BlogOfTheMoon

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The meaningfulness of life

I’ve just finished reading this arc from the lovely and excellent Dresden Codak webcomic and it got me thinking.  The short version is that in the far future, the remnants of humanity live in a virtual paradise created for them by an AI that they no longer understand.  A group of these humans rebel because they are no longer relevant and their lives have no meaning, and war is inevitable.

Thinking of this, and all the other SF that has riffed off the same sort of idea, I find myself wondering how I would react if my life was completely irrelevant.  The thing is that I’m already an atheist and broadly believe that life has no meaning except that which we give it.  So to me, I don’t feel that there’s anything special about my being alive or that my life has any “higher purpose” (not that I want it to stop any time soon, mind you), so I’m half way there already.  If we create a new, artificial life form that is better than us, then I think I’ll be happy (so long as it doesn’t turn on us in a Terminator-esque rampage to destroy humanity) and not be dissatisfied with my life.  If our greatest achievement is in passing on the torch of intelligence then that’s wonderful!  I’ll retire to my virtual paradise a happy man, knowing that we have created something greater than ourselves.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Happy New Year

Happy new year everyone. My retrospective on 2010 is now up on my website.

Time’s tide flows on
May it bear you
Towards happiness
And away from sorrow

Happy new year

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Self-Discovery #001

I went to my local garden centre today to buy a winter house plant, and a conversation with the lady behind the counter when she asked me about something else that I had bought earlier this year1 made me think about my relationship with plants.  I think my knowledge of plants can be compared with my knowledge of Linux.  No, no, let me explain: in both cases I know just enough to be dangerous.  I don’t have the deep knowledge that lets me delve into the guts of the O/S when things go wrong or swap kernel modules or window managers, and similarly, although I seem to be quite good at keeping (indoor, at least) plants alive, I don’t know what to do when they start looking poorly.  Nor do I know how to take cuttings or trim them back.  The dark arts of What To Plant With What are a mystery to me.

In both cases, I suspect diving in is the only way to learn, in the first case by installing Linux on a computer that I regularly use, and in the second I think this has been a long and rambling way of saying that I think I’m going to have to start listening to Gardeners’ Question Time.

1 itself a good reason to support your local businesses

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Compassion and punishment

One of the many things that has come out of the mass of WikiLeaks documents released recently is that the UK Government was apparently worried about Libyan reaction if Abdelbaset al-Megrahi died in jail.  This led to a rekindling of interest in the case and the ‘revelation’ that al-Megrahi is still alive, leading to questions asked of the First Minister on the Today programme revisiting the decision.  Surely I can’t be the only who finds this vulture-like constant waiting for al-Megrahi to die somewhat macabre?

Even if his conviction was completely sound (and there are many grounds for believing otherwise, although that’s neither here nor there for this post) I would still have supported his release from prison on compassionate grounds as the Scottish government did.  I find it almost amusing that the fact he is still alive, despite his illness, is something that would have been lauded, maybe as a miracle, in any circumstance other than this one.  Indeed, if one were feeling mischievous one could maybe argue that that his continuing health is a sign from God…

However, that’s not the point that I want to make.  My point is this: that when Kenny MacAskill released al-Megrahi, he did so for the right reasons, on compassionate grounds for someone who all medical evidence suggested had only a few months left to live.  The immediate flurry of protest is something that I despised because that key fact was forgotten or ignored – that he’s almost certainly going to die soon enough anyway, probably in a fairly painful and slow way.  This decision was one that was made for all the right reasons and under a lot of pressure to the contrary, from both the media in this country and America, and the US Government.  It’s one of the few times that I’ve felt any pride in my elected representatives, and it made me proud to have adopted Scotland, a nation that still understands and values compassion, as my home.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Proud of the BBC

The BBC is a brilliant, diverse, and vital organisation.  I can’t imagine life in Britain without it.  It isn’t just a broadcaster, it’s an institution, part of our national fabric – there’s a reason we call it Auntie Beeb.  I’m not even going to attempt to list some of the amazing programmes, both on television and radio, that it’s produced over the years, we all have our favourites.  What constantly amazes me is the breadth of its ambition.  This is an organisation whose remit spreads from Strictly Come Dancing to the World Service, from Eastenders to Radio 4.  It can encompass tastes from the opera-going Radio 3 listener to the soap and reality TV watching viewer.

It doesn’t just have a glorious history, but it’s still making innovative television and radio today, and its enthusiastic embracing of new media has led to it producing one of the best websites in the world (although I’m not exactly convinced by their enthusiasm for DAB radio).  Its news gathering is the first place I turn to when I want both factual descriptions of what’s going on and decent analysis.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m proud of the BBC.  And I’m not the only one.  Mitch Benn is so proud of it that his next single is about shouting that very fact to the rooftops.  It expresses the same sentiments I would like to, but more eloquently and with a degree more panache.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

RIP Benoît Mandelbrot

It seems that Benoît Mandelbrot passed away on Thursday.  This hasn’t had a lot of attention in the media, but I think it deserves a moment to remember the man who coined the term ‘fractal’.  And I can’t think of a better tribute than Jonathan Coulton’s song Mandelbrot Set.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Electronic snooping by HR departments

This post on Bruce Schneier’s blog led me to this rather disturbing article.  I don’t know about anyone else but I find it rather creepy that what you said years ago, or an embarrassing picture, possibly put up by someone else, could be used to determine whether or not you get (or keep!) a job.  The use of fear to sell it is also insidious, suggesting that if companies don’t do it, they may be held liable.

Although I’m not on Facebook, Twitter or any of the other popular social networking sites, I do keep a public blog and I appreciate that I have to be careful what I write on it.  I avoid talking about my employer, except in the most general terms and these days I don’t write anything that I wouldn’t be able to defend.  But I’ve had this blog for a long time, and I can’t guarantee that I was always so circumspect.  And I’m certainly not adverse to putting political opinions here either.  If something like this became widespread, and I was in the job market, I’d give serious consideration to going through and removing possibly damaging posts (i.e. anything vaguely contentious) or even taking the blog down entirely and moving it behind a friend-wall.  In this way, the public sphere is weakened, and (self-)censorship gains another victory.

Another example: when IoWiki was first established, there was a debate about how we handle entries for members, something that led to a policy stating that inclusion is opt-in, and the whole wiki blocked to spiders to make it harder for companies like the one mentioned