Weekend Reading VI

by uber

This post as started on a Nexus 7. I generally build the links over the week, picking them to provide variety and hopefully interest. It’s also useful to have a task like this that is distributed across the different ways through which I access the internet.

The first link this week is by Roger Ebert, whose blog is home to some articles that reflect a rare degree of consideration in the views expressed in the concise, clear hand of an accomplished journalistic writer.


It was from these nuns, especially Sister Nathan and Sister Rosanne, that I learned my core moral and political principles. I assumed they were Roman Catholic dogma. Many of them involved a Social Contract between God and man, which represented classical liberalism based on empathy and economic fairness. We heard much of Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum”–“On Capital and Labor.” When I hear self-appointed Catholic “spokesmen” like William Donohue of the Catholic League, I wonder if he has come across it in his reading.

Whenever I consider the Ancient World, I am constantly reminded that we have such a minute view of the overall reality. The significance of some writers must be greatly exaggerated, because they are all we know about. I can’t help but imagine that there are enormous gaping holes in our understanding of Ancient Greece, or Rome, because of all that was lost. The question this article asks is interesting, there is a similar question about whether the analytic engine could have taken off, or if the Victorians could have skipped the internal combustion engine and build a jet engine straight from what they knew of steam. How different would the world have been if they had made that technological leap and, critically, used it widely?


I fundamentally object to the manifesto below. It’s intellectually ugly to consider ‘artists’ or ‘designers’ to have a monopoly on creativity. It’s like engineers claiming to be the owners of craft or creation. This fake separation between the artistic, scientific and applied is not helped by the author’s view. The idea that everyone should learn to code is the same as everyone learning to draw learning a foreign tongue, and learning mathematics: they are languages that we should all be able to converse in, and the more richly multilingual our society can be, the better.


When systems break down, amazing things happen. When you put otherwise apparently rational, civilised people in impossible situations like the one below, they will tend to turn into savages.


“You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you’ve lived with it,” says Joel Klein, the city’s schools chancellor, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg seven years ago.

The circle of influence of films and culture on science and back is a murky one. There are lots of people who say that Star Trek and early sci-fi inspired them, and perhaps that’s true. I think overall many authors, mediated by bombastic, over-simplifying journalists, overstate their influence. My personal view is that scientists often say they are inspired by sci-fi because it is an engaging, easy, stock answer to the scientific equivalent of ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ and other equally vacuous, template questions.

What films can do well is create a practical demonstration of an idealised system, and show people what technology could do if it worked without real-world hindrances. Sometimes this works against us, as demonstrated in the article below.


There are better ways to handle spatial ideas, ways which are more in line with the way our bodies are built. Human hands and fingers are good at feeling texture and detail, and good at gripping things—neither of which touch interfaces take advantage of. The real future of interfaces will take advantage of our natural abilities to tell the difference between textures, to use our hands to do things without looking at them—they’ll involve haptic feedback and interfaces that don’t even exist, so your phone shows you information you might want without you even needing to unlock and interact with it. But these ideas are elegant, understated, and impossible to understand when shown on camera.

Since eschewing alcohol, I have been frequenting cafés all the more. I actually find myself liking Starbucks for its consistency of experience. Their filter coffee is extremely drinkable, and with the card and free refills not too bad value for Dublin.

However, the experience that they offer is probably quite different to their XVIIth Century forbears…


I would have to pay a penny at the door, which is a fee to say that I agree to the rules of the house. I would undertake not to gamble, swear, quarrel, or mourn over lost love. Obviously the ‘mourning over a lost love’ must have been a big problem!

The article linked in the piece on London coffee houses is also worth perusing over a frap-mochachino.

There seems to be a global competition between movie and TV writers to write the most egregiously inaccurate way to represent the internet, computing and technology. I am largely immunised to this, simply because the scar tissue is so deep. Still, it’s interesting to see it applied to the medical domain, where, like the effects of CSI on forensics in court cases, inaccurate, dramatised representations of real, difficult processes probably has a much deeper, much more deleterious impact.


Carl Sagan warned against scientists becoming a “priesthood” with inaccessible knowledge and jargon, and this pertains to the applied science of medicine as well (perhaps especially). We need to engage with the public so that there is a general understanding of not only the findings of science but how science works. In the context of medicine, this means understanding clinical decision making – how doctors think.