From Consilience:the Unity of Knowledge

“The intellectual power, honesty, lucidity, courage, and disinterested love of the truth of the most gifted thinkers of the eighteenth century remain to this day without parallel. Their age is one of the best and most hopeful episodes in the life of mankind.” – Isaiah Berlin

There is a book titled ‘Consilience: the unity of knowledge‘ by E.O.Wilson. Buy it, and read it. It’s worth more than a hundred iPhones, unless the said iPhones have copies of the Consilience on it.

The book had such profound impact on me when I was growing up, I really think I should do a review/post on the book and some of its themes one of these days. It came out years ago yet the prescient insight of E.O. Wilson rings true to this very day in many fields of human endeavor. I had the chance to listen to his talk live in the closing event during the wonderful World Science Festival in NYC, and I should say he still seem to retain that certain edge even after all these years. I guess that’s what we Koreans call No-Ik-Jang for you. If only I wasn’t so shy to ask him for an autograph on my copy of the book. I feel like a kid who lost a winning lottery ticket.

Now that I think about it I should also do a post on the World Science Festival while the memory’s still fresh… So many things to write about, so little time to write them.

Ebook future

I just came across an article in the Wired(link) stating that Amazon will almost certainly unveil a new ebook reader with larger screen size. While the article goes on to talk about possible tablet device from Apple as being a heavy competiton on the ebook market compared to the text-centric ebook devices, my attention span more or less stopped with the mention of the new ebook device on the horizon. It’s not just a new ebook device that’s about to come out. It’s a larger screen ebook device specifically targeted at the academic textbook market. Apparently Amazon want a share of the 9.8 billion textbook market(link) (and that’s just U.S.), and I say it’s about time. I can still feel the phantom pain imposed on my back by years of carrying around textbooks that are heavy enough to be used as a decent weapon (and accroding to this picture many people agre with me:pic of someone hitting other with a book:game?). It would be great to be able to finally carry a bookbag that weighs less than the standard combat gear of most armed forces around the world.
I’ve been an avid ebook user ever since I learned about existence of those wonderful devices and the myriad of texts available on the web for free use, like the extensive collections in wikipedia(link), various blogs(link boingboing), and the project gutenberg(link). I had my first encounter with ebook devices a long time ago before Kindle made it cool to carry around ebook devices. In fact, as far as I know the ebook reader I use, the Sony Reader PRS-500 (wiki-link) might be the first dedicated ebook reader in North America that uses e-ink display. This device is certainly the oldest dedicated ebook reader device with e-ink display in North America (redundant) and it’s been a trust mobile library by my side for the past two or three years. Even before purchaing this dedicated ebook reader, however, I was using old discarded palm pilot devices (so old that they stil had this ‘volatile memory.’ It was a memory scheme used in palm devices before the advent of all-too-familiar flash memory. If the device ever ran out of power all the data stored on the device would be lost, thus the term ‘volatile memory’) to read ebooks on the go, most of them reformatted webages I made using a handy Palm utility program called ‘plucker’ that had a capability to turn any webpage/archive format into a palm-ready ebook. Later on I’ve also used my Nintendo DS as a dedicted ebook reader (instead of playing games like a good kid) burning multitude of memory cards with whole repository of text and HTML formatted ebooks I found through my sojourns on the net.
I love my paper books as much as anyone, of course. And even now, with my extensive ebook collection (most of them surprisingly DRM free) I always make a point of buying paper books now and then. Some people stock up on weapons and emergency supplies for the inevitable zombie apocalyse. I stock up on paper books for that one day when I won’t be able to recharge my digital book-reading devices anymore, and my vast library is lost within the magnetic patterns etched upon my external hard drives. However, there is an unavoidable allure to being able to carry around twenty to thirty books of my choosing in a slim and light package that weighs as much as my hard drive ipod. The fact that I’m a rather fast reader only adds to the attraction of ebooks and ebook readers. Before I came across ebooks how my luggage would be filled with books whenever I traveled far away from home, and I happen to travel often. It really made for quite a workout, carrying those bags all over the place. With ebooks, I just need to carry the little device and its charger for my casual reading needs, with a hardcover or two just for those tight spots when I’d need to study instead of read. Many people still debate the need for having a dedicated device for reading digitally formatted books, and they are right. having an ebook reader will not change your life if you don’t read in the first place. In that light dedicated ebook readers are certainly niche devices, intended for use by the relatively smaller portion of the population would would buy books through digital distribution channel and who would be willing to pay for a device that goes into the hundreds of dollars just to be able to read more. The two things I’ve just mentioned might sound insignificant hurdles to most people who consider themselves to be internet savvy, but when we think of the reading population as a whole whose members come from various walks of life and are at various stages of life, those are some significant barriers for entry to the ebook world. Yet Amazon’s Kindle demonstrated clearly what a few dedicated gadget community members knew all along. People actually read, and many of them are willing to pay to support their habbit, as the multi-billion dollar publishing industry would attest (and this is just in U.S., and quite frankly, this isn’t the most reading-intensive country in the world).
