Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 28th, 2011

What Technology Wants

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Here is an interesting review of Kevin Kelly’s new book, but the reviewer seems to have problems with technology “wanting” anything. I don’t see the problem. Humanity has given rise to an emergent phenomenon, the study of which is called mimetics. Memes are idea entities, expressed in physical creations (buildings, machines, weapons, etc.) or foods (selection and preparation) or words or music or dance—basically, memes are cultural units that people can learn and mimic.

What happens then is familiar: faithful reproduction with some random variation, with all memes struggling for the limited available resources they need to “live”—from the memes’ point of view, these resources are human mindshare and human effort and time. When you have that situation—reproduction with some variation and limited resources—we know from evolution (another example of such a situation) what happens: variations that better exploit the resources available prosper, and those less efficient are driven to the wall and eventually drop out.

In other words, memes evolve. They evolve in a way that makes them more appealing and/or important to humans—technology memes tend to evolve in the direction of being more important, and memes in the arts in the direction of being more appealing. The collection of memes that are most in use for a particular people is their “culture”, and the collection all memes is “human culture.”

The evolution of memes is evident and on-going, to the point now that a human can be considered  combination of the animal part and the meme part—the cultural part. Not only is it hard to consider someone who lacks all culture and memes as “human” (no language, no tools, no clothes, no music, no cultivation… nothing beyond what, say, a wolf or orangutan has), but in fact human evolution has for thousands of millennia been shaped by memes.

I was thinking the other night about how difficult it is to look at a human as we look, say, at a dog or a cat: simply as an animal. When you look at the dog or cat, you see simply the animal. And perhaps, in cage fighting, the two opponents look at each other and see only the animal in the cage with them. But generally when we look at a person, we focus only on the memes—the cultural artifacts. Even if we dress an animal in human clothing—a chimpanzee, for example—we still see it as an animal, and even if we strip the human of clothing, we still view him or her through a lens of culture.

When we see a person, we pick up (see, or look for) information from the attire—quality, cut, age, cleanliness, fit, appropriateness to social context along various dimensions (including time of day, ritual being observed, relative social importance or significance of the event/situation, social class, economic class, and so on).

We see the actual person beyond the attire, of course, but look how much information we get from the attire (which of course could be specialized clothing or uniforms, all of which convey even more information—indeed, uniforms are often designed to carry cultural information such as rank, experience, specialty, and the like).

But even when we look at a person apart from the clothing, we look for and take in cultural (meme) information: grooming and grooming choices (cut and length of hair, the treatment of male facial hair, tattoos, piercings, condition and treatment of nails (finger and toe) and teeth, perfumes, oils, and unguents, and so on. All of those are cultural artifacts and convey information.

The actual person-animal at the core of the cultural overburden—the sub-cultural animal core—is almost insignificant compared to the totality of what we look for and see. Our focus is on the memes the person uses/carries/references, and we look mostly at the cultural rather than the animal aspects. (Try this yourself: look at a random photograph and see how much you get from cultural memes vs. the physical person—and, of course, the photograph and how it is posed and composed, etc., is also shaped by memes and thus carries mimetic information.)

Even when we look at the actual physical person—the animal core, apart from acquired social signifiers mentioned above (the treatment of nails, piercings and tattoos, perfumes, and the like), we find cultural information in the body itself: the condition of the teeth and muscles, any callosities, the posture and bearing, the weathering of the skin—all these are shaped by culture and thus convey cultural meaning. These are the physical results of memes. In fact, looking for such memes is a familiar part of crime dramas in which detectives examine an anonymous body: the culture significance and meaning of the body’s location and dress, and so on. CSI spends a lot of time sifting cultural artifacts and reasoning from the information thus conveyed.

To take a simple example, look at how Sherlock Holmes deduces so much about a stranger from the cultural clues—the memes the stranger has adopted or under whose influence he has grown.

The emergence prior to memes was the emergence of life. At the outset, life wasn’t all that impressive, but evolution combined with a few billion years makes an enormous difference. Memes are not yet conscious, but some are already starting to show signs of intelligence (theorem proving-programs, for example, and various expert systems that can now do a better job than human experts in the field).

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2011 at 11:12 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

People in general cannot be as stupid as they seem. Can they?

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I sure hope not. But then you read things like this article—and read it all. It’s astonishing to me, but then I am more willing than most to try something new if it seems to make sense—and I’ll certainly admit that sometimes the innovation does not pan out. But surprisingly often, improvements really are improvements. And this one, in the article, supported by multiple findings…? And people rejecting it on what seems to amount to fashion…?

I don’t get it. But I’ve long struggled to understand people (which, I suppose, is why I’m always trying to figure out why people do things).

I do note the instant reaction of searching for reasons to reject a change, rather than looking also for reasons to adopt the change and weighing the two.

