- Neither decorative nor useful
home archives guestbladet mail host

Something to say? Desbladet wants to hear about it! Please use the guestbladet for comments!

(I know, I know, but it's the way we diarylanders have done it for generations.)

2004-11-05 16:10

Of books and bookkeeping

[Being a smrgspost intended for Ms. Tinka's site, where it will yet be posted if blogger ever relents.]

1. Neal Stephenson in /. interview develops (at length) a charmingly idiosyncratic account of commercially-funded ("Beowulf") and patronagely-funded ("Dante") writers as part of an explanation of why SF writers don't get no respect:

The great artists of the Italian Renaissance were accountable to wealthy entities who became their patrons or gave them commissions. In many cases there was no other way to arrange it. There is only one Sistine Chapel. Not just anyone could walk in and start daubing paint on the ceiling. Someone had to be the gatekeeper---to hire an artist and give him a set of more or less restrictive limits within which he was allowed to be creative. So the artist was, in the end, accountable to the Church. The Church's goal was to build a magnificent structure that would stand there forever and provide inspiration to the Christians who walked into it, and they had to make sure that Michelangelo would carry out his work accordingly.

2. It's the LRB's 25th Birthday Happy 25th birthday, LRB, for sure!

In the LRB offices, bookishly close to the British Museum in Bloomsbury, I ask its editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, if her journal - which is eye-crossingly empty of photographs - comes even close to turning a profit. 'It doesn't exactly not lose money,' she says, with a wry smile.

3. Alex Golub on academic publishing, slightly manifestotal:

Attempts to reform presses to be "more businesslike" go afoul in two ways: first, a backlash against the idea that business is a good model for presses devoted to The Life of the Mind (a good objection in theory, but perhaps not appropriate given the state of academic publishing) second, poorly-implemented attempts at reform that misunderstand how businesses work. Demanding that a press "turn a profit" is really not the lesson to learn from commercial publishing.

4. Cosma Shalizi, just saying:

Learning from "Learning by Doing" has 92 pages. I am reading a hardback copy I checked out of the UM library. Stanford University Press will sell this to you for $45, and the paperback for $17.95, which comes to either 48.9 or 19.5 cents per page. (At the moment, Labyrinth Books is selling remaindered hardbacks for $9.98, but of course that won't last.) At prices like this, it's just not worth it for most people who'd like to read the book, i.e., people like me, to buy it. So instead our university libraries buy one copy for a lot of us to share. But there are large economies of scale in book publishing, so the marginal cost of producing a small number of copies is higher than that of producing a large number of copies, while the elasticity of demand is low (the libraries pretty much have to buy it), and pretty soon we've got a nice vicious spiral going.

5. Me me me!

A while ago I read a book on the economics of publishing. (I was thinking, fairly idly, of starting a publishing house specialising in translations. Englishes famously don't read translations, but if you ask me, publishing houses like Harvill who see it as their moral duty to bring Englishes Only The Very Excruciatingly Best In World Literature may be as much part of the problem as of the solution. I was going to scour Yoorp for stuff people would want to read, and snap it up at bargain basement rates.)

It isn't simple, though. And more to the point, in a pretty impressive range of cases, it is barely profitable.


2004-11-05 11:19


Volcanoes are great, isn't it? I have had a deep and abiding, although not especially sincere, love for and fascination with volcanoes for over twenty-four (24) hours now. Especially Icelandic volcanoes, which experts agree are much much better than any of that Canananananadian rubbish:

Officials say people or homes are not at risk from the eruption of Grmsvtn, which is in an unpopulated area of the island.

But ash from the eruption under Vatnajkull glacier - Iceland's biggest - has landed in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The eruption was also violent enough to set off earth tremors.

That's a proper volcano, that is:

Dutch airline KLM said it had cancelled 59 flights, stranding hundreds of passengers at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, because of the cloud of ash hanging above Europe.

"Because of company rules we can't fly below it and we can't fly above it," said airport spokesman Frank Houben.

Fear the marauding Wiking ash cloud, puny Yoorpeans!


2004-11-05 09:37

F is equal to ma, but what _is_ this such F?

Frank Wilczek, Nobel laureate, takes it on:

To anyone who reflects on it, it soon becomes clear that F = ma by itself does not provide an algorithm for constructing the mechanics of the world. The equation is more like a common language, in which different useful insights about the mechanics of the world can be expressed. To put it another way, there is a whole culture involved in the interpretation of the symbols. When we learn mechanics, we have to see lots of worked examples to grasp properly what force really means. It is not just a matter of building up skill by practice; rather, we are imbibing a tacit culture of working assumptions. Failure to appreciate this is what got me in trouble.

Compulsory reading for anyone interested in physics itself, the philosophy or history of physics or just plain working here, where the HoD sent it round by email.


