Monthly Archives: March 2009

Who was (is) right – Orwell, Huxley, or neither?

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

That is a quote from Neil Postman’s book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death”. That, and Huxley’s “Brave New World” are on my to read list. What do you think? Either of them right about the world we live in or will live in?

Yesterday was Ada Lovelace day

I spent last night, like many recently, riffing in Scratch to Emma’s direction. You might wonder what the goal of that would be with a 3 year old – but its simple – programming can be – and is – fun. While we play there on the laptop – Emma has no idea that we’re programming – just that we’re being creative in a way that is similar to when we play music, or color, or sing and dance, or build with our legos. Next step is to get her a keyboard and mouse she can tear apart if so inspired. Like her own ukulele, or her lego brick creations, what she’ll come up with on her own is bound to be awesome.

I mention this because, as the title of the post says, yesterday was Ada Lovelace day. Ada Lovelace was a mathematician and can be considered the world’s first computer programmer. She was born in 1815.

For those not in the industry, it probably comes as some kind of shock that the person considered a computer programmer is a woman. That shock is no doubt due to the fact that the industry has so few women participating in it. It wasn’t always so. And it suffers because of it.

Here are some good reads and links:

Kimberly Blessing: Honoring Ada, Inspiring Women (the story of women in computer programming is commonly taught to begin and end with Ada – which is very incorrect)

guardian.co.uk: Let’s hear it for women in technology

Aaron Swartz: Margo Seltzer – on the creator of BerkleyDB.

KathySierra tweet on women who have made a difference in tech: Just a few of the tech women who made/make a diff: @whitneyhess @avantgame @xenijardin @zephoria @dori @burningbird @maryhodder @nicolesimon

findingada: Ada Lovelace Day

A thought for Garret – and others – on “The sky’s blue. Everything’s great. Buy. No, wait. There’s a cloud. Things suck. Sell. “

That quote is from dangerousmeta! on the daily seesaw in the stock market.

It *appears* that the slightest news breeze, positive or negative, seems capable of triggering domino effects where traders swing the market – and the nation’s health – for the good or ill – on the turn of a dime. This doesn’t make too much sense – traders have tons and tons of data to back up their decisions. The weight of over a hundred years experience in understanding the information contained within.

Garret suggests that maybe an alternative to Wall Street is in order. He may or may not have something but I have something I’d like to throw into the mix – maybe we’re finally seeing the result of “too much” poorly filtered and understood information. That, and an increasingly “think fast” culture that rewards first moves over smart decisions. Traders get rewarded on good (not necessarily growth) decisions that are made quickly.

I have no idea what I’m talking about here. I’m just a poorly educated software engineer. But I think there is an opportunity for those who can provide better filters to those who can effect matters collectively – filters that can encourage a culture of long term growth over short term gain.

Overseas markets are rising this morning – supposedly due to Geithner plan news. Tomorrow, someone may sneeze in Japan and America’s market will catch a cold.

News, data, our interconnectedness are more apparent now than ever before. Our tools and our culture need to catch up.

Fast.

Battlestar Galactica comes to a close – kinda

How BSG wrapped up (or didn’t) will be talked about for a good long while. And that’s perfect if you ask me. Unlike The Sopranos, a show that begged for a close that had resolution, Galactica wouldn’t have been served well if every if every question was answered. Like Dave Rogers I feel that the show attempted to hold up a mirror to life itself, which ultimately is a mystery.

Something to think about – while the survivors ultimately reject technology – there is a marriage of man’s creations and forces beyond knowledge that carry the survivors to Earth.

You tell me – didn’t you feel pain watching Galactica, itself, herself, ‘break her back’ in that final jump?

Some related reading:

io9: As Battlestar Ends, God Is In the Details

Seattle PI: Battlestar Galactica’s Ron Moore Answers Our Burning Questions

geekdad: BSG at the UN: Wow, That Actually Worked!

YouTube: BSG at UN

Salon: Goodbye, “Galactica”

guardian.co.uk: Battlestar Galactica: Better than The Wire?

NYTimes: Show About the Universe Raises Questions on Earth

rc3.org: Battlestar Galactica and Mitochondrial Eve

The story in Detroit resembels the story in (some) Philadelphia neighborhoods

Amid industrial devastation and abandonment, low prices, infrastructure, and urban settings are luring new home owners willing to take a chance.

That’s the story of Fishtown, Port Richmond, Frankford, and parts of West Philly in Philadelphia.

According to the NYTimes, that’s the story of Detroit as well.

Here’s to reinvention and believing that when we live together, we are more likely to have enriched lives than when we live far apart.

Related:

Boing Boing: Haunting photo-essay on rotting buildings in Detroit

Boing Boing: Detroit and the future of America