Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Unspeakably Friendly Mimes

Recently, storage of my books has depended on my having a fair number of my books somewhere other than my apartment, e.g. loaned out to friends, stored at my office, etc. While the second is still good for books (despite the mess), everybody is returning borrowed books recently and not borrowing in equal quantity. The result is presently a mess, with books spread out on couches, desks, and everywhere throughout my apartment (but the floor, which I am now very careful to keep clean after a few nasty slips some years ago that gave me horrible headaches). I have a lot more cleaning to do (tonight? this weekend?), and a good amount of it will be figuring out where to put the extra shelf-fulls of books. On a slightly related note, someone recently noted that a friend of theirs (an adult) is effectively illiterate. I was stunned.. It's hard for me to imagine the number of opportunities they're missing out on. I imagine I've read thousands of books since learning to read.. Fortunately, literacy is largely (but not entirely) a solved problem in the western world. It should be a priority to push it the rest of the way here, and reach that level for the rest of the world. At Wikimania, I noted in some discussions with people that some societies that fall behind technologically, when pulled forward may end up skipping intermediate technological/economic "temporary grounds", such as scribe-written books or perhaps books themselves. There is an interesting tension in societies that have the remnants of an older culture still competing with the current one -- it adds richness to the new ground when traditionalists, who typically understand livability and the human factor, coexist with technologists, who typically have a slightly unworkable set of ideas for how technology should talk to people. The traditionalists typically act to reign in the bad parts of the new design -- is that possible when the technologies are too different? We could, for example, imagine people who live on their feet with bags and stuff providing some insight to those who would have us ride horses (perhaps reigning in dumb experimental ideas about saddlebags), and similarly between horses and carriages, and carriages and cars. Could a horseback rider offer as much for car design? If not, would cars from such a nation, if not managed by those providing the basic technology, be a testing ground for a lot of bizarre, unworkable ideas or otherwise be inferior? Even in revolution, I think there's value in understanding history (especially the recent lessons).

The pedant in my heart is irritated at American Labour day -- every time I hear mention of "Labour Day", I keep wanting to tell people that it's already past, and that the United States is too politically broken to celebrate it when it happened.. Meh.

I spoke on skype yesterday (which, despite being not technologically interesting, is quite useful because it is widely used) with someone in Netherlands about an open project of theirs, WiktionaryZ. WiktionaryZ is part of a translation project, aiming to provide decent translation between hundreds of languages. I expressed my usual concerns with such an ambitious project -- connotations, subtleties of meaning, etc. His claims for the translation are not super bold though, and they seem to manage (by noting) things that don't map precisely together. It may be impossible to do as well as a human translator, but his project has the potential to do pretty well anyhow. Central to the effort is his notion of Defined Meaning. I am still trying to understand the fine details, after which point I may contribute to the project, time and interest permitting. It is possible that the way words can combine and ambiguity may make "the best a computer can do" badly broken. To modify his example, given the phrase "He is an ethnic german" might mean "He is of German ethnicity", or it might mean "He is a German who exhibits a number of ethnic traits". Is this just a border case? On the other hand, for creating a foreign-language dictionary, enumerating all the meanings makes this not so much of an issue. It all depends on what one does with the data..

I found this to be interesting -- we know that Google has already complied with requests by the Chinese government to reveal identities of people wanted for political talk in China. Will google bow in the face of this challenge as well? I suspect so -- it has already blanked parts of its maps that cover U.S. sensitive areas. The project loses some value with every such change...


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