Tuesday, September 30, 2003
As the first Santas appear on the streets (even before the returning TDs this year), it's time for a peek-back at Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales.
A useful reminder from the folks at MIT that while quantum computing is potentially better than the good ole silicon chip for solving certain large problems (e.g. cracking all and every computer generated encryption), it has one massive in-built limitation: it will ALWAYS require a lot of juice to keep running (see next point). Come to think of it, those particle accelerators we use for quantum research must suck up a fair amount of juice - and that's just for smashing sub-atomics into one another and seeing what happens, let alone manipulating them for computing purposes.
Other issues would be, for example, I/O: we all know that in a trad computer it isn't always the CPU that is the bottleneck. So the advantages of the "ultra CPU" provided by quantum computing would only apply to scientific "Deep Thought"-style problems.
The rolling electricity black-outs (US, UK, Italy, Hungary) are giving some people the jitters: especially when you consider that all this fine information technology / everything online / cashless society stuff is built on top of an aging and rickety infrastructure - the power grid.
SF writer Bruce Sterling has some pithy things to say about ten technologies we could do to be rid of. Thanks, KL.
A meaty paper has been written on the design of the Google file system: bookmarking here for future study.
Monday, September 29, 2003
It was a good weekend. The weather stayed crisp and Indian-summer-like. Sam came out, and we all did big work in the garden on Saturday - first decent chunk of progress since the op: general mowing and trimming, rockery work, border maintenance and extending.
Sunday, I found some rock art nearby - on the Clash road - cup like depressions in ancient stones, by the husband and wife who own the farm it's on. Later we foraged (unsuccessfully) to find a dolmen in a willow grove. The grove itself was pretty cool though. Classic roast chicken from Ais rounded out a wonderful weekend.
Friday, September 26, 2003
My first contribution to the Quicksilver Wiki is here: "spooky action at a distance".
Death march on the work front. Doing some garden work this weekend with Sam will be a heavenly contrast.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
Neal Stephenson is maintaining a Wiki about Quicksilver, which I've ordered. I won't go near the Wiki till I'm reading it though.
A stinging attack on over-reliance on a single OS (read Microsoft Windows) likens it to the Irish potato famine. A good, if unnerving read.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Always hot news, a new book from Neal Stephensen, there's a review on Blogcritics.org. It's called Quicksilver, and apparently he's building up a trilogy that pre-dates Crytonomicon, and introduces some of the ancestors of the characters in the latter book.
Here's a link to Neal's famous article on the laying of a world-wide fibre optic network. As you expect from Neal, this is far more interesting than it sounds.
And for the truly terminal computer wonks who care about such things as the evolution of computer/user interfaces, here's a link to Neal's seminal essay, In the Beginning was the Command Line.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Here is a quote that really resonates with me:
People who do good work often think that whatever they're working on is no good. Others see what they've done and are full of wonder, but the creator is full of worry. This pattern is no coincidence: it is the worry that made the work good.
You'll find the whole piece in this excellent article by Paul Graham, who also wrote that brilliant Hackers and Painters piece I linked to some time back.
Lost my boots in transit, babe,
Pile of smokin leather.
Nailed a re-tread to my feet
And prayed for better weather.
Turning autumnal and crisp - sunny after a fine clear night. It'll be time to hitting the hills again soon.
Monday, September 22, 2003
Fine sunny morning, and probably the first one where I've felt 98% well since the operation - it's pretty much a calendar month by now. Deep wounds heal slowly ...
Just for pig-iron, as the old Limerick phrase goes, I thought I'd put up a few poems: they're still only in dead tree format, and what if the house went on fire??? Anyway, here goes - they all date from Limerick in the early Eighties, and it shows ....
Swans on a Field Argent
From the Black Bridge the river turns,
Mighty and silver, to a lambent west.
The spire of St. John orchestrates the plain,
The dark hills of Clare are counterpointed by gulls:
Movement and stillness – a grey fugue.
Suddenly a scream of wings – angels at twelve o’clock:
Canted like Spitfires, a squadron of swans
Comes beating up that river-bend we call the Deep.
Your neck cricks as they clear the bridge by just ten feet,
Wings already hunching, legs splaying in the moment of transition
From the arrowed wildness of their flight
To a landing with all the matronly dignity
Of a lady lowering herself into a park bench
On a Sunday.
They rest at the Bulldogs, just below the falls.
A quick shuffle of feathers, and the moment of bathos
Is vanquished more quickly than the memory of flight.
In an instant, they are still, luminous incarnations
Of everything that is liquid, flows, reflects the light.
In every curve they carry the sinuous tale of a river,
Their whiteness against its silver, a heraldic blazon.