Reading the article from the Wired, and listening to conversations related to ebooks on and off the net, the ebook question seem to be moving from ‘will people bother to read on machines’ to ‘will people bother to purchase dedicated readng machines.’ This is a good sign I think. The market’s beginning to awknowledge that people are willing to take time to read things and even (gasp) pay for them, which means larger selection of stuff to read and things to read that stuff on in the future. However, the answer to the question of whether we need to have an ebook reader instead of making people read on their cellphones is a thorny one. It’s a question of how far people are willing to go to support their reading lifestyle. How many people are willing to cough up close to $400 for a dedicated ebook reader that you will later have to pay more to load content onto it? When we simply look at the Kindle as the only ebook reader of choice, the answer is obvious. Not so much. I’m a self-confessed ebook enthusiast who regularly dig through the net for that obscure script to traslate microsoft proprietary LIT format to Sony proprietary BBeB format. But even I am not willing (or rather, able) to pay more than a month’s living expense on student budget to buy an ebook device. So are dedicated ebook platforms doomed? Not quite. We must remember that there are still myriad of companies out there that manufactures cheaper ebook devices, some of them more hgih profile then others (Sony isn’t a low profile company). Add to them the quirky yet ambitious enterpreneurs of the East, who seem to be jumping into any and all kinds of electronics market with vigor and goods of varying qualities. I got my own Sony PRS-500 for about $50 dollars in a promotional offer. I get most of my reading materials purchased through limited DRM free channels or through public domain, and they usually don’t cost much, certainly not as much as their printed cousins. Unlike what people think, ebook reading devices themselves aren’t really that expensive. Dedicated ebook device is basically an electronic device with two features. E-ink display capable of displaying basic HTML-like formatting along with a few more conventional formats like PDF, and a cable to connect it to a computer so the end user can load content into it. Simply put, it’s a glorified USB thumbdrive with big E-ink screen along with some buttons. While Amazon’s Kindle is a notch or two above the rest with its fancy whispernet technology and over the air delivery system, those things are not absolutely necessary to an ebook device. I mean, these devices are capable of holding 20~30 ebooks each going a few thousand pages. You probably don’t have to constantly buy new content before you go home from wherever you are at the moment (besides, if you can chug through that much content before you get to a computer with internet and USB connection you deserve to buy yourself a $400 reading device). The real issue that will either make or break the future of ebooks is not with introducing newer devices with more features (though I would certainly like to see existing feature set get better), but with software. The DRMS and ebook formats. I can manage quite a different number of file formats and DRMed formats on my single PRS-500 device only because of the collective action of the volunteer ebook community, some of whom managed to code indispensable piece of cross-format software like libre(link). Many people can’t. DRM leads to limited distribution, since investing in DRM of a specific platform or corporation means that you trust that platform or corporation to exist ten or twenty years from the date of your book purchse. Which is prepsetrous to anyone with a working mind. Average lifetime of a corporation in America is about ten or fifteen years (cite:link), and that’s assuming they are successful, and that they will continue to maintain and support whatever the DRM scheme they came up with up until the very last moment. You can browse through your old books ten and twenty years from now on, and your children and children’s children will be able to read or sell those books send hand, ensuring certain degree of propagation of the written content. With DRMed books, it’s highly unlikely for your own children to be able to access your book, and whether you yourself will be able to read your favorite passage years from now will be decided by a boardroom composed of people who don’t know you and quite possibly don’t care whether you want to read or not. Even when we don’t consider faraway scenario like this, the dangers posed by DRM on the general propagation ebook into larger market is obvious, owing to the simple fact that DRMed ebooks will impose limits upon its own market and distribution. The first thing most people encounter whenever they browse to an ebook store that is’t Amazon is this: Name of the book:LIT, PDF, BBeB, MOBI and etc etc… When users somehow manages to find the book they want to purchase (despite the severely limited selection in most of those stores) they are faced with multitude of options as to the format of the book, most of them incompatible with each other. From what I know of people who are not familiar with ebook formats, this is the step when most of them will just give up and go buy a paper book in local bookstore for only slightly more, or maybe even less than the DRMed digital copy if the user knows how to shop around on ebay. Even larger scale distributor like the Amazon, with its almighty capacity to push their own content into their own platforms, is basically playing in an uneven field. the reality is that people will inevitably ask questions about the future of their books and all Amazon can do is to cross their fingers and wish that doesn’t happen anytime soon. Limiting their own source of income and praying for only good things to happen in the future is not a valid business strategy.
The valid business strategy in near future would be to get rid of the DRM scheme entirely. For everyone. Even giant like Amazon is hedging for uncertain bet with DRM restriction in their ebooks. Smaller distributors like Sony ebook store doesn’t stand a chance. Just sell ebooks like you sell books. Let the market grow and let more people get hooked on using ebooks on ebook reader devices. There are cellphones and laptops, sure. But the reality is that they don’t comapre to dedicated ebook readers in terms of providing a valid reading experience. Cellphones are supposed to make calls and laptops are for computing, and no one will burn out their batteries on those devices and risk their bill-paying work just to read more books. Once the quantity and quality of DRM free ebooks reach a critical mass there will be cheaper ebook readers on the market. That’s the time for Amazon to introduce their new and improved Kindlets. Why go for generic, cheap ebook reader when you can get the same content on far better machine with awesome battery with life-saving features and innovative interface? Only way to achieve this end with DRM still in the picture would be to either open Amazon DRM specifications to other manufacturers which defeats the purpose of having a DRM in the first place, or having a unified standard DRM for all publishers/distributors that’s compatible across variety of devices. That would require deal making and engineering of ungodly devotion, and I doubt even Amazon will be able to pull it off on their own, especially considering that there are markets outside of U.S. as well, especially when it comes to reading materials both traditional books and ebooks.

