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He Has No Idea

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So Bill Clementson thinks he has too many books, eh?

The fact that I have too many books is, of course, even more apparent to me at the moment as I'm packing up for the move to Vancouver and I've just filled 15 boxes full of books in preparation for the move!

15 boxes of books. Uh-huh. He has no idea.

NO idea at all.


(P.S. What you can see there, is 25 boxes of books. What you can't see along the walls and behind the archway, is another 25 boxes of books. What you can't see upstairs, is another 75 boxes of books. Of course, some people say the first step in dealing with a problem is admitting you have a problem. On the other hand, I say the first step in dealing with a problem is buying a book written by someone else who has the same problem so you can find the best solution - What? :-)

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously … on the Internet

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Recently, Henry Crutcher and I discussed Chomsky's famous phrase "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously", intended to be an example of a sentence which was grammatical but meaningless.

Henry was curious about whether a stronger example of a meaningless phrase could be found, as he could see ways of interpreting it analogically and wanted something stronger. However, he backed off when he thought about colorless green - a seeming contraditction in terms.

Not necessarily. I pointed out if you tweaked the words, you might be able to come up with usages. For example, in quantum mechanics, the Phi meson is a strange particle (a particle made from strange quarks) which has zero strangeness because it incorporates both a strange quark and antiquark. Or, more pointedly, ALL mesons are "colorless" particles because they contain quarks and antiquarks, each with its "color" and "anticolor". So our sample Phi meson might reasonably be described as a colorless green particle because it is composed of green and antigreen quarks.

But this analogy seemed like it didn't help because particles don't really sleep ... unless you consider the furious sleep of virtual particles in the quantum fluctuations of the vacuum. Modern theories of physics suggest fantastic numbers of particles that we can't see are created all the time and just as quickly destroyed ... which, curiously enough, funny quirks in the movement of particles that we CAN see. These "virtual particles" don't really exist except through their influences on other particles, almost like how ideas don't really exist except through their influences on the people that hold them. So in this sense an infinite number of colorless green ideas sleep furiously throughout the universe around us. But I digress, because neither of us were buying that interpretation.

Green ideas DID make sense, however, in the "novice" or "untried" sense of green. In that sense an idea can be green - and it can also be bloodless or colorless if it fails to excite anyone. Once an idea has failed to excite anyone, of course, it falls asleep. Henry suggested that sleeping furiously could mean an idea that had many sleeping copies, at which point it occurred to me: an idea that's sleeping furiously is just a failed marketing campaign: millions of copies exist but fail to influence anyone, like New Coke or Windows DNA. In fact, in technology space it seems like every week someone pops forth with a new, green idea, standard or technology that's hot only to their marketing department but is colorless and bloodless to everyone else. The idea is marketed furiously, then peters out and dies as its marketing money withdraws, leaving piles of detritus heaped across the landscape like glacial moraines, still green and untested, but too colorless for anyone to care to wake them from their prehistoric slumber.

So now we know where colorless green ideas sleep furiously: on the internet.

And then Henry and I were very happy, having found an interpretation of an uninterpretable sentence that at last made sense. "Dot NET is a colorless green idea sleeping furiously!" - or at least the marketing initiative is, though .NET is live and well in development land. But again I digress, because our jubilation over interpreting the uninterpretable didn't last. We thought we were being clever ... unfortunately, someone else thought of it first.

Oh well. It wasn't a very good analogy, right bloodless in fact. And I'm sure everyone else who hears the phrase thinks of it too, at least the first time they tackle it like a novice. Perhaps it's best to let this analogy rest, along with all the other thousands of colorless green ideas that sleep furiously beside it.

-the Centaur

News Flash: Established Scientific Theory May Be Wrong

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Which one, you ask? Oh. Let's see... uh, well, first of all, in health the low levels of radiation used in X-rays may pose a cancer risk after all, though it is a slight one - but on the other hand moderate sun exposure, long-derided for its potential for skin cancer, may prevent more cancers than it causes by helping the body generate cancer-fighting vitamin D. Or in particle physics and cosmology, it's hard to keep track of who's found a crack in the Standard Model and the Big Bang theory this week ... and which of those from last week have then been labeled crackpots this week.

