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.)

security snapshot

Itʼs not news that it is possible to use a laptop computer (or other device)ʼs built in camera to take pictures without the current user being aware of it. I ran across some discussion of this recently which seemed odd. Some people suggest (e.g. here) that the standard security response of taping (or equivalent) over the camera is inadequate because a usable image might still be obtainable by post-processing. The suggestion may not be serious, but it hadnʼt occurred to me; I have never thought much about whether a piece of metal foil tape or black tape would be better than the little square cut out of a post-it note Iʼve been using all these years. I prefer a post-it note because itʼs easy to remove if you ever actually want to use the camera – though thereʼs nothing stopping you using metal foil tape on top of a post-it note.

Anyhow, evidence. This is a self-portrait image taken with my laptop webcam, with a light shining directly on me, through a single layer of purple post-it note. The original image was almost black, so I ran it through the Photoshop Equalise filter.

view through a postitnote

The speckling is partly jpeg and partly low-light randomness. However, I suspect it would be a challenge to extract a usable image from this even if you could access the raw data. It doesnʼt even give much opportunity for pareidolia. Semitransparent tapes might not give the same level of protection.

Result: Probably not a security issue in the foreseeable future. And Iʼm quite pleased with this picture. I look much prettier than usual. ^.^

regarding our sources of gems and cake

I recently found and read one of the best manga series Iʼve ever come across.  Beautifully drawn, mostly beautifully written.  Charming, poignant and amusing by turns.  But thatʼs not what I want to write about.

What I want to write about starts with the fact that I had never heard of it.  Thatʼs not unusual; there are more manga in Japan and on the Net than are dreamt of in any one place on Earth.  And Sturgeonʼs Law applies – ninety-five per cent of them are crap.  Many of them unbearable.  Yet here we are; amidst the worthwhile five percent, a gem.  And I would never have heard of it if it hadnʼt been for: scanlation sites.  Nor is this the first time Iʼve come across excellent works in this way.

proving the rule #1

Rule 37: If You can imagine it, thereʼs a band called it.

The idea of Rule 37 seems like a good one in outline, but does it work in practice?  The thought has been niggling at me, so itʼs time I tried it out.  I thought maybe a random phrase generator would help, but then I thought, no, the test is if you, the unaugmented human, can imagine it...  So I am reduced to thinking of less obvious concepts to see whether they are band names.

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