anarag's blog

upper storeys

In the news today, NASA adds weight to the common – but curiously inert – conclusion that ice sheets are melting and seas will be rising.  One thing Iʼve not seen much of is actual adaption strategies to this.  Of course in the longer term it remains to be shown that there is any possible adaption which will avoid human extinction or reduction to a form of subsistence economy which makes the concept of adaption moot.  We can hope.

In the short to medium term, though, say we are looking at a 4–5m rise in average sea levels.  The timescale for this may be a hundred or two hundred years (the viability of current models for this is questionable; new points keep coming along to make it worse).  Iʼm particularly thinking about the impact this will have on the town nearest to me.  Much of the existing commercial centre will at some point be under water at normal high tides (rather than parts of it, every few years, at some high tides with a heavy swell).  How can adaption work?  Arguably there could be viable approaches which retain the existing town footprint – flood barriers are popular in some places, but I have doubts about it in this case; spending that amount of money for very small populations may not be an option.  So perhaps a more sensible approach is to require all new buildings or refurbishments to take sea levels into account over their intended lifespan.  (Though buildings are often used beyond their expected lifespan, especially during prolonged economic downturns.)  At this point, if a given piece of work is only intended to last a decade, probably there is no new requirement.  If fifty years, well, maybe occasional protection against higher storm surges than weʼre used to for all but the lowest-lying or most exposed.  Beyond that, we probably need to think bigger.

reasons to switch

One more reason to switch to a normal BSD or Linux.  OSX (10.5, and I donʼt know if fixed in 10.{6,}) makes hard links difficult to use.

Situation:  I have one stylesheet file to be used in multiple ePUB files.  I develop ePUBs with a web browser (in current practice, Safari).  Hmmm ... Safari doesnʼt read MacOS aliases.  Actually I remember that coming up with web browsers before.  It does read symlinks or hard links, good.  But the Finderʼs contextual menu compress command doesnʼt include symlinked files.  Oh well, use hard linking.  Errr...

The Wrong Anxieties

scottish and hypothetical ewnicish flags

I see David Cameron is getting round to supporting his supposed cause of unionism.  Or Brand Britain at least.  This is basically whatʼs wrong with the United Kingdom.  Itʼs not about a nation, in the sense of a group of people with something shared – however illusory.  Not according to the Tories and their ilk.  Itʼs a marketing opportunity.  A brand.  A way to allow shareholders to turn a profit.  That non-shareholders, and even the small scale shareholders, arenʼt now, nor will regularly in future, be getting anything worthwhile out of this is of no relevance.  Itʼs not even relevant that the large shareholders arenʼt from any particular part of Great Britain or its associated islands.  International capitalism requires successful brands, be it under Saʼudi, Chinese or British ownership, and the beneficiaries of the branding exercise are few and from around the world.

Well enough of it.  I had started out a couple of years ago assuming that the arguments for separation were mixed, which they are.  What has taken me by surprise is how abysmal the arguments for remaining in the UK are.  A reheated serving of romantic nationalism about a Britain that never was, but which has been getting increasingly ladled out by UK media for the last decade.  British sports, British baking, British monarchy, British reality TV, British I-donʼt-know-what-any-more.  You can tell that an identity is in trouble when it has to be so massively hyped, and that was before the referendum came over the horizon.  And underneath it, what?  More opportunities for the rich to become richer at the expense of everyone else.  I used to be amusedly tolerant of it, at least, so far as it wasnʼt the kind of malevolent Britishness of Ulster Unionism or British Imperialism and Nationalism.  After the last few years of brand exposure, Iʼm seriously sick of it.  Can has some clear headspace please?

Learning, and Learning From, C+cean

You might think – given a world in which there are uncountable ‘computer languages’, – that computers had evolved in the familiar way, from primitive valvifera to increasingly inquisitive and playful large-brained transistaria, maybe living off a foraging/scavenging diet supplemented with occasional catches of wild mice and trackballs, through a process of increased capacity for group relationships and pack hunting among the tape herds, developing the ability to communicate complex plans to each other, finally becoming able to consciously invent new words and grammars, write poetry, and construct spamming schemes.

