Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in August, 2003

The English translation of the first installment of my Interesting Times column is up. I’m starting out with some stories about the early Brazilian computer industry.

The column itself (in Portuguese) is for the new edition of MacMagazine, the premier Brazilian Macintosh news site. New installments will appear somewhat irregularly, but I’ll try to write at least a couple every month. You can subscribe to RSS feeds in English or Portuguese. Suggestions or questions are always welcome; post them here or, if you prefer, at this MacMagazine Forum topic.

Interesting Times

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Tonight I’m writing the first installment of a column for MacMagazine, the premier Brazilian Macintosh news site. English translations will be posted here in this topic, with a small delay.

Here’s a very unsettling explanation about files that Windows keeps users from seeing through a variety of undocumented tricks. Copies of browser cache and history, deleted e-mail, and other potentially sensitive stuff..

No comment… icon_rolleyes.gif

Sterling rulez

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Bruce Sterling does it again. Here’s an excerpt from his recent book, Tomorrow Now. This is on my list of books to buy…

…You’re just a normal person in a biotech world. You are not some grand chrome-dome master of biotech–no single mind can ever master such a broad field. Biotech is not even your personal line of work; you just live there. Your lawn is aswarm with living things because of social pressure from your neighbors. A mowed lawn is a scandal; you wouldn’t subject the neighborhood to such a sight any more than you’d shave your children’s heads to eradicate lice. You don’t go out there and garden it, either. The lawn tools know more about plants than you do. And they work by themselves. It’s a city lawn, not a wilderness. It’s autogardening. The “wild” animals living in it don’t know they are under surveillance.

…Your bathroom cabinet is full of unguents, greases, and perfumes. There are some pills in there, but most of them do not contain drugs. Instead, they contain living, domesticated organisms that make drugs while living inside you. Some of the “pills” are cameras, with tiny sensors and onboard processing. Nothing in your medicine cabinet is sterile, not even the bandages. Modern bandages contain living organisms that are good for wounds.

“Sterility” is what people do need when they don’t know what’s happening on a microbial level. In a biotech world, sterility is a confession of ignorance. It’s a tactic of desperation.

…You’re into germs because germs are into you. No man ever walks alone. Every human adult carries about two pounds of living bacteria, or about a hundred trillion nonhuman cells. This is entirely normal and good. It’s something you understand about the real world that twentieth-century people did not see and could not perceive. They had this crude, desperate insight they called “sanitation,” while you possess a genuine insight and a hands-on technical mastery of that situation. Unlike those blind primitives, you walk your seething Earth in an aware, fully engaged, progressive, civilized fashion. You swarm inside and out with microbes, and it’s good for you. You recognize and celebrate this. People chat about their germs over coffee – it’s like comparing perfumes. In your world, germs are the perfumes. Anyone who smells bad is an utter ignoramus.

New eyes for old

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Halley just came out of cataract surgery (and she’s younger than I am, I hasten to add). Seems it was just marvelous:

…I am in some rapturous drug trip. I don’t even want to think of how much I WAS NOT SEEING.

I see a clock — the second hand is SCREAMING at me — hi, Halley, hi, Halley! I go into the bathroom, the chrome faucet looks like it’s on silver fire, I jump back from it to avoid getting scalded by light.

That’s the sort of thing one likes to read after all the bad news one sees elsewhere…

…hopefully doing her second eye will double the effect. I can’t wait to read about it.

I won’t need this sort of thing for some time, but hopefully by then jelly-like replacement lenses will be perfected and on the market; that would allow me to ditch my current glasses. As I have an odd combination of eye problems – 5.5 myopia in the left eye, combined with astigmatism in the right eye, and now presbyopia – I need one set of glasses for driving (or lately, doing almost anything that demands far vision) and another one optimized for working at my laptop.

The latter is optimized so as to put the screen at a virtual distance (focus-wise, that is) of 5 meters. This allows me to work long hours without tiring, as the eye stays perfectly relaxed. Still, it would be great to do without glasses altogether in all situations, but the current state of the art isn’t there yet.

Physics savvy?

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I stumbled upon the Intuitor Stupid Movie Physics site (very interesting, by the way) and of course had to take their Physics Savvy test. Hah! Quail before my l33t physicz skillz, I thought… but I ended up with just a humbling 87.5% score. 4 out of 30 wrong!

Analyzing my four mistakes was instructive. One of them (#17) was due to a linguistic error – I simply forgot that “speed” and “velocity” are not synonyms in English. Another (#15) was due a subtle difference between scalar and vector acceleration – I thought they meant one but they meant the other. Another mistake (#14) involved “sensation” which I was unsure how to interpret in physical terms. Finally, there’s one (#23) which I disagree with.

This brings to mind the arguments I had in school with my various physics teachers… in retrospect, they usually hinged on trick questions or definitions of technical terms. I remember one especially complex one, involving acceleration in multiple moving frameworks, where the teacher finally had to invoke Lorentz contraction to fend me off. 😀

Anyway, I suppose the average movie director and/or movie-goer would get the majority of these wrong.


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I’ve been wanting to post this for some time but had lost the reference. Although this has been e-mailed around without attribution, it turns out that it’s a story/radio play by award-winning SF author Terry Bisson. Here’s the full text on his website.

Voice One: “They’re made out of meat.”

Voice Two: “Meat?”

Voice One: “Meat. They’re made out of meat.”

Voice Two: “Meat?”

Voice One: “Oh, there’s a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

Voice Two: “So… what does the thinking?”

Voice One: “You’re not getting it, are you? You’re refusing to deal with what I’m telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

Voice Two: “Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

This first appeared in Omni Magazine, April 1991. I think it’s one of the funniest things ever published.

If you don’t read taliesin’s log regularly, you should… highly recommended.

Nick ‘taliesin’ Barrett wrote:

taliesin’s log linked to this post

(long comment about tests snipped…)

I’ll return to the subject matter of tests – especially relating to the male/female brain issue – as soon as possible. In the meantime, Nick wrote a post about feedback he gets from readers, calling me a “Brazil-based website baron”… icon_lol.gif. Thanks, Nick… my trackback stuff broke when I migrated to my new PowerBook, so I can’t ping you properly for that (yet).

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