlying work that had taken place over the three decades prior in logic.

Turing has many admirers, beyond philosophers and logicians. Many projects that are undertaken owe very much to the innovations following Turing’s work: computer science,  cryptography, and as many variants as one may imagine, from quantum cryptography to medical physics. One ‘turing test’ is the captcha test on all websites that ask for verification that you are a human being and not a spambot.

The resonance of this apology is this: despite the innovation of Turing, he was still treated in an unfortunate and inhumane way. As a gesture in deference to the spectacular individual that Turing was, and, as a gesture towards tolerance of homosexuality today, please consider the petition.



Future Tense (Sancturary)

Sanctuary – Future Tense

Sanctuary were band from the late 1980s that barely survived into the 90s. This is a song that captures the political zeitgeist of the time. Sanctuary were under pressure to change their musical style toward the commercially popular grunge, in response, they resisted, broke up and formed another band, which still exists and is very much alive today: Nevermore.


The economics of free

I’m a fan of BBC world service’s Digital Planet and one piece they had a few weeks ago was concerning the book ‘Free’ by Chris Anderson. Anderson has, I understand, a history as an editor of Wired. Although I’m currently going through the book, I’ve found the book interesting from a variety of perspectives:

1. Historical: The origins of ‘free’ have linguistic roots; distinguish between libre (free as in speech) and gratis (free as in beer). This is a distinction often made in the open source community.

2. Economics: Anderson introduces a distinction between the ‘atomic’ economy and the ‘bits’ economy. Both have notions of free, but with the latter, there are really interesting observations. With the former, we have ‘free’ in notions which are although already familiar to us; have very interesting dynamics. Consider the following atomic products of free:

i. Buy one get one free promotions
ii. Free newspapers
iii. Free radio
iv. Free samples.
v. Free products that require continuous purchasing, for instance, a free laptop that comes with a mobile phone subscription.

There are varied notions of ‘free’, this affords a very complex and nuanced notion of the economics of free. For instance, the success of the pamphlet ‘The Onion’ in the early 20thC is based on its free distribution, yet for other products, ‘free’ spells ruin.

3. Psychology: Behavioural economics apparently has a lot of insights into our rationality concerning ‘free’. Behavioural economics is a broad term for a whole gamut of subjects examining our economic behaviour, such as evolutionary biology, psychology and game theory. Apparently, we are more drawn to ‘free’ things even if we do not want or need it, and we are drawn to free in a sense of self-preservation. Anderson gives an example: if we were looking for socks with padded heels and toes, but saw a free pair of normal socks, we are disposed to obtain the latter because we percieve free as ‘no loss’ compared to the loss of capital.  The role of psychology in advertising is also an interesting and expected issue to raise.

4. The present zeitgeist. I consider myself particularly savvy in that I ‘get’ all of his references to things like google calendar, google reader, hulu, yahoo answers, wikipedia and so forth. This is a book for the noughties (or ‘google’) generation. As stated in the initial chapters, there are all sorts of divides between our attitudes towards free: for instance, concerning open source technology; software and music piracy; free promotions and advert-supported media. But, Anderson claims, the real distinction to be made regarding this is a distinction between two camps: those below thirty and those over thirty.

5. Current issues. I’ve not finished the book, but there are certainly issues concerning free to be made regarding the following issues:

i. Gaming and pricing
ii. Open source software
iii. Digital rights management and mp3 piracy
iv. The numerous discourses concerning ‘free’ throughout the past three centuries (such as ‘keep music live’ in Britain).
v. How game and software developers, publishers and online retailers manage the notion of free.
vi. The public domain (websites like Librivox, or the Gutenburg Project)
vii. Open access journals and other academic literature: how should academics view open access? will open access benefit education from primary to university level?

I’ll just leave the post by stating that in the BBC interview, Anderson stated that there will be a book released of Free, as well as two audiobooks that will be available: one which you pay for and one which is FREE! Also, one of these will be unabridged, and the other, abridged. Take a guess which is which?

You may be surprised. In a sense, Anderson is trying to ‘prove’ a point made in the book by the marketing of it…


Choosing one’s battles

The phase ‘choose your battles’ had come to mind of late. There is a general issue in life, as in RPGs, of choosing whether to find a niche, a speciality, or a very specific interest and pursue it to one’s heart’s content. Contrast this, to doing things in either a haphazard, spurious or balanced way. People often talk of balancing work with life; hobbies with families; or how to dedicate one’s free time.

Considering the whole spectrum of political causes, we may think of many as noble, but we cannot subscribe to or help them all. Trying to get everything done usually ends up getting very little done. To this end, I have considered limiting the kinds of news that I follow or the interests that I may otherwise subscribe to.

Scholars in a particular area of their interest may know of all or most of the important and unimportant researchers in their field, while the lay person may know particular individuals or theories, concepts, definitions or tidbits without context. It is expertise that govern’s the quality of dissemination, and furthering of scholarship or any enterprise.

Analogously, in RPG terms. Melee weapon specialists are rarely magic users; Magicians can’t use all classes of magic on pain of having very few low-level spells without having the real heavy-hitting spells, and healing classes must always make a compromise on their personal safety by dedicating points to their healing powers instead of wearing the most protective clothing or attack capacities. Of course, hybrids happen if the right mix occurs, but compromise is always a must.