I just came across an article in the Wired stating that Amazon will almost certainly unveil a new ebook reader with larger screen size. While the article goes on to talk about possible tablet device from Apple as being a heavy competition on the ebook market compared to the text-centric ebook devices, my attention span more or less stopped with the mention of the new ebook device on the horizon. It’s not just a new ebook device that’s about to come out. It’s a larger screen ebook device specifically targeted at the academic textbook market. Apparently Amazon want a share of the 9.8 billion textbook market (and that’s just U.S.), and I say it’s about time. I can still feel the phantom pain imposed on my back by years of carrying around textbooks that are heavy enough to be used as a decent weapon. It would be great to be able to finally carry a book-bag that weighs a lot less than the standard combat gear.

I’ve been an avid ebook user ever since I learned about existence of those wonderful devices and the myriad of texts available on the web for free use, like the extensive collections in wikipedia, various blogs, and the project gutenberg. I had my first encounter with ebook devices a long time ago before Kindle made it cool to carry around ebook devices. In fact, as far as I know the ebook reader I use, the Sony Reader PRS-500 might be the first dedicated ebook reader in North America that uses e-ink display. This ebook reader  had been a trusted mobile library by my side for the past two or three years. Even before purchaing this dedicated ebook reader, however, I was using old discarded palm pilot devices (so old that they stil had this ‘volatile memory.’ It was a memory scheme used in palm devices before the advent of all-too-familiar flash memory. If the device ever ran out of power all the data stored on the device would be lost, thus the term ‘volatile memory’) to read ebooks on the go, most of them reformatted webages I made using a handy Palm utility program called ‘plucker’ with ability to turn any webpage/archive format into a palm-ready ebook. Later on I’ve also used my Nintendo DS as a dedicated ebook reader (instead of playing games like a good kid) burning multitude of memory cards with whole repository of text and HTML formatted ebooks I found through my sojourns on the net.

I love my paper books as much as anyone, of course. And even now, with my extensive ebook collection (most of them surprisingly DRM free) I always make a point of buying paper books now and then. Some people stock up on weapons and emergency supplies for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. I stock up on paper books for that one day when I won’t be able to recharge my digital book-reading devices anymore, and my vast library is lost within the magnetic patterns etched upon my external hard drives. However, there is an unavoidable allure to being able to carry around twenty to thirty books of my choosing in a slim and light package that weighs as much as my hard drive ipod. The fact that I’m a rather fast reader only adds to the attraction of ebooks and ebook readers. Before I came across ebooks how my luggage would be filled with books whenever I traveled far away from home, and I happen to travel often. It really made for quite a workout, carrying those bags all over the place. With ebooks, I just need to carry the little device and its charger for my casual reading needs, with a hardcover or two just for those tight spots when I’d need to study instead of read. Many people still debate the need for having a dedicated device for reading digitally formatted books, and they are right. having an ebook reader will not change your life if you don’t read in the first place. In that light dedicated ebook readers are certainly niche devices, intended for use by the relatively smaller portion of the population would would buy books through digital distribution channel and who would be willing to pay for a device that goes into the hundreds of dollars just to be able to read more. The two things I’ve just mentioned might sound insignificant hurdles to most people who consider themselves to be internet savvy, but when we think of the reading population as a whole whose members come from various walks of life and are at various stages of life, those are some significant barriers for entry to the ebook world. Yet Amazon’s Kindle demonstrated clearly what dedicated gadget community members knew all along. People actually read, and many of them are willing to pay to support their habit, as the multi-billion dollar publishing industry would attest (and this is just in U.S., and quite frankly, we aren’t the most reading-intensive country in the world).

