Saturday, March 31, 2007

It is amazing the lengths a Watcher will go to keep you from pursing the flow of your imagination. Watchers are notorious pencil sharpeners, ribbon changers, plant waterers, home repairers and abhorrers of messy rooms or messy pages. They are compulsive looker-uppers. They cultivate self-important eccentricities they think are suitable for "writers." And they'd rather die (and kill your inspiration with them) than risk making a fool of themselves.

--- Gail Godwin in an essay titled "The Watcher at the Gate" (1974), quoted by Roy Peter Clarke in Writing Tool #43: Self-criticism

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A decision was wise, even though it led to disastrous consequences, if the evidence at hand indicated it was the best one to make; and a decision was foolish, even though it led to the happiest possible consequences, if it was unreasonable to expect those consequences.

--- Herodotus, quoted by D. S. Siva, Data Analysis: A Bayesian Tutorial, 1996, p. 2. Ronald A. Howard in The Foundations of Decision Analysis Revisited refers to Jaynes (Jaynes, E.T. (1986), Bayesian Methods: General Background. In Justice, J. H. (Ed.) Maximum-Entropy and Bayesian Methods in Applied Statistics. Cambridge Univ. Press) when citing the same quote. Looks like this is a favorite quote of Bayesians everywhere.
Explanation is to cognition as orgasm is to reproduction.

--- Alison Gopnik, Explanation as Orgasm, Minds and Machines 8 (1) 101-118 (1998)

In context:

"My hypothesis will be that explanation is to cognition as orgasm is to reproduction. It is the phenomenological mark of the fulfillment of an evolutionarily determined drive. From our phenomenological point of view, it may seem to us that we construct and use theories in order to achieve explanation or have sex in order to achieve orgasm. From an evolutionary point of view, however, the relation is reversed, we experience orgasms and explanations to ensure that we make babies and theories."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

In the Web hype-o-sphere, things matter hugely until, very suddenly, they don’t matter at all.

--- Michael Hirschorn, The Web 2.0 Bubble, The Atlantic Monthly, April 2007

Monday, March 05, 2007

Invention is often the mother of necessity, rather than vice versa

--- Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Norton, 1997, pp. 242-3. Via Delancyplace 03/05/07

Full text quoted:

"The starting point for our discussions is the common view expressed in the saying 'Necessity is the mother of invention.' ...

"In fact, many or most inventions were developed by people driven by curiosity or by a love of tinkering, in the absence of any initial demand for the product they had in mind. Once a device had been invented, the inventor then had to find an application for it. Only after a device had been in use for a considerable time did consumers feel they 'needed' it. Still other devices, invented to serve one purpose, eventually found most of their use for other, unanticipated purposes. It may come as a surprise to learn that these inventions in search of a use include most of the major technological breakthroughs of modern times, ranging from the airplane and automobile, through the internal combustion engine and electric light bulb, to the phonograph and transistor. Thus, invention is often the mother of necessity, rather than vice versa.

"A good example is the history of Thomas Edison's phonograph, the most original invention of the greatest inventor of modern times. When Edison built his first phonograph in 1877, he published an article proposing ten uses to which his invention might be put. They included preserving the last words of dying people, recording books for blind people to hear, announcing clock time, and teaching spelling. Reproduction of music was not high on Edison's list of priorities. A few years later, Edison told his assistant that his invention had no commercial value. Within another few years he changed his mind and did enter business to sell phonographs--but for use as office dictating machines. When other entrepreneurs created jukeboxes by arranging for a phonograph to play popular music at the drop of a coin, Edison objected to this debasement, which apparently detracted from serious office use of his invention. Only after about twenty years did Edison reluctantly concede that the main use of his phonograph was to record and play music."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Science is the conversation about how the world is. Culture is the conversation about how else the world could be, and how else we could experience it.

--- Brian Eno, "Eno's Second Law," on, mentioned by Scott Rosenberg in lecture at MSR on Dreaming in Code.


"Science wants to know what can be said about the world, what can be predicted about it. Art likes to see which other worlds are possible, to see how it would feel if it were this way instead of that way. As such art can give us the practice and agility to think and experience in new ways - preparing us for the new understandings of things that science supplies."

Also, Eno's First Law

"Culture is everything we don't have to do

"We have to eat, but we didn't have to invent Baked Alaskas and Beef Wellington. We have to clothe ourselves, but we didn't have to invent platform shoes and polka-dot bikinis. We have to communicate, but we didn't have to invent sonnets and sonatas. Everything we do—beyond simply keeping ourselves alive—we do because we like making and experiencing art and culture."
Our technological civilization depends on software

--- Bjarne Stroustrup, creator of C++, interview with, “The Problem with Programming," MIT Technology Review November 28, 2006


"Software developers have become adept at the difficult art of building reasonably reliable systems out of unreliable parts. The snag is that often we do not know exactly how we did it: a system just "sort of evolved" into something minimally acceptable. Personally, I prefer to know when a system will work, and why it will."

"There are just two kinds of languages: the ones everybody complains about and the ones nobody uses. "

Friday, March 02, 2007

People like to imagine that because all our mechanical equipment moves so much faster, that we are thinking faster, too.

---Christopher Morley, writer(1890-1957), cited passim, no reference found, recommended by Pam Heath