They claim their Shannon like returning kings.
Report from The White House*
Served in an agreeable clutter,
Whisky from the wood tastes better.
”Donncha’s March” from an ancient wireless:
Above, a bust of Chopin, and cats various.
To my right, Robert Graves, sombrero’ed Nemesis,
Rubs reluctant shoulders with Pound, his Anti-Christ.
Atop a keg of blissful dreams in amber,
A bronze and headless, armless goddess lingers:
Brown studies – sepia, umber, ochre -
Tarry here, caught in a Fifties hangover.
I close my eyes and feel the land about me
From Georgian brick to a wintry sea
As chill and grey as De Valera’s smile.
In between, the muddy fields, ditch, hedge, and stile,
And up a winding road that crests a pass
Comes a cart with driver, single churn, drawn by ass,
Pipe stuck in gob, trailing clouds of folklore.
O them were the days, the great days of yore.
But we’ve said goodbye to all that, Christ be thanked,
We’ve got videos now, and MTV, and plastic for the bank,
And all I really cannot understand
Is why I’m sitting here with chin in hand
Addressing life with dashes of poetic salt
And drawing frugal comfort
From a glass of nut-brown malt.
*Note to non-Limerick readers: the White House was an ancient pub much loved by poets, musicians, and drunken good-for-nothings. Since time of writing, it has been renovated to death.
The river-path is long as summer Sunday.
Log-thick pike are basking,
Waxing fat in summer weed.
Old ladies sit on benches,
They murmur genealogies:
”Her husband’s second cousin
Married one of the O’Dwyer’s.”
Other benches bear young couples,
Pastel hued in summer clothes,
Each moulding into one,
Lost to the river world
Where brat-packs dive,
Their bodies whippet-thin,
To come up screaming
With tresses of the long green weed
Upon their shorn heads.
Stout paterfamilias are strolling,
Trailing wives and kin
And diarrhoetic dogs
And radios crackling with
Controlled hysteria of the Sunday match.
The hogweed stalks are fifteen feet long,
Jungle strong, more proper
To the Mekong Delta,
And memory, like a stream
Divulging wrack, throws up
Fleets of helicopter gunships
And JFK in black-and-white:
The radio voice is Michael O’Hehir*
Carving the sound of Sunday
From the airwaves
And the curve of hurley swing
On fields of green
Is forming legends
Of the heroes then
That are heroes now
As the river bend is still the same
Though men grow tall
And die like hogweed.
Further up, the people thin
And fade. The river’s sleep
Is sunk pool deep
In a dream of green.
The willows stoop to form
A tunnel, where a heron rises
With wing flaps slow and grey
And heavy as this summer’s day.
A swan, with neck erect,
En garde, protects the nest
And the river’s slumber:
Deeper now than racial memory
Of all the heroes, but
Containing seed-like at its core
The dream of mad and brown November days
And rushing, giant-strong, creaming
In its strength, and roaring
As it hurries ruined trees
Past naked banks.
*Note to non-Irish readers, and Irish readers under 40: Micheal O’Hehir was a legendary sports commentator, who worked mostly on the radio, and on Irish sports such as hurling (though he did a mean horse-race too, and lived on well into the years of television). His voice is an instant time-warp to the Sixties for anyone who remembers him.
Sunday, September 21, 2003
That extremely longstanding question: Where is the any key? has been finally and decisively answered. Thanks, Compaq.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
A book to watch out for is this new edition of Samuel Johnson's dictionary.
Contrary to the assumptions of many open sourcers, it seems you can be sued for duplicating functionality of someone else's software in your own product, even if it's written in totally different code (e.g. COBOL vs. VB). At least in the Court of London you can. The judge compares it to ripping off the storyline of a book. Well, it's going to trial anyway, let's see how it goes ...
Astronomers are getting scared that they're scaring us about asteroids: New Scientist has a piece on why they want to overhaul the asteroid system of hazard rating.
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Suicide prevention on CD-ROM. Maybe a good idea for a software product by EP (Electric Paper, the company i work for)?
Interesting piece here on electronic paper: they've been working on the idea for years but finally the tech seems to be making it to market.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Came across some interesting information on Hy Kinsella - the part of Celtic Ireland we live in. The article is a little soft on detail but has some interesting pointers to places we should visit - the Holed Stone, St. Mullins - as well as places we know such as Rathgall and Croghan Mountain.
It was interesting to learn that Rathvilly (the village with the motte and great view of Lug and Blackstairs) was where the first King of Leinster was baptised into Christianity by St. Patrick himself.
