Friday, April 29, 2011

Eco - "Writings: IBM vs. Mac"

Insufficient consideration has been given to the new underground religious war which is modifying the modern world. It's an old idea of mine, but I find that whenever I tell people about it they immediately agree with me.
The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach -- if not the kingdom of Heaven -- the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.
DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.
You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It's true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions: When it comes down to it, you can decide to ordain women and gays if you want to.
Naturally, the Catholicism and Protestantism of the two systems have nothing to do with the cultural and religious positions of their users. One may wonder whether, as time goes by, the use of one system rather than another leads to profound inner changes. Can you use DOS and be a Vande supporter? And more: Would Celine have written using Word, WordPerfect, or Wordstar? Would Descartes have programmed in Pascal?
And machine code, which lies beneath and decides the destiny of both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that belongs to the Old Testament, and is talmudic and cabalistic.

Sometimes things change so fast it's frightening. Sometimes they stay the same and that's even scarier. This is an excerpt form Umberto Eco's column in the Italian weekly Espresso dated, September 30 1994.

1994 is almost 20 years ago. An entire generation exists from then to now. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose - the more things change, the more they stay the same, sometimes.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dr Who loses first feisty female


Vale Sarah Jane Smith / Elisabeth Sladen - i wouldn't have survived the 70s (or since) without your role model.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Sorting algorithms demonstrated with Hungarian folk dance

Bubble sort dance

We've seen sorting algorithms visualized and auralized, but now it's time to see them through the spirit of Hungarian folk dance. In a series of four videos (so far), folks at Sapientia University in Romania demonstrate how different sorting algorithms work with numbered people dancing around and arranging themselves from least to greatest.

See them in action in the video below. This one is for Bubble-sort. They move with such zest.

[Video Link via @shancarter & Boing Boing]

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At first I found this baffling, however when I could see the (very simple) rule unfolding, it became as seductive as an abacus. It does raise almost as many questions as it answers though. Questions which are not frequently raised in math. Who taught the rules? Why are the odd numbers female?

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Naming of Robots | apologies to T.S. Eliot | The Robot State

A whimsical post for National Robotics Week.

The Naming of Robots is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a robot must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a robot needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his power perpendicular,
Or spread out his data, or cherish his code?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricobot,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one robot.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE ROBOT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a robot in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

apologies to T.S. Eliot (and jemsweb for photo)

Robot Cat | Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Robotics Week Begins At Home – Girl Powered | The Robot State

Robotics week begins at home, building geek stuff with my kids and visiting Tech Shop and the Homebrew Robotics Club open day. However, bringing up the next geek girl generation is a troubling responsibility. Is there really a future for my daughters in technology?

The reality is not so bright AND it’s not changing any time soon. Across the board, the number of women in most of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) has actually been declining since a brief flurry of feminism in the 1970s. The areas which have achieved parity are math and the bio sciences. While there is a drop off of both male and female interest in computing/engineering, robotics is a growth industry and the gender disparity is still huge.

At this point, it is customary to point out the successful fantastic women who are in the industry. Well, keep looking. Marissa Mayer, the pin up girl for business engineering success was quoted last week as being optimistic about the future of women in technology.

“It’s important to send the message that you don’t have to give up your femininity to enter a space like technology,”

This week, she’s been dropped from the inner circle of Google. Which sends the message endorsed by Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook recently on TED, that women have to change in order to survive. This troubles me. I remember that Nicola Horlick, the British SuperWoman financier who had it all together did eventually lose it all. She’s now struggling with a start up film industry fund. Gartner research has long told us that ‘work/life balance’ remains a career obstacle for women.

What does this have to do with robotics? Child pictured is an engineer born, who plays well with robots, dogs, boys and girls. Middle child is only 11 but refuses to be seen dead in a robot shirt. She understands already that being a geek girl is social anathema, even though she loves designing (note the change of job title!) habitats, buildings and vehicles. This is different to the nerd angst of boys. Boys may still aspire to go from geek to billionaire.

So robotics, it’s time you changed!  Women Unplug from the Tech Industry is a good starting place for an overview, duly referencing Maria Klawe and all at Anita Borg org, who’ve devoted a lot of time and thought to this complex issue. I have also written a summary and some proposals for building a gender equitable technological skills base from an Australian perspective.

Robotics week might begin at home but we’re aiming to change the world. Together.

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