But they didnʼt.  (Yet.)  Thatʼs not what computer languages are, itʼs a trick of the randomly imprecise natural language weʼre using; they are ‘computer control longuages’ (CCLs).  Thatʼs a whole different thing.  They are actually human languages, but formal extensions of our usual grammars, used to control computers.

Thereʼs a kind of implication here ... more interesting random imprecision ... could it be that normal human languages are actually ‘human-control languages’ (HCLs)?  Sometimes?  Maybe.  Itʼs probably more accurate to think that human languages are general languages usable for a range of functions.  One of these might be controlling humans, but we tend now to attempt to control each other through legal mechanisms which are themselves – ideally – controlled with semi-formal legal language.  Or just with money and/or weapons.  Adverts are another example of an attempt to control human behaviour with unnatural (often counterfactual) language.  Meantime we have also developed CCLs because, so far, we have to use more formal languages to control dumb machines, though the day may come when we can make smart machines that really are fully programmable with natural languages.  (I await a formal proof of this with interest but little hope.)

all weather placarding

Iʼm half asleep ... maybe one-side-of-brain basis, not sure.  Some part of me is trying to sleep, the other is trying to find solutions to random real or unreal problems.  This is normal.

So tonightʼs problem is:  Placards.  I loathe placards.  I have always loathed placards for being so damn awkward.  I have a few of them in the loft above my half asleep head that I made about thirty years ago and put out of harmʼs reach because they were so damn useless.  Thatʼs about the last time I ever carried a placard.

trust me iʼm a writer

(This article – which contains an illustrative range of ‘profane’ terms – started out as a tangent in an upcoming post, but has grown too large – so here itʼs by itself.)

The author of a fiction website I like to keep up with has a proposal for a simple ‘rating’ scheme for websites to declare their suitability for age and sensitivity of readers.  (It may be based on the US film industryʼs rating scheme, not sure.)  The system is used on-site, normally rated ‘all welcome except those with uptight parents’, but the author found it necessary a few years ago to supersede that with an age-14 limit for one story.  She had decided to use stronger language, and make it more honestly (rather than cartoonishly) violent than usual.

I believe the idea here is that you try to reassure the parents of some of your possible audience that children are safe with you (most of the time anyway).  And fair enough.  Trouble is, if I was a parent, I wouldnʼt trust authorsʼ self certification – even if I thought access restrictions were all that useful in the first place.  Itʼs much like the content description meta tags we learned to distrust years ago.  They may be useful, but Iʼd want independent content rating, based on an actual examination.  Of course I would also want it to be genuinely independent and objective, which may be hard.  I fear many parents, and self-appointed advisors of parents, just want the appearance of safety measures, irrespective of practicality.

I also fear that, though I am no longer fresh in the world, some people and organisations seem interested in managing my access for me.  The increasingly alien UK government, for one, have decided that the UK population will have access restrictions by default, and enforced by social stigma.

politics in a cardboard cutout sense

Having spent most of my life alternately bored stiff of or driven to despair by the one-dimensionality of conventional descriptions of political thinking, I am interested to find a website based on an explicitly two-dimensional rather than one-dimensional analysis: The Political Compass.  Their two dimensions and many interesting graphs are stretched between poles of “social authoritarianism/libertarianism” and “economic left/right (or communism/neoliberalism)”.  So, from uselessly simplistic to descriptively two dimensional.  Not much of an improvement, given the hugely polydimensional nature of politics and the underlying factors that produce it, but an improvement nonetheless.

(Though there is a curious echo here of The Thatcher Lie about the initial divisibility of economics and society.  I donʼt wholly reject these graphs, but I think it important to understand that social policies have economic implications, economic policies have social implications, and both have wider ecological implications.  These things arise mutually.)

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