Sparked by an interresting article on con-men, I ran a search and came up with an overview of the life of "Count" Victor Lustig - the Man who Sold the Eiffel Tower- Twice!.
An interestingly sceptical take on where the Web (and more specifically, Google) is headed is to be found in the Reg.
Fat chance of the hoover being fixed any time soon. Our dog ate a big chunk out of the filter while it was drying out.
Monday, September 15, 2003
The Dyson Man came. Hopefully, our futuristic (if temperamental) hoover is fixed now.
Saturday we went into town which was fun but a bit pushy. Aya has come down in the world a little, I need to find a new sushi bar.
Sunday, we went down to Carlow again, this time with C. and S. Visited our ring fort, Rathgall, again. I'm not surprised to hear it was a seat of the Kings of Leinster: some good pics here.
Further info was found on a good site about Carlow heritage. The bit on Rathgall is interesting:
Much earlier civilizations, however, built the great Dolmen at Browne’s Hill and other notable specimens within the county. Excavations at the great stone fort of Rathgall just inside the Wicklow border have brought to light the sophisticated technology used by the Celts when making their bronze weapons. Rathgall was a huge workshop where spears, swords and shields were fashioned. On excavation in 1969, Rathgall turned out to be the first Later Bronze Age Workshop located in Ireland and more than four hundred fragments of clay moulds were found. A further two or three hundred mould fragments were discovered away from the main workshop showing the considerable extent of the bronze-working area.
Here's an aerial view:
We went on to Altamont gardens. It's a dogs-not-allowed place (wuff! grrrr!), so Ais and myself had a nice little picnic while the others did the garden. We have to plot a dogless return visit!
Irish stew and a few sccops and chat afterwards - an enjoyable Sunday.
The weather has been fantastic - reall Indian summer stuff.
Friday, September 12, 2003
Came across a good new word today: anecdoubt - the feeling you sometimes get, when telling someone a story, that you've told them this story already. A.k.a. deja dit.
The Man in Black checked out today.
Slate has a few words on the re-issue of Thelonious Monk's Underground.
Spotted in the Times:
Ireland brought to book
All-consuming for its editor, 'The Encyclopaedia of Ireland' aims to encompass the island in a single volume, writes Arminta Wallace
Never, they say, judge a book by its cover. You probably shouldn't judge a book by its weight, either, but one that weighs four kilograms is entitled to a certain amount of respect. This stately, plump tome, The Encyclopaedia Of Ireland, is, according to its publisher, Gill & Macmillan, the first compendium of all things Irish to be assembled in print. It took six years and cost €1 million to compile. Its 1,256 pages contain more than a million words, the entries under its 5,500 headwords covering history, literature, science, sport, engineering, politics, popular music - everything "from Abbeyknockmoy to Zozimus".
"You know the old thing about climbing Everest because it's there? We did it because it wasn't there," says the man who came up with the idea for the book, publishing director Fergal Tobin. "We noticed that single-volume, single-topic encyclopaedias were selling very well in other countries - and Ireland didn't have one." Which is odd, because Ireland is a particularly suitable topic. "You couldn't produce a one- volume book on France or Italy, obviously, because they're too big. Ireland is rich enough but at the same time small enough to encompass in one volume."
Leafing through the pages at random, you will learn that the county of Wicklow takes its name from the Norse U?kar-l?, meaning "meadow of the bay", that 19th-century Blasket islanders often ate seabirds' eggs "though they gave the eater bad breath", that in his work De Mirabilibus Sacrae Scriptorum, the seventh-century author Augustine Eriugena listed the terrestrial mammals of the island, "solving the problem of how they reached the country after Noah's flood by proposing that Ireland had been cut off from the European continent by marine erosion".
The illustrations are a joy. Some are straightforward picture-postcard views, some black-and-white documentary reportage. But there are also plenty of unexpected images: members of Our Lady's Choral Society caught in a sudden squall during an outdoor performance of Handel's Messiah; the Epona instrument, Ireland's first space experiment, which flew to Halley's Comet in the late 1980s; Father Patrick Dineen, compiler of the famously quirky Focl?ir Gaedhilge Agus Béarla of 1927.
Neil Hannon, also known as The Divine Comedy, has an entry, as do The Cranberries; Roy Keane is there, although not, such is the speed at which celebrity moves nowadays, Damien Duff.
You can get a good idea of the range and reach of the encyclopaedia by perusing its list of contributors. "Thomas Acton," it begins, "is professor of Romani studies at the University of Greenwich . . . " The first column alone contains Anders Ahlqvist, professor of Old and Middle Irish, Yahya al-Hussein, imam, and ?amonn Ansbro, director of Kingsland Observatory in Co Roscommon.