Reading the article from the Wired, and listening to conversations related to ebooks on and off the net, the ebook question seem to be moving from ‘will people bother to read on machines’ to ‘will people bother to purchase dedicated reading machines.’ This is a good sign I think. The market’s beginning to acknowledge that people are willing to take time to read things and even (gasp) pay for them, which means larger selection of stuff to read and things to read that stuff on in the future. However, the answer to the question of whether we need to have an ebook reader instead of making people read on their cellphones is a thorny one. It’s a question of how far people are willing to go to support their reading lifestyle. How many people are willing to cough up close to $400 for a dedicated ebook reader that you will later have to pay more to load content onto it? When we simply look at the Kindle as the only ebook reader of choice, the answer is obvious: not so much. I’m a self-confessed ebook enthusiast who regularly dig through the net for that obscure script to translate Microsoft proprietary LIT format to Sony proprietary BBeB format. Yet even I am not willing (or rather, able) to pay more than a month’s living expense on student budget to buy an ebook device. So are dedicated ebook platforms doomed? Not quite. We must remember that there are still myriad of companies out there that manufactures cheaper ebook devices, some of them more hgih profile then others (Sony isn’t a low profile company). Add to them the quirky yet ambitious enterpreneurs of the East, who seem to be jumping into any and all kinds of electronics market with vigor and goods of varying qualities. I got my own Sony PRS-500 for about $50 dollars in a promotional offer. I get most of my reading materials purchased through limited DRM free channels or through public domain, and they usually don’t cost much, certainly not as much as their printed cousins. Unlike what people think, ebook reading devices themselves aren’t really that expensive. Dedicated ebook device is basically an electronic device with two features. E-ink display capable of displaying basic HTML-like formatting along with a few more conventional formats like PDF, and a cable to connect it to a computer so the end user can load content into it. Simply put, it’s a glorified USB thumbdrive with big E-ink screen along with some buttons. While Amazon’s Kindle is a notch or two above the rest with its fancy whispernet technology and over the air delivery system, those things are not absolutely necessary to an ebook device. I mean, these devices are capable of holding 20~30 ebooks each going a few thousand pages. You probably don’t have to constantly buy new content before you go home from wherever you are at the moment (besides, if you can chug through that much content before you get to a computer with internet and USB connection you deserve to buy yourself a $400 reading device). The real issue that will either make or break the future of ebooks is not with introducing newer devices with more features (though I would certainly like to see existing feature set get better), but with software- the DRMS and ebook formats. I can manage quite a different number of file formats and DRMed formats on my single PRS-500 device only because of the collective action of the volunteer ebook community, some of whom managed to code indispensable piece of cross-format software like calibre. Many people can’t. DRM leads to limited distribution, since investing in DRM of a specific platform or corporation means that you trust that platform or corporation to exist ten or twenty years from the date of your book purchase. That is preposterous to anyone with working mind. Average lifetime of a corporation in America is about ten or fifteen years, and that’s assuming they will continue to maintain and support whatever the DRM scheme they came up with up until the very last moment. You can browse through your old books ten and twenty years from now on, and your children and children’s children will be able to read or sell those books send hand, ensuring certain degree of propagation of the written content. With DRMed books, it’s highly unlikely for your own children to be able to access your book, and whether you yourself will be able to read your favorite passage years from now will be decided by a boardroom composed of people who don’t know you and quite possibly don’t care whether you want to read or not. Even when we don’t consider faraway scenario like this, the dangers posed by DRM on the general propagation ebook into larger market is obvious, owing to the simple fact that DRMed ebooks will impose limits upon its own market and distribution. The first thing most people encounter whenever they browse to an ebook store that isn’t Amazon is this: Name of the book:LIT, PDF, BBeB, MOBI and etc etc… When users somehow manages to find the book they want to purchase (despite the severely limited selection in most of those stores) they are faced with multitude of options as to the format of the book, most of them incompatible with each other. From what I know of people who are not familiar with ebook formats, this is the step when most of them will just give up and go buy a paper book in local bookstore for only slightly more, or maybe even less than the DRMed digital copy if the user knows how to shop around on eBay. Even larger scale distributor like the Amazon, with its almighty capacity to push their own content into their own platforms, is basically playing in an uneven field. the reality is that people will inevitably ask questions about the future of their books and all Amazon can do is to cross their fingers and wish that doesn’t happen anytime soon. Limiting their own source of income and praying for only good things to happen in the future is not a valid business strategy.