Maybe it’s in part the fear of change that so frequently is evident.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2011 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

America’s Failed Public Defender System

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The American criminal-justice system is, as Ed Brayton says, a disgrace from top to bottom. Every single aspect is broken, and it’s failing in every way. What does it take to get the legislatures (at the state and federal level) to focus on this problem?

The answer, based on what seems to drive legislative action, is money. Legislation is more and more a pay-for-play enterprise, with legislators seemingly more interested in making money than in public service. Until a lobbying group with deep pockets of ready cash will back reform of the criminal justice system, American legislators are, by and large, uninterested. “Public service,” “the common good” — these increasingly seem to be obsolete in American politics. Sarah Palin is the paradigm of the new approach: Go into politics to cash in.

Read this post by Ed Brayton, and then follow the link to the article. In the country as I would have it, a report on these abuses and problems would galvanize legislators into action. But in real life, they don’t care. No money in it for them.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2011 at 10:16 am

Invitation to post-hoc reasoning?

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I’m running through the morning vocabulary drill, and I note that the definition for luego is that is an adverb meaning “later (on), afterwards, then, next” and it’s also a conjunction meaning “therefore”.

It strikes me as dangerous to use the same word for “after” and “therefore”—in fact, it strikes me as a glaring example of (and invitation to) post-hoc reasoning. Post hoc (full expression: post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this therefore because of this”) leads to all sorts of errors: “X happened, and then Y happened, so Y must have been caused by X” is not a reliable formula. And to use the same word for “afterwards” and “therefore” not only invites such fallacies, it practically demands them.

Perhaps it is only a lexicographer’s error. When I look up (using the same on-line dictionary the meaning in Spanish of the English word “therefore”, I see that apparently Spanish lacks a word meaning therefore (Latin: ergo). They do offer a couple of workarounds: “por tanto”, “por eso”. But no actual word for therefore—except, of course, for “afterwards”.

I am dissatisfied.


Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2011 at 9:54 am

A Mühle shave

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Mühle brush, razor, and shaving cream—Klassik because I didn’t have a Mühle aftershave and wanted to maintain the German theme.

I began, as always, with MR GLO, and I tried an idea posted at SimplyShaving by Dirty Texan (no other name provided): Wash your beard using MR GLO with a brush, rather than with a washcloth or your hands. He fully understands that MR GLO is a pre-shave soap, not a shaving soap, but suggested that this method of washing would do a more thorough job of cleaning and exfoliating. As I thought about it, it seemed right, provided one used a scrubbier brush than badger—and indeed I have a row of boar brushes requiring more break-in. So this morning I gave it a go, letting the boar brush soak while I showered, then working it on the MR GLO and then scrubbing my beard.

I can see why some guys get the mistaken idea that MR GLO is a shaving soap: you actually do get a sort of lather as you scrub your beard, but I doubt that it would last and in any event it’s not the Creamy Lather I sought. But it sure did a good job of scrubbing my beard—and that brush is a little further along toward breaking in.

Moving on to the next step in the process, I found the Mühle brush to be quite nice, with quite a hefty handle—the sort that makes you immediately think, “Must not drop this on my toe”—and a big silvertip knot that felt soft on the face. (Some guys see “soft” and think “not good on soap”: this is an error, and I’ll soon use this guy on soap, I expect no problems whatsoever—it reminds me, in fact, of the luxurious feel of the big Omega silvertips.)

I thought I had ordered a soap, but it turned out to be a shaving cream, and quite nice withal. The sea buckthorn fragrance, if that is what it is, has a bracing sort of herbal aspect which I like—not perfumy—and it creates a very nice lather.

The razor is the new Mühle R41 open-comb, released 22 June. I ordered a copy from Ireland. Yowza! Is this guy aggressive! It’s very unlike the earlier Mühle R89 R41 [the new razor uses the same model number as the old, a wretched practice, but thanks to Anonymous who pointed out my mistake in comments. – LG]. The earlier model was quite comfortable, though not in the same league as the iKon Bulldog open-comb. This guy is much more like the Joris open-comb, if you’ve used one of those—and I think they are also a German company. [Phil of says that Joris is a French company, but the heads for the open-comb Joris and Mühle are both made in Italy: the EU in action. – LG]

Bottom line: too aggressive for me. It’s just not a comfortable shave. I don’t know whether it’s the angle, gap, exposure, or what, but I didn’t enjoy the experience so much as I like.

Still: a close shave with no nicks (which surprised me, given the number of times the edge seemed to catch). I used an alum bar at the end, prompted by this post at SimplyShaving, and then, after a brief wait during which I cleaned up the bathroom counter and put stuff away, I rinsed and dried my face and applied a hearty splash of Klar Seifen Klassik, which made everything right again.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2011 at 9:10 am

Posted in Shaving

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