Ireland being Ireland, of course, many of the names are very familiar indeed, and perhaps only in circles as small as those in which Irish society moves would you get David Norris writing scholarly stuff on the history of homosexuality, then turning up as an entry in his own right.
It's worth pausing, though, to ask where you start when you set out to compile a book like this. "I spent about half a year looking at all Irish works of reference in print, combing the indices," says the encyclopaedia's general editor, Brian Lalor. "Then I composed a 5,000-heading skeleton index." At that point the 16 senior consultants, leading figures in the fields of history, science, literature, music, sociology and so on, were invited on board.
They, in turn, drew up lists of potential contributors. "X is told, 'We want 150 words on some 17th-century poet,' and they produce it. You're in business from that moment," says Lalor.
In theory it's simple: create your structure, appoint your people and let them at it. In practice, of course, simple is precisely what it isn't. Experts may know what they're on about, but they may not be particularly good at communicating it in 150 words - or even 10 times that many. "One person who shall be nameless was asked for 1,500 words on a topic and delivered 9,000," says Lalor with relish.
And "brilliant" ideas often aren't. "We began by marking out all the cross-references by hand on hard copy. Then somebody suggested it could all be done by computer." Computers are notoriously insensitive to nuance, so phrases such as "early modern" were picked up and cross-referenced, often as part of another phrase, occasionally wildly out of context. "We went through all the references with a fine comb, but it's a very dangerous business. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few howlers in there still," Lalor admits.
Unsurprisingly, Tobin says Gill & Macmillan would like to see a copy in every household in the country. As general editor Lalor says he aspired to generosity of spirit, inclusiveness and variety. "My feeling was that you shouldn't read through this book and say, oh God, more English literature or, oh, not more geography! I hope that there is such an extraordinary mix that you do not get pages and pages and pages of anything in particular.
"Also, the book is not a polemic. It is written from a position of confidence. In the past there was an assertion to be made about Irishness; we don't need to make that assertion now. And," he adds, "it includes the living as well as from now back to the Ice Age. And the living, of course, is the minefield."
Inevitably, as the process of compilation moved forward there was a great deal of refining, adjusting and sifting. But there was, he says, one major surprise. "I was very determined that the encyclopaedia would not be written from [University College Dublin's campus at\] Belfield. It had to be written from all corners, and that meant not writing about the North from the South. So we appointed consultants north of the Border as well as many contributors from around the world. There are contributors from 200 universities or institutions, all told. But we discovered that since 1922, particularly in the social sciences but in many other topics as well, scholars have not been writing about the whole island."
So a piece commissioned on, say, education would discuss only education in the Republic. Asked to amend it, the contributor would often argue that comparable statistics didn't exist. Sometimes, as in the case of education, this proved to be insurmountable. "I hadn't anticipated to what degree not thinking about the island as an island would affect almost every topic," says Lalor.
"That was a bit of an eye-opener, and I cannot say we entirely overcame it. But once we recognised it, sometimes all we had to do was send back the person's text and say, you know, excuse me, but . . . Lough Neagh? Large body of water?"
Bodies of water provide some of the encyclopaedia's most enjoyable moments, including a brace of pieces on fly-fishing by the novelist Colm O'Gaora and Joseph Brady's atmospheric miniature on the River Nore.
Commentators will no doubt have hours of fun arguing over the entries on political figures and the mini-essays on such topics as social class, public expenditure, bed and breakfast accommodation and sexuality. There are plenty of entries to treasure, not least an astringent note on the angelus by Lalor and a paragraph that celebrates the mother of all cows, Big Bertha.
Would it be correct to describe editing The Encyclopaedia Of Ireland as a labour of love for Lalor, whose interests encompass archaeology, printmaking, architecture and travel? "An ordeal would be more accurate, I think," he says. "During the latter part of the project my life was ruled by it. It was running through my mind all the time, no matter what I was supposed to be doing.
"On one occasion I woke up in the middle of the night with what I knew with absolute certainty was a vital piece of information. I went and got a sheet of paper, wrote the information on it and went back to sleep. I got up in the morning and there was the sheet of paper" - emblazoned with an unintelligible scribble. Beckett, Samuel (1906-1989), novelist, dramatist, and poet, would have loved it.
The Encyclopaedia Of Ireland is published by Gill & Macmillan on Tuesday, €65
Thursday, September 11, 2003
Two years on, huh? And does the world feel a safer place, uh huh?
Here's an interesting one: the top 25 under-reported stories of the last year. Stealth censorship, anyone?
Tuesday, September 9, 2003
Work has been mental, and health wonky, so no blogging for a week.