About a year and a half ago I had started using Google reader and google calendar. I’ve been considering the amount of time I spend going through all the news and decided to have a purge of certain RSS feeds in the spirit of ‘choosing one’s battles’. Some news I get repeatedly sent to me, so I decided to choose only the cream of the crop blogs in some subjects (feminist blogs, for instance). Some blogs post too many posts in a day without many of them being worth reading. I decide to purge them too, although sometimes a blog might redeem itself with an interesting or worthwhile blog post.

Some hard decisions I am yet to make. I am getting too many ‘news’ stories. I subscribe to the Guardian, the Times, Salon, and the Telegraph. I was once on the New Yorker but I found their liberal sentiment far too bourgeois to the point of being self-indulgent. I’m increasingly finding that the guardian posts many stories although many are worthwhile, however, with the telegraph, a possible weak link; I consider their stories to have some poor basis in fact, and often are very populist, human interest focused and too centrist.

Contrary to the insight concerning the Independent, I find myself often tempted to subscribe to RSS feeds of the Daily Mail. I find some of their stories almost pornographic (metaphorically) in that the headline almost begs you to stare and read about the misfortunes and absurd kinds of situations that people get in. I suppose it is what my driving instructor called ‘rubbernecking’.

A good RSS feed is something that has something to offer; podcasts that I often listen to, stories worth reading, authors and journalists who are well-informed. I can be often put off causes or products or websites if they say too much without having much substance. A case in point is Stephen Fry’s twitter page: sometimes posts are interesting about his various travels and celebrity lunch companions; but his morning coffee or driving in a black cab are not worthy things of being informed about, conversely, his blog posts are very rare, but are always good to read.

Concluding, the idea of choosing one’s battles is one way to navigate, after being somewhat experienced in the world, as trying to get news and yet maintain a fruitful interest. It is by the very nature of the enterprise, a notion of limiting information that comes in, but to the benefit (hopefully) of not being wedded to the computer; which these cumbersome several hundred daily posts can do to me.

Along with social networking friends, having a clearout of GReader feeds is a way of establishing a positive and fluid relationship with the internet, one’s computer and contributes towards a controlled and organised sensory input from the outside world. Now if only I could do the same with youtube videos and my music listening schedule.


My introduction into wikipedia

I have often edited pages on wikipedia on a whim, in instances where there is obvious bias and the page reads like a press release.

Recently, I have been considering and considerably acting upon editing and watching pages on topics that I actually know something about more than the average person. These tend to be quite fringe areas and thus, watched and checked by few, if any other people.

Wikipedia is not only user-friendly, it is also editor-friendly. I’ve often found some interesting issues about wikipedia pages. Here are some of them as I have come across them:

1. The aforementioned issue concerning bias. Paages on wikipedia , especially when eduited by individuals who have an invested interest in the subject are prone to including personal and non-neutral language. Colloquial language is also present. One potential problem I’ve found (and I don’t know how to resolve this one) is a cat and mouse situation regarding the cycle of removing and adding biased or unacceptable language into wikipedia. Some pages are susceptable to trolling and although one may remove troll references and editing, it seems a constant struggle. Perhaps that is the necessary feature of an openly available encyclopaedia.

2. Discussions: I’ve found that difficult decisions often have to be made. I have had to remove information on some pages because I could not source them. They very well may be true, but editorial standards require proper sourcing insofar as the article may be considered a legitimate source of information on the subject. In that light, I have had to on occaision, remove whole lines and paragraphs and note in the editorial history that they should only be included until proper sources for the claims be found.

3. Discussions (1): Another difficult defcision is to remove wikipedia pages on certain subject matter. There was a recent discussion about revealing and thus making public, the details of rorscharch tests and in essence, making them redundant. Any test wherein the questions or nature of examination are made to be revealed (like past papers or past questions) undermines the genuine ‘testing’ element of such a test or exam. Regarding pages, there are guidelines as to what subject matters are acceptable. Of course, if one is really eager to include some piece of information; they can use less editorially stringent sources like urban dictionary.

That’s it for now. Of course there are many other issues, but it is an uphill struggle to learn more about the policies (and code).


Terrible vernacular

I’m increasingly self-conscious of my lexical choices and gramatical faux pas. As a part of this, I have made a change to my regular speech, according to one of my friends. I say less in an effort to convey clarity. I strive to say things which try to be unique, either to myself or to the world at large.

Further, I try not to do the following:

i. ‘Follow the leader’, repeating sentiment. News travels in waves and echoes these days; the announcement of the death of Michael Jackson, or in my kinds of circles, famous intellectuals and philosophers specifically. It is a learned response from one’s own experience, and from learned observation; that the first reaction is not always the most accurate.

ii. Not make a point. Conversation that tries to be argumentative or original must avoid the putative lay points of view unless actually relevant. Demagogues increasingly highjack policy and the proper governance. Stated a different way: why should I care what polls maintain about an issue (for instance, the recent issue of whether US pollers believe that Obama was born in the USA) unless it has been made clear to me that it is important.

iii. Be selective. It is the first rule of good essay writing that one should not just ‘say everything they know about an issue’, but to mention the things that are relevant or argumentative. I’m around many people who make this fallacy to the extent that I struggle not to internalise their own pattern.

With the above considered, I am still very much subject to grammatical and lexical fallibility. I’d begrudingly admit that. I had my recent book review revised for some typos, before realising that I still had more. Considering that it is an open access publication I’ll have it sorted out at some point soon.