Why do I believe hypnosis exists?

Title says it all. Suggestions?

Damn monkeys!

From an unnamed book currently doing the rounds at Distributed Proofreaders, as quoted by one of the volunteers:

And here let us remark, that this German prince, in order to read that work, was obliged to have the German translated into French by his friend Suhm, the Saxon minister at Petersburg.

Chasot, who had no very definite duties to perform at Rheinsberg, was commissioned to copy Suhm’s manuscript,–nay, he was nearly driven to despair when he had to copy it a second time, because Frederic’s monkey, Mimi, had set fire to the first copy.

It’s about oil, dummy!

So why did we attack Iraq? Not merely because it rhymes, I hope. Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps even Robert Newman’s guess is as good as mine. It’s certainly not as bad as the raison du jour that Bush and his cronies hand out.

From his show History of oil:

I was in North Carolina, reading the papers in the back yard with the guy who lived next door. And it was the day that news first broke from Iraq about the united Sunni and Shiite uprising against the US led occupation. Same day there was news of an African union declaration condemning US foreign policy.

The guy next door said to me: “I’ll tell you this much about the United States: we are sure bringing about world unity. Because the entire planet hates us. It’s like it’s become one big nation called The Rest of the World.”

And I said to him: “Well, actually we did. In fact, we’ve even got our own flag.”

“Well, yeah?” he asked, “what is it?”

I said: “Same as yours, but on fire.”

You must watch it, if only for his Tony Blair as Joseph Goebbels impression. (Some of Newman’s older work here, from his show with David Baddiel.)

Keeping honest people honest

Now there’s a surreal title for this entry. Speaking of Dali; in 1965 he donated a painting to Rikers Island Prison, on account of that he could not be there in person. The painting, depicting the Saviour on a cross, hung in the prisoner’s dining hall a good many years, until somebody recently decided it probably wasn’t very safe there. So it was moved to the lobby, from where it was stolen in no time at all by four prison guards.

Who woulda thunk,” a guy in the street was overheard saying.


Neuromancer is about a bank job. Case used to be an ace safe cracker, until he got cocky and took off with his customer’s money. They broke both his hands in retaliation. But that is what makes him perfect for this job: nobody will suspect he is involved.

The team that is collected around him is an equally unlikely bunch. The team leader is an ex-army colonel with a grudge against the world. The driver of the get-away car is hired from a rastafari colony. And the client? Case will find out who the client is when he finds out what it is he is supposed to steal.

Except of course that Case is not a safe cracker but a computer hacker. It wasn’t his hands that were broken, but his mind. The safe is a networked system. And the rastafari colony is in an orbit around Earth. Still, doesn’t sound very original, does it? It’s still a bank job, by any other name.

You want original? How about this for original: this book coined the term cyberspace. This book coined the term matrix (and “jacking into the matrix”), long before the makers of a certain movie went on a borrowing spree. This book coined the term meatspace. It is chock-full of concepts that even today, twenty years later, when many of them are becoming reality, many people still do not understand. The author is one of the founding fathers of the Cyberpunk genre.

I should have read this 20 years ago, when I needed to read it. I won’t say that it has aged badly, but I have gotten used to the concepts of cyberspace without Neuromancer’s aid. The intimate relationship I could and should have forged with this novel is no longer possible, and what is worse is that I know this.

If you haven’t done so before, you should still read it.

Neuromancer, by William Gibson, 6/10.

Review of Neuromancer published on Aug 13, 2006 by Branko Collin.

A book with a complex installation procedure

At the Teleread blog, where I blog, regular visitor Roland Rohde was talking about the troubles he had with DRM, and in the run-up to his story he casually remarked that: “[the book] had a rather complicated installation routine, I can’t exactly remember what I had to do to get it working“.

A book with an installation procedure!

Now in the the days of yore (that is to say, before the mid-1990s) I would have smiled had I read that, because it would have meant that digital books were finally becoming a reality, and the teething problems we were experiencing were proof of that.

Today however, even though e-books have not caught on yet, there is no shortage of e-book standards and e-book readers, and even if you do not use these specialized items, there are enough wide-spread technologies that can be used to read electronic books, such as HTML and MP3 for file formats, and iPods and mobile phones for devices.

You know the story; this bloke John Gutenberg “invents” movable type. Publishers take authors’ books and make thousands of copies, without reimbursing the authors. Other publishers (“pirates”, as one author once called them) copy these books, not reimbursing the original publishers (or, indeed, the authors), thereby greatly upsetting these original publishers. Publishers get laws passed that evolve into so-called “copy rights”, so that other publishers can no longer “steal” from them.

Then the digital age comes along, and publishing changes from being “fairly easy, if you know what to do and own a printing press” to “so trivial, even a legless goat could do it”.

There is a popular argument that says we need DRM, because otherwise publishers won’t jump on the e-book bandwagon. Somehow the people who claim so fail to mention that readers won’t jump on the e-book bandwagon unless they can do more with e-books than with p-books.

Unless of course publishers are going to play the same sort of shell game they did with the LP/CD, where from one day to the next you could no longer buy vinyl, and had to go for CDs (at extremely inflated prices). In which case we’ll be able to do less with p-books, because there won’t be any.