We had a memorable day on Saturday, went bagging antiquities in the East Carlow region: a standing stone, a motte at Rathvilly, a grand dolmen that we always drive past on the Hacketstown-Carlow road, and a magical ring fort. Pristine blue skies and views of Lugnaquilla and the Blackstairs mountains.
Here's a bit of writing I did on Sean-Paul's Silk Road bulletin board: responding to an experience S-P had of "travel rage".
Read your piece, and yes I see where your coming from. I remember reading the China comments at the time you wrote them and thinking "Ha, traveller burn-out, this is not the Sean-Paul we know ..."
I don't have much China experience (just a couple months in HK and Taiwan) I'm more of an India hand, and I've been to that point of burn-out more than once. I remember on one visit, I stayed too long and wound up running totally out of money, literally slept on the airport floor the night before flying out (thx to the way the world's clocks work, westbound India flights leave at ungodly hours), not even a rupee to my name to buy a cup of chai.
In the checkout scramble, my ticket got mishandled by some official, and it simply went missing. I nearly had several heart attacks, until suddenly up showed this little official, typical Indian airport wallah, it had been found on the floor of one of the buses going to the planes from the terminal
buildings, and somehow he managed to backtrack the crumpled piece of paper to the crazy white guy who was going apeshit at the checkin counter. I went from blind hatred of all things Indian to tearful gratitude in a nano-second - and I didn't even have a paisa to tip the little fellow who found my
On the way to the plane, I saw one of those sights you will only see in India: a Brahmin saddhu in full regalia: immaculate white khadi loincloth, stout staff, austere and distant expression, daubed with the mark of Shiva, carrying one of those sets of nested stainless steel cans they use for toting their food - Brahmins are so high caste they can only eat food cooked by other Brahmins, if anyone touches it they have to do lengthy and arduous purification.
We were flying a cheap and nasty airline. This was in the 80's: there was a shooting war or two in the Mid East, and if you wanted to fly for half nothing you went with one of the war zone carriers. Ariana Afghan (now defunct) was the cheapest: I've had some scary flights in and out of Kabul with
a lot of the Russian army parked on the tarmac and mujahideen with SAMs in the hills to every side. This time round, I was flying Air Syria - London via Damascus. Security was tighter than El Al.
The Syrians had their own security on top of the Indian system, with extra muscle on the plane door and a further check on passengers. As the Brahmin got on board, those guys really took him apart - especially all his food-related pits and pieces. I felt a shameful hot flush of schadenfreude: "Well, NOW you know what it's like to be an outcast, you bastard", knowing exactly how the Brahmin would feel about having his person and his precious food trinkets mauled by swarthy, mustachio'd, gun-toting Syrians.
I was thinking of the Untouchables, the lower castes who are still cruelly oppressed by the Brahmin top dogs. For instance, if an Untouchable unwittingly defiles a Brahmin - say, by letting his shadow fall across the Brahmin's footstep, the Brahmin won't beat him up (further defilement!) but will instead hire some goons to do it for him. To this day, there is systematic and engrained denial of Untouchable human rights.
And then I thought: "Hang on a minute: has India taught you NOTHING?" In the same nation, over a billion people with wildly opposing social and religious values somehow rub shoulders together and get through the day - you only ever get to hear about it when that doesn't happen, mostly it does.
Unlike many of its neighbours, India is a secular, democratic society.
So, making a small namaste to the saddhu, I found my way to a cramped, rear-end seat.
And flew to Damascus.
Wednesday, September 3, 2003
Courtesy: The Agonist. Anyone who's ever farted in the bath (which must be about everyone whose taken a bath) may wonder what the results are like when a whale lets loose. Well, here's the first scientific observation. And yes, it was pretty ripe.
Since I've written a bit on biometrics, I am interested to see that facial recognition is still struggling. Because human have massively better pattern recognition than computers, we beat the socks off them at this stuff: e.g. the new born babe recognises his mother's face in the first few hours. Computer-based facial recognition is hot in the US, esp. at airports, post 9/11, but this article says that success to date has been pretty patchy.
Tuesday, September 2, 2003
E-mail is dead - long live RSS - well, for publishing anyways ...
Monday, September 1, 2003
Striking a blow for the Laws of Physics as used in Hollywood: an excellent read!!!
Old Raed is being given some excellent competition from a woman Baghdad blogger. Baghdad Burning is a esssential companion to keeping an eye on what's really happening on the ground in Iraq.
Looks like scientists have finally cracked the secrets of silk - which could have big applications for nanotechnology.
posted by A Seeker after Knowledge 4:16 AM