The valid business strategy in near future would be to get rid of the DRM scheme entirely. For everyone. Even giant like Amazon is hedging for uncertain bet with DRM restriction in their ebooks. Smaller distributors like Sony ebook store doesn’t stand a chance. Just sell ebooks like you sell books. Let the market grow and let more people get hooked on using ebooks on ebook reader devices. There are cellphones and laptops, sure. But the reality is that they don’t compare to dedicated ebook readers in terms of providing a valid reading experience. Cellphones are supposed to make calls and laptops are for computing, and no one will burn out their batteries on those devices and risk their bill-paying work just to read more books. Once the quantity and quality of DRM free ebooks reach a critical mass there will be cheaper ebook readers on the market. That’s the time for Amazon to introduce their new and improved Kindlets. Why go for generic, cheap ebook reader when you can get the same content on far better machine with awesome battery with life-saving features and innovative interface? Only way to achieve this end with DRM still in the picture would be to either open Amazon DRM specifications to other manufacturers which defeats the purpose of having a DRM in the first place, or having a unified standard DRM for all publishers/distributors that’s compatible across variety of devices. That would require deal making and engineering of ungodly devotion, and I doubt even Amazon will be able to pull it off on their own, especially considering that there are markets outside of U.S. as well, especially when it comes to reading materials both traditional books and ebooks. The market is moving on, and publishers should move along with it instead of trying to hold back the tide.

American Gods and patterns in stories.

I finally got through the American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. He’s a terrific writer. He’s not the best writer out there or anything (he won’t be winning any Nobel prizes anytime soon, but then does it really matter anymore?), but he’s certainly above the fray in bringing his ideas to life through words. His characters feel genuine and endearing, even the villains. None of the plot elements feel like a cop-out from a hairy situation of an author having to create unique situations for living, something I’ve seen a lot of writers succumb to.

Through the end of the book I was embroiled in some very mixed-up emotions. I wanted to see the story progress, but I didn’t want the story to end. I wanted to see the story between shadow and crow to its possible happy conclusions. I wanted to see shadow grow old and meet someone and I wanted to read what he would have been thinking at the moment. I wanted to see if he’d get to meet any other gods, and I wanted to know if it would be as humorous and wonderful as most of his other encounters with the gods of the world, past and future. As I read on to sate my curiosities, I couldn’t avoid finishing the book, and that’s the biggest gripe I have with the American Gods.

There are all sorts of heavy stuff that people trained in such arts can debate and write about all days and nights in American Gods. Some would like the feeling of America as a collection of old, used-up ideas and modern god like ideas struggling for control, afraid to be forgotten. Some would call it an old and washed out idea just like the gods of old, since it’s an archetypal picture of the American that journalists and novelists and anyone else who can write and has good enough eyes to see things around them had been writing for past half a century or so, maybe even longer. I don’t think it matters. Neil Gaiman didn’t write this novel so he can have grand disposition on the fate of the American ideas (if that were the case the future of America would lie in somewhere around Iceland, and that would be funny, not serious). He wrote this novel to write a good story with good people living in it and he did one heck of a job. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting about the three sisters, Mr. Wednesday, shadow, Laura, crow, and etc etc anytime soon. It would be great if I don’t forget about them for the rest of my life, but no one knows what will happen in the future, and hopefully I might be able to experience something even more intense.

I’d love to write about some elements in the story, but I don’t think I should. I made a blood oath never to write down spoilers when ‘reviewing’ a book in a public place. Let’s just say that I really enjoyed the book, and I never wanted it to end. I think I spent about four or five days reading this book. I would have finished earlier, but then I had sudden burst of workload on me this week so I had to pull a few late nights. I mostly read this book in the subways, and in the bed with the reading light on. I would frequently curse at myself for reading past three AM on a work day, just hoping that I would be fresh enough to not look like a zombie by the time I wake up a few hours later. I would actually anticipate the ride on the subways since it was pretty much the only time during the day that I could sit down and read for close to an hour or so. The crowd didn’t bother me but I might have bothered some nice old ladies for making weird faces while reading the book, from deadly seriousness to strange smile (the kind you get when you suppress an even bigger smile because it would be weird laughing out of the blue). But then I guess there were even weirder things on New York City subways at eleven in the night, so I probably didn’t stand out too much… Which reminds me, I’ve never seen people reading on subway who change their facial expressions before. Is it that everyone else is so well trained in managing their faces or are the books just really boring? I would say it’s the training issue, since I also become excited when I’m reading through particularly illuminating passages on a physics book, and most normal people probably don’t do that.

As I read through the American Gods, I was reminded of just how much I like reading, and sometimes even writing, creative stories. With my official status as a student I usually have to dig through a lot of journals and data, where they usually deal with diagrams and numbers without much creative license (I think I remember one of my teachers telling me that use of creative license in any scientific writing is a single ticket to ending your career. Or did I read it in a story somewhere? I can’t quite recall). Reading those dry, albeit enlightening, academic scripts seem to have taken its toll on me, and sometimes I feel like I’m a dry person myself. It’s like the case with Marge Simpson. I only think of crazy jokes or stories only after I leave the party and start my car. It drives me crazy.

That being the case, reading through the American Gods and some other fictional works before that was a cathartic experience for me. I wonder what kind of trait drives us to enjoy and seek out well-made stories involving fictional people and places? Was there some strange need for living organisms to be able to tell fantasies to each other in order to survive? The kind of fantasy where both the storyteller and the audience knows it’s fantasy but indulge in it anyway? That would be an interesting venue of research, something I sadly cannot seem to be able to find anywhere.