This reminds me of a Max Tailleur joke from our toilet. (That is to say, his book of jokes was our toilet reading material back when I was a kid.)

A boy comes home from school and starts talking enthusiastically about what he learned during biology class. Apparently, they have been discussing evolution, and he finishes his story: “Don’t you think it’s great, dad, how we all derive from monkeys?”

Up to that moment the christian fundamentalist father has been listening to his son’s story in silence, and with rage building up in him, but now he cannot take it any longer. He bursts out: “Monkeys?! Monkeys?!!! Perhaps you stem from a monkey, but I certainly don’t!

OK, so I cannot tell a joke, so what are you going to do about it, eh?

Da summer maintenance

As you may have noticed, I started publishing old drafts. One was so old, it had passed its sell-by date and I had to throw it out. The rest needs a lick-a-paint here and there and will be up shortly.

Removed from the blog-roll for inactivity: CoCo and Natasha. Added to the blog-roll: Wisse Words by Martin Wisse.

Wikipedia’s authoritative articles

Wikipedia used to have a warning label that said something to the effect that you had to take everything there with a grain of salt; which is sage advice for any encyclopedia.

The idea being that a tertiary source like an encyclopedia can never be as authoritative as a primary or secondary source. (Let’s gloss over the fact that the strength of Wikipedia derives partly from being an excellent primary or secondary source for a lot of subjects.)

Now Wikipedia wants to instill some kind of authority by vetting articles, then locking them. According to an article in the Times: The software to allow such “stable” articles, which will be closed off from further revision, is now in the final stages.

Why write new software when it already exists? An encyclopedia built by volunteers, absorbing Wikipedia articles (or the other way around), which are then vetted by specialists in the field and deemed “finished” already exists. Or perhaps I should say “existed”; Nupedia was an abject failure. The vetting process would take ages, and by the time a rare article had graduated from Wikipedia’s elementary school to Nupedia’s university, the original Wikipedia article would have progressed so far that the Nupedia bit was nothing but a pale shadow of it.

But let’s try and be constructive. How about this?

Wikipedia already has locked pages, namely the older revisions. When you edit a wikipedia article, the former version gets saved somewhere. This helps other contributors to check up on your work, by comparing your version of an article with older versions. It also helps me to link to a version of a Wikipedia article about Nupedia that I just checked for all too clear inaccuracies and signs of vandalism.

How about giving some editors an approval stamp? When they use it on an article, the article gets marked authoritative. Then, when somebody else edits the article, the authoritative versions moves down in the history again, and the current version will no longer be marked authoritative.

If there is an authoritative version of the article, you can display a tab at the top, next to the “Article” tab, that links to the “Authoritative version”.

You could even make it so that if a reader looks up an article, the authoritative version is displayed first, although I think that is a very bad idea, because it sends a message to the good contributors that their work is of less value than that of an authority. To which the good contributors could rightfully disagree–an excellent reason to leave Wikipedia.

Authories will only lend their names to articles if they are sure the articles are correct. An authority who thinks it is OK to rubberstamp any old article, regardless of its actual quality, should not be considered an authority — such folks are probably better off working for the Digital Universe encyclopedia anyway. But every article always contains at least a few flaws, which may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks to correct. Only very few articles would be vetted if the entire article should be OKed. So, the authorities should be able to mark only the parts of an article they trust, then move on.

This has the added advantage that the weak parts of an article stand out, so that the great masses can apply their energy to making the entire article good. Also, it helps make the authority’s voice clearer; he or she need not OK parts that he or she is not entirely certain about; that which the authority OKed, should really be OK. And of course, once you know that, you can better judge the quality of the authoritative voice, and vote it out when necessary.

Finally, an authoritative article should have a box explaining who deemed it authoritative, and what makes him or her so special. After all, an argument of authority is merely a heuristic; what makes somebody authoritative is first and foremost the things a person knows about a subject, and the fact that we know they know these things.

To be honest, Jimmy Wales probably has something like this in mind. Rarely have I seen a man who is misquoted so often and so badly by the traditional press as Wales; he knows what underlies the success of Wikipedia as well as I do, and it’s definitely not locking articles.

Maciej and the Secret Space Center

Had I mentioned that Maciej Ceglowski is in Beijing? The other day he accidentally wandered into one of the city’s most secret space travel facilities. He gets busted, and his feeble possessions investigated.

At some point the fat cop walked in again to make another attempt at the cell phone, guards springing back to attention around him. Having suffered the slings and arrows of the phone’s outrageous user interface for three months, it gave me a secret thrill to watch this battle. But as confident as I was of the outcome, I worried that the cop might accidentally squeeze the button on the side of the phone and thereby discover the phone’s built-in camera.

By my estimate the phone had about fifty photographs stored on it – two of my bewildered face squinting at the phone, one of my hand, and forty seven of the inside of my pocket. I had no way of verifying this, though, because the built-in photograph viewer was not navigable by mortal man. Only the pure of heart, to whom the user interface would open like a blushing rose, could activate the picture viewer.

Who knew that bad usability and international espionage go hand in hand?