But the theory I was actually thinking of was the traditional story of how humans got to the New World: by a land bridge, 11,000 years ago. According to New Scientist, 40,000 year old footprints preserved in ash may upset this view. The scientists who discovered and studied the footprints have no idea how humans got there so early --- but they are confident enough about the the dating of their footprints to ask other scientists to check their work.

This isn't the first time that evidence has surfaced that humans were there earlier, but traditional scientists wanted to ignore the evidence in favor of their models: "The conventional view is that humans arrived in the Americas via Beringia around 11,000 years ago, when a land bridge became available between Siberia and Alaska. There have been claims about earlier waves of settlers, who must have made the crossing over water, based mainly on sites with signs of habitation dated up to 40,000 years ago, but these claims have drawn intense criticism."

SO obviously this new evidence will need to be carefully vetted, as the scientists who put it forward themselves claimed. But, in the end, the truth will come out, found by people who are willing to look clearly at difficult problems with an open mind, clearing away the smudges from the screen until the phenomenon can be seen clearly, or not at all. The truth does NOT come to those who reject the data before them out of hand, on the specious principle that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence": that kind of thinking caused people to deny the movement of the Earth around the Sun, or of the continents upon the Earth, or of rocks from the sky to the Earth itself.

On that note, and of those people, I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson's thoughts on meteorites: "Gentlemen, I would rather believe that two Yankee professors would lie than believe that stones fall from heaven."

I, on the other hand, think we should let the data speak for itself.

You, too, can become a statistic…

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SO, I just participated in the MIT Weblog Survey, the latest attempt by the Georgia Tech of the North's Media Laboratory to replicate the success of the GVU's WWW User Surveys. :-)

Seriously, all smackdaddy talk aside, blogging is the latest thing (well, the second-to-most-latest thing, after podcasting) in the evolution of the Internet, and it's important that we try to understand it.

So, if you blog, help the guys up north and take the survey:

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

- the Centaur

Your Cometbuster Deformed My Horoscope

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Been feeling "off" lately? Does your daily horoscope no longer seem SO relevant just to you? Well, now we know why:

In the wake of the successful Deep Impact probe, an astrologer is now suing NASA over the irreparable harm it caused to "the natural balance of the forces of the universe."

Whoops. Sorry about that. For those who have been suffering more long-standing dysphoria, however, NASA scientists had this to say:

We had nothing to do with it.

Seriously, guys, if an entire comet (the astrological symbol of doom) smacking into the largest planet (the astrological symbol of luck) isn't going to deform your horoscopes, there's no way 300 pounds of copper dinging a comet will.

-the Centaur

Words of Wisdom … Not Just for Software

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Erich Gamma, one of the software luminaries behind the Design Patterns book and now part of the Eclipse Project, had the following things to say about software ... that apply to a little more than just software:

Eclipse's Culture of Shipping: "In software, having cool ideas is nice, but shipping them is what counts. For us it only counts if you have shipped the thing. That's really the mindset we have. And given that you focus on shipping, we never want to be in a mode of always being two years away from shipping. You need to have a short-term deliverable. You also plan, decide and act with this mindset."

You know, all artists should probably learn this lesson. It's easy to plan the Great American Novel or the Next Great SF/Fantasy Trilogy, but in the meantime write some damn stories, paint some paintings, write a webcomic, and get your stuff out there.

-the Centaur

Unfayre Humours, Part I

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A few random thoughts from recent conversations:

You know the best way to improve British food? Cook something else.

Some people's cell phone contracts last longer than their marriages.

Saying that the web is an engine for delivering vast amounts of irrelevant information is like saying that a library is a building for warehousing vast amounts of irrelevant books. Of course - if you can't be bothered to learn to use them.

-the Centaur

About the Author: "Anthony Francis is a computer scientist who eats fish and chips on a regular basis. His longest cell phone contract lasted 1 year longer than his longest relationship, and if anywhere is a vast collection of irrelevant books, his house is it."