The American Gods also had me thinking about the archetype of stories. Whether we like it or not, elements of the ideas composing stories from various authors end up being similar to each other. Usually the difference is only made up through the skills of the writer/storyteller in masterful use of the language the story is transmitted to their audience. C.G. Jung built up a whole sub-discipline of psychology based on those archetypes found throughout human culture and even dreams, and it’s almost as if human beings are capable of only telling certain types of creative stories with varying degrees of proficiency. What would that imply in understanding human creativity? Maybe the trait of creativity isn’t as limitless as we tend to believe. Maybe creativity is just like most other mathematically derived abstract act, based off of some type of pattern that circles around itself. If that were the case, we would be able to make a machine capable of creating stories not by linking relevant words together but through linking relevant ideas together, into a preset pattern. An idea of conflict, an idea of resolution. The individual set of vocabulary and the storyline composing that single idea would be irrelevant as long as it can lead to the next part, and the transition won’t even have to be singular. It can be polyphonic like Bach’s composition, each event happening with  another in ceaseless pattern. However while I’m sure it would be interesting to create such a program/machine, I’m not sure how I would be able to handle the task of making a machine capable of creating a character. Will characters simply emerge out of the polyphonic storyline? Will their personalities simply emerge out of the series of events that the characters are subjected to, each of them simply beginning with a name?

The first thing I tend to do when I want a deeper understanding of a writer’s work is to look up information on the life of writer him/herself. The research can be illuminating in a lot of cases, which is funny when you think about it since most writers I know of make their living by creating stories that are considered very unique compared to the rest of the ‘writer population.’ Would that imply that the trait of creativity is inseparable from memories of the individual? And what should writers do when they are so prolific that they are faced with the possibility of patterns and familiar ideas appearing again and again within their works? Do they embrace the patterns and ideas and try to refine them? Or do they try to break free, staying away from such patterns and ideas appearing in their works altogether?

Quick links -augmented reality articles

 A quick write-up before I go off to work/last minute shopping

I’ve been really into tumblr lately. Tumblr+twitter had been my medium of choice for past month or two. 

I want you to check out two links I put up at my tumblr on the subject of augmented reality. 

http://bookhling.tumblr.com/post/66220823/books-infused-with-augmented-reality-illustrations

http://bookhling.tumblr.com/post/66220638/augmented-reality-graffiti-heres-a-cool-idea  (((this one’s really amazing)))

Follow up post when I get back home later.

My Black Friday books

I picked up my Amazon Black Friday purchases from the post office today. Here are shots of the purchases I’m especially fond of.

“The varieties of scientific experience” by Carl Sagan. I didn’t plan on buying this, but at five something dollars per copy? Sign me up!

 

 

“Journey through genius” by William Dunham. Lovely book on mathematics, suitable for beginners and advanced readers alike. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder why so many children are released from the education system without ever becoming aware of the elegant beauties of mathematics (something I’m much more proficient at compared to writing). 

 

 

“Falling for science” with introduction by Sherry Turkle. It’s a book with ‘testimonials’ of sorts written by students and faculties at MIT regarding how they became interested in sciences. Very insightful, I highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in field and pursuit of sciences.

 

 

Last, but not least. I’m especially fond of this particular acquisition. “The invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick. I’ve been lusting after this book for months, but had to put off buying it for variety of reasons. I gave up buying a DVD collection of Ghost in the Shell season 1 so I could get this book (woes to the poor finances of a physics student!), but I say it was well worth it. Look forward to a full blown review of the book once I get through with it. Here’s the website of the book to tide you over until then. 

 

 

For a picture-story book, this one is quite thick.  Just how I like it!

A Note: Propagation of Learning

I’ve finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Anathem some days ago. As is usual with all his works so far, I enjoyed it immensely. This is the kind of book that grips your attention and never let it go, the sort of reading experience that many people don’t get to enjoy very often past a certain age. Other than some technicality like how stable elements from one universe can remain stable even in another universe (and if it is because the physical laws are the same, what caused those elements to be different enough to be incompatible with life forms in another universe) that keeps on nagging at the back of my mind, I see no reason to criticize the book in any way. Of course, Neal Stephenson won’t be winning Nobel prize for writing the Anathem, but he never meant for it to be that kind of work, did he?

The premises of Anathem is obviously reflective of that of the current world we live in, notably the ubiquity and evanescence of information. The fact that most people lack learning of significant depth (which isn’t really all that much of a change from any other time in history) while becoming increasingly irreverent of the devotion to learning itself is a trait of the modern world frequently discussed in variety of media. Anathem also devotes quite a number of pages to discussion of the issue, and I hit upon a simple idea while thinking about a section on dangers of unintentional misinformation born through insubstantial learning.