2004-11-04 tea (now)

Of Krossnings and Kronors

The Swedes have a word for it: nnuandrastlletslust; the desire to be somewhere other than where you are specifically because of the ease of getting somewhere else from it. The Germans probably have a word for it too, and being Germans, it might even be a word I didn't just make up. (Not least because my German isn't good enough.)

Nu r rtt tid att kryssa p stersjn.[...]
Med en sistaminuten-biljett kommer du nda till Tallinn fr s lite som 50 kronor.

Now is the time to cross the Baltic.
With a lastminuteticket you can get to Tallinn for as little as 50 krowns [3.85 GBP]

Not, needless to say, from here you can't.


2004-11-04 12:34

From hatstand to clothesrack

The enigmatique upsidedowninan Anna Louise tipped us off a while back, but news travels slowly in the frozen north:

Danmarks blivande drottning, kronprinsessan Mary, gr ny karrir.
Som toppmodell.

Denmark's future queen, Kronprinsessmary, has a new career.
As a supermodel.

Knudella! You've already grown up to be a beautiful prinsess! Don't you think being a supermodel as well is just a teeny bit - and we hate to say it - greedy?

Just think how much stick Kronprinsfred would get if he decided to be a racing driver!


2004-11-04 10:06


1. Blogsitting

Hos Tinka. The Bloggeur interface and my browsers, ho ho! Such a wacky fun place is the Interweb now that I increasingly become an information have-not, as web designrs "improve" things.

2. Politics I

Myth has it that, after a jolly game of Nuclear Chicken, Rambling Ronnie Reagon provoked the unwholesome regime in the USSR to spend itself into oblivion attempting to keep up in an arms race.

I, for one, would laugh like a drain if Bush's collection of post-rational economic policies spent the unwholesome regime in the FDRUSA into oblivion, entirely unprovoked.

3. Politics II

The UK should withdraw all troops from Iraq, ASAP. The FDRUSA is deranged and it is playing its own private game of Empires and Bogeymen, and lending a degree of legitimacy to its fantasies is doing more harm than good.

Since Tony "Baloney" Blair won't, and the Tories won't, the Liberal Democrats (sigh) own my vote until future notice.


2004-11-03 tea (now)

Nunavit, which is how much I'm having

You know how it is the business of journalistes to explain things they don't understand to persons who don't care?

Good. Deep breaths, then:

Inuktitut speakers will soon be able to have their say online as the Canadian aboriginal language goes on the web.

Browser settings on normal computers have not supported the language to date, but has changed that.

It provides a content management system that allows native speakers to write, manage documents and offer online payments in the Inuit language.

A "content management system". Right. Yes.

What is a "content management system", or at least this one?

If you know anything about computers, you will already have guessed: it is an evil proprietary kluge:

There had been significant problems implementing Inuktitut on the Web. You had to download fonts and change computer settings. This led to inconsistencies, and a lot of time was lost and wasted.

Just think how much better it would be if everything were a bitmap! None of these "settings", for a start, and - even better - no tedious mucking around with automated searches, or copy-and-paste!


2004-11-03 huh? (now)

Things I do not get, an occasional series

America and "values":

Voters in 11 states across the United States overwhelmingly refused to offer their blessing to same-sex marriage yesterday as they embraced constitutional amendments that deny legal status to homosexual couples looking to tie the knot. [...]

The amendments won, often by huge margins, in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Utah and Oregon -- the one state where gay-rights activists hoped to prevail.

If I still thought of America as a potential partner in dialogue, I would say "What is up with this, 11 states of the USA?".

As a Social Scientiste (with the rank of junior trainee-elect!), I am still curious. Being against something is one (1) thing, but amending a constitution? That is more than just common-or-garden againstness, is it not?

"11 states of America", I might go on, if there were any concievable point, "What is the big deal that this is, according to you, all about?"


2004-11-03 morning (now)

Against realisme, still

Suppose that biological organismes of increasing complexity have arisen over the course of geological time. (Most of the supposing, unless my Varied Reader is a Young Earth Creationiste, will have to do with the lack of any definition of "complexity" - I admit I am in no position to supply one.)

It was at one time believed that this increase in complexity reflected some kind of tendency or striving towards more complex organismes, and that the most complex organismes (i.e., in practice, us) were the most perfect realisations of some natural design.

The definitive counter-attack on this animiste tendency is, as I have often remarked, J. Monod's Le Hazard et la necessit, but S J Gould was a frequent critic of the related "ladder view" of evolution. Both biologistes, along with all modern evolutionary biologistes, deny the validity of this account: there are no such vague impulsions to ever onwardness or upwardsness, just Darwinian natural selection.