In conventional process of teaching and learning, an individual opts to become a node of a degree of knowledge. The individual-node then connects with other individuals of varying degrees of learning and transmit his/her learning to those individuals in a process reminiscent of propagation of thermodynamic equilibrium. Currently the system of public knowledge-the web-is like an ever expanding vacuum. Lack of reliable sources of data and knowledge combined with abundance of random bits of knowledge that remain nonetheless incoherent and worthless in light of a greater system of thought is the symptom of such a vacuum. Maybe this symptom can be alleviated once the academic sector of the knowledge network begins to open its data to the world at large? Maybe the web itself can become a coherent learning environment through steady injection of respectable nodes of knowledge that expands along with the noise of the internet vacuum. I believe we already have the beginnings of the groundwork for such a project in the guise of openscience/science 2.0. If the openscience movement remains unhampered by the increasing haranguing of special interest groups and economic fundamentalists, we might be able to observe a true renaissance of human learning some time in the future that makes current advances in human network and information technologies pale in comparison.

Support LHC, and the Long Now event

There are two big events from today to tomorrow, one of them truly big in the sense of its possible impact on humanity and the sciences, and the other one big in the sense that it is a release celebration of a book by one of my favorite authors hosted by one of the more interesting groups around today. Both of them will be on the net through live webcast, so anyone interested should set the alarm bells on their clocks today.

The first and the most important is the upcoming live webcast of CERN lab LHC first beam. The Large Hadron Collider went though so much drama and uncertainty (pun intended) from inception to its recent power-up, this event will be quite emotional for the people who worked on the project as well as the large portions of the members of scientific community at large (and there are lot of them, I assure you). The first *beaming* of the tens of kilometers large apparatus is set to begin at 10th September 2008 9am CEST (GMT+2), which roughly translates into around 10th of September 3am EST in NYC. Considering that the technical and scientific magnitude devoted to this project likely dwarfs that spent for building the Great Wall, it would be tragic for anyone even remotely interested in the advances of sciences to miss this significant event. I know I will be up and about in the night, despite the fact that I have early workday tomorrow. It is worth the anguish of a day without sleep I say! So please remember to make a ruckus and wake up members of your family in support of the sciences when the beam goes off. (Fermilab in U.S. is hosting a pajama party in honor of the event, though the registration is closed I am sorry to say)

The second even is the release party for the book Anathem by Neal Stephenson, hosted by the Long Now foundation. While Neal Stephenson might not be the greatest writer alive, he is certainly one of the most interesting. I preordered my copy from Amazon in a heartbeat when I heard that he was set on publishing a new book after a long period of inactivity. The Long Now foundation itself sounds as interesting as the man himself, focused around the concept/building of millennial clock. Those people should be well worth checking out if you are interested in humane pursuits that stretches beyond mere decades or centuries. I personally find such devotion to long-term pursuits to be very attractive in this day and age where vast majority of information seem to be relegated to the role of a junk food.  Since the basic premise of the Anathem itself revolves around the millennial clock concept, the Long Now foundation is throwing a party of sorts in celebration of the release of them book, with some readings and performances that will be streamed through a live webcast at the Long Now website. The webcast is set to begin on 9th September at 7pm PST, so I guess it will be around 10pm EST in NYC (interestingly enough, the year is written as 02008 on the Long Now website. Maybe we should all begin adding zeros in front of our year marks from now on).

P.S. There is a teaser stream running at the LHC first-beam webcast site describing what they are doing at CERN. For some reason I can not stop thinking about the background music they used in the stream.

Random thing on SciFoo

Just a quick update on something I found on the net by chance. As many of you would know, I will not be able to do a full post until I get some work stuff done, which should be early September…

Those of you in the know would probably be aware of the SciFoo that took place a few weeks ago. While looking at the Flickr photostream for the SciFoo 08 (deep in contemplation on how to get invited to the inevitable 09 meet up) I found an interesting picture… Well the picture itself is not interesting per se, I am really talking about the person in the picture.

Neal Stephenson was apparently present in the recent iteration of SciFoo. He is the writer behind the Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, and the Baroque Cycle. A sort of cyberpunkish economics-hacking system-forming stories are his forte (so far). He had been inactive for a while though. His new work titled Anathem is set to be released this September, something that is coming out after six or so years of silence from a prolific author. To say that I am excited would be an understatement, since I consider him to be one of the best entertainment writers around today (for those of you who take offense at the term, Victor Hugo was a pulp-fiction writer of his day. Yet his name went down in history and he is not likely to be forgotten anytime soon).

One thing I can not stop thinking about now: Which sessions did Neal Stephenson attend?

P.S. :Is he still using Mac? (He should really update his essay In the Beginning there was Command Line sometime in the future…)

Joy of reading

As my acquaintances know well enough already, I love reading. There is something peculiarly tempting about the very activity of reading itself that appeals to me beyond the information, stories and knowledge that can be gleamed as the result of reading, just like the act of gaming that attracts people of all ages beyond the benefits of aesthetics and possible brain-enhancement associated with the act.