I would argue (although I don't know if biologistes generally do) that if there is anything behind a tendency towards complexity, it is the combination of:

  • New ecological possibilities arising from earlier ones: predators need something to eat; parasites need hosts, and so on.
  • Existing ecological niches already being filled, any new developments have to find new ones
  • (Most handwavingly of all) Earlier niches corresponding to simpler organisms

Now, leaving biology aside, suppose that a succession of scientifique models has been proposed, with later ones explaining more phenomena and making more (successful) empirical predictions than earlier ones (possibly, but not necessarily, with increased difficulty of calculation for cases where the two models overlap).

We call this, and I do not suggest we should stop, scientifique progress, and I like it as well as the next person with degrees in three (3) major quantitative disciplines.

What I do not accept is that this succession of models, adapted to more and more varied regimes of empirical prediction, constitute any kind of ladder towards a true account of the universe, or that the entities which they propose are more "real" than their predecessors, and I offer the analogy with the biological case in lieu of argument,

I've already granted scientifique progress, and I'll further grant (consessions are on special offer today, while stocks last) that electrons are just as real as bricks or pizzas. (Or, if that's too Weltlich for my Varied Reader's tastes, as real as frictionless pulleys and rigid levers and biological species.)

What I don't grant is that a gain in explanatory power is evidence of an better approximation to "truth". (I owe, of course, much more of this argument to F. Nietzsche than the terms in which I have stated its conclusions.)

Now, this "truth" which realistes (epistemological realistes, I suppose we could call them) invoke, is there in fact any need or use for it? Scientistes and their more simple-minded cheerleaders are big on the whole Science is Troooooooo! schtick, but is there any more to it than this kind of Applehood and Mother Pie feel-good rhetoric?

Peter Lipton admitted that he wanted to believe in some kind of epistemological realisme, but admitted that it wasn't easy to make precise the kind of talk of "approximations to truth" in which such realistes tend to indulge.


2004-11-02 15:38

Beeblogging the ballot


Last time 'round I planned to stay up to hear who won, which was all night and then some, and then I had to drive to Coventry in a company car on company business on no sleep at all, and I had a vair vair gentle, but by no means inexpensive, collision with a Yuppie Carrier, while inching along a stopped main road trying to read road signs and a map and stay awake.

Management later sent me an absurd and insulting letter more-than-hinting that I'd have taken more care on my own insurance policy, because after all who wouldn't crash for fun if they could get away with it? And then on the way home I stopped to get a wretched, lukewarm meal at a service station ("Have you got anything wretched and lukewarm, Service Station Serveuse?" "Gosh, yes, it must your lucky day!") and then the car's security system wouldn't let me start it again, and I had to call the AA out.

And then we got four (4) years of Bush, at least.

I'll be staying up again tonight, I expect, but I really hope tomorrow will be another day.


2004-11-02 samwidge (utc, hoorah!)


1. Why so SAD, silly English?


It all adds up to millions of Brits spending dark, moody months suffering loss of libido, anxiety, irritability and social withdrawal. But what must it be like for those who live even further north, where winter days are even shorter? Surprisingly, it's not nearly so bad.

Countries such as Iceland or Finland, which are endowed with snow and have little history of mass immigration, may not get many hours of sunlight, but chances are they'll get clear skies and plenty of light reflecting off the snow.

(The reasons for the immigration factor are unclear; see article.)

2. It isn't easy being a prinsess's boyfriend!

Vickan speaks:

I intervjun berttar Victoria om sitt och Daniel Westlings inte alltid s komplikationsfria frhllande:
- Det r nog inte helt ltt att vara tillsammans med mig, men s r det nog med alla som r i blickfnget.

In the interview Vickan tells of her and Daniel Westling's not always so complication-free relationship:
"It probably isn't completely easy to be together with mej, but so is it probably with all who are in the limelight."

We're game, Vickan! (Or either, or both, of the prinsessor von Thurn und Taxis!)

3. Of civil war and incivility

Take, for example, the rain-drenched empty streets of Beli Manastir in eastern Croatia:

There is a clear distinction between Croat and Serb cafes - you can identify them by the radio station they are playing.

The town has only 10,000 inhabitants, yet it boasts two local radio stations - transmitting very different programmes.

Disputes over shared fences and overhanging branches, we are put in a position to infer, are peanuts compared to having been "ethnically-cleansed" by persons who were once, and now are again, your neighbours.



2004-11-02 10:52

#14 with a bullet!

From "Boombastic" Brian Leiter's philosophy ranknings:

University of Bristol from not being ranked to 14th in the U.K.

If I used Moveable Type - that type of moveability! - I would have a category for Constellations of Philosophes I've Been To Pubs With, and it would by no means be inglorious.


2004-11-01 17:25


This office is colder than the old one was. My extremities, never well served by my wretched circulation, are becoming sluggish.

Fingerless gloves could be the surprise fashion hit of this winter, at least in our secret underground lair.


2004-11-01 12:17


1. Empiriciste, revise thyself!

A new species of hominid to me or you, Varied Reader, but a chance to be publically bewildered for others:

"The existence of 'Mini-Man' should destroy religion", claims Desmond Morris.

I can't help thinking we've been here before. Indeed, Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, still cannot understand why religion survived Darwin.

Richard "All Dawk" Dawkins, isn't it? Never one to let falsification get in the way of a perfectly good hypothesis.

2. Not in front of the googlebots!

Maurice Godelier - for it is he! - has written a new book on families, from an anthropological perspective. From Jean-Baptiste MARONGIU's review in Libbladet:

Il y a encore de par le monde dix mille socits diffrentes. Probablement, les faons de faire les enfants sont moins nombreuses, mais nulle part le biologique n'y suffit : il faut toujours du social comme il en faut pour rgler, d'un ct, les relations des parents entre eux (que la famille soit de type nuclaire, tendue, polyandre, polygame, patri- ou matrilinaire, maintenant homosexuelle, etc.), de l'autre, la place que le nouveau venu prendra dans la suite des gnrations et dans la socit.

There are still ten thousand different societies in the world. There are probably fewer ways of making children, but biology is never enough: there's always a need for the social to regulate, on one hand, the relations between the parents/relatives [parents means both in Frenchy-French] (whether the family is nuclear, extended, polyandrous, polygamous, patri- or matrilinear, these days homosexual, etc.); on the other, the place that the new arrival takes in the sequence of generations and in society.

Goodness, is that steam coming out of your ears, Richard "All Dawk" Dawkins? Anyway, we wuss out of further quoting on the grounds that it goes into details about the making of babies that we do not wish our referral logs to be dominated by searches for.

3. Venice is flooded!

No, more than usual.


2004-11-01 09:52

Life's great mysteries department

Q: What do you get if a kronprinsess dates a personal traineur?
A: A very fit kronprinsess!

Kronprinsessan Victoria r starkare n ngonsin.
- Att trna har blivit ett av henne strsta intressen, sger en klla.

Kronprinsess Vickan is stronger than ever, rrrrr!
"Training has become one of her biggest interests," says a source.

You'll be relieved to hear that she's also doing State Science at the Defence University. (Is her daddy - who is the king! - also commander in chief of the armed forces? That must come in handy at assessment time, for sure!)


2004-10-31 12:39

Monday Review of Stuff

Introducting Sociology, Richard Osborne and Borin Van Loon (illustrator).

This is a bad book. It is tendentious, incoherent and semiliterate; Osborne's favourite word is "commonsense" which comes in for a lot of abuse, but bizarrely never for not actually being a word. And feast your peepers on this:

It's all a question of, is sociology a science, and what does that mean, or is it just interpretation and analysis that may be able to tell us about the future?

[A speech bubble]

I never found out what's all a question of that, sadly, nor why a practice of interpretive and predictive analysis should be the other side of a dilemma from "science".

It just tells us how dead white males like to make rules and feel that they control everything.

[A speech bubble attached to a wimmin]

Dead men, in the universes I have been in the custom of inhabiting, make no rules. Attributing opinions to cartoon characters does not find Osborne at his most disciplined, or at least I hope not. But he sucks in his own right, also:

As society changes ever more quickly, methods of understanding it obviously need to keep pace, yet often don't.

This is the ideological "obviously", obviously. The correlation between developments in a discipline and those in its object of study here is very far from clear, to say nothing of obvious. For example, Newtonian physics was born in the age of the horse and cart, and remains the tool of choice for designing supersonic jets: is this the sort of thing that "keeping pace" means? There have been all kinds of new methods of propulsion, but F is still just as equal to ma.

Sir William Beveridge (1879-1963), director of the London School of Economics, invented the welfare state after the Second World War, with the aim that it would provide for those who, for no fault of their own, were unemployed, ill, old or simply poor.

The justly feared Geronto-Causality Unit had, of course, the power to demand a detailed autocritique from those suspected of becomin old by their own fault or, worse still, by their own most grievous fault.

There's a great deal of very tedious blah about how the vested interests, like, hate sociology because it, like, tells the truth, man, about how things really are.

This fits rather less than well with the other key theme of the book, that there is nothing resembling a consensus on what sociology is or should do, or what its results mean. (Durkheim's work on suicides is enough actual results for the whole book, for sure.)

Some of the Introducing... books are said to be good, and I'll vouch for the Lvi-Strauss one, but this is the second stinker in a row for me (Foucault, last time) and I'll be a lot warier in future.


previous, next, latest

Site Meter