Of course, my job as a full-time student makes reading a mandatory part of my life. And my interests tend to diverge across wildly different fields, so the volumes I handle tend to be just as numerous. Through all the time I’ve spent digging into the mazes of phantasm and ideas, I’ve come to notice something about the nature of my captivation with the act of reading. While I do enjoy reading through the informationally intense texts, I much prefer well written fiction of somewhat classical setting and witty writing while I’m winding down. Strangely enough, occasional feats of such ‘light reading’ helps me concentrate even better while reading through the academic texts and papers, and the performance boost is very significant.

So I’m thinking of designing a reading schedule for myself that should be able to satisfy my urge for reading and academic performance in one fell swoop. I remember reading through the ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’ a few months ago. I was completely immersed in the story and character of the mysterious yet whimsical world created by the gifted author Susanna Clarke, and even now I can picture some of the scenes of the book in front of me as clear as the daylight. I’ve already finished the City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers, which I loved as much as I’ve loved reading the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I’m almost at the end of the Baroque Cycle series of three books written by Neal Stephenson, who I believe is a thoughtful yet humorous writer, with certain charmingly irreverent attitude woven into every pages of his books. His newest work would be Anathem scheduled to be released somewhere in September, so I need to find some book to tide me over until then. Just what kind of book would be able to satisfy the strange bibliophile in me? I prefer to hold the book in my hand while reading, absorbing the subtle shades of light and the texture of the pages just as rich as the stories and characters themselves, forming the icing on the cake that is the activity of reading… So no ebooks or internet books at the moment. I get plenty of those from my school in forms of scientific papers I have to report on.

I’m burning through amazon and librarything web pages trying to find my next leisure reading right now. I just hope I’d be able to find another amazing book soon. I feel like someone searching for water in middle of a vast desert, its borders continuing throughout the stretch of my lifetime.

Great things at the Met

I have been crazy busy lately, preparing papers for my discipline of choice (physics), brushing up on my synthetic biology, and catching up on some art related reading materials, centered around Jasper Johns. Will they all condense into some masterful singular post? Maybe… Maybe not. Regardless, I’ve been rather enjoying my new-ish vigorous lifestyle. All the intellectual stimulation really makes me feel alive!

Today I’m just going to make a note on some events at my favorite place in the NYC, the Met. As I am perpetually broke just like so many other students of science, all the events are free with museum admission. And as everyone who spent their teenage years in the city knows, the admission fee to the museum is negotiable. I’d suggest at least paying around five dollars though. Just to be polite.

Among the many things going on at the museum this week, I am particularly looking forward to the guided tour on Tuesday. Titled “A treasure hunt for book lovers”, they would guide me through the various galleries of the museum ranging from Mesopotamian to European while tracing the history and nature of books through the collections at the museum. As you might have guessed from the blog title and my alias, I am something of a bookworm, a bibliophile-in-training, so to speak. I’ve read them all, from Latin codex to Asiatic scrolls and ebooks… Though I lack the expertise to read the old tablets of ancient Middle Eastern origins, something I would mend soon enough. I am not particularly good with languages, but I’m still very fond of them. Beautiful phrases and imaginative stories hold certain profound depths and aesthetics that might as well be linked with the fundamental nature of mind and even the universe itself, I think. The time is at eleven in the morning, at the gallery talk stanchion in the Great Hall. This is at Tuesday folks!

On Friday, there will be a gallery talk about Gustave Courbet and his works at the Tisch galleries on the second floor of the museum. That’s where they are holding the special Gustave Courbet exhibits. While his works might not appeal as much to trained eyes of the modern popular culture, they still retain certain flair unique to the artist. The adventurous, and yet tragecomedic life of the artist himself lends certain spice to what might be a dull showing to some modern audience. The time will be seven in the evening.

The next gallery talk I am interested in is titled “A Closer look: Agnolo Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man.” The artist is from the 16th century, so this is not a modern exhibition. I was always fascinated by the refreshing and ingenious workmanship present in many of the Renaissance paintings, so this is a good chance to finally learn something of the era and one of its more prominent artists. The time is at seven in the evening, at the gallery talk stanchion in the Great hall.

The last, but not least, this event is series of professional lecture on Gustave Courbet’s work in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium on the first floor, starting at two in the afternoon. The topics range from the significance of the female dress in Courbet’s art, to the artist’s relation to the modern art. These fully featured lectures are also free with admission, so anyone interested should partake.

A lot of leisure activities this week. The real question is whether I would be able to make the time to get to those events… Since skipping my own lectures are out of the question, I’m in something of a tight spot. The fact that I am in position to need to study a discipline of science outside my own doesn’t really help things either. Of course, I do them because I enjoy them, so there’s no regret. I’m just hoping that I can get some free time this week…

Arts and sciences being separate from birth is an illusion dreamed up by the modern era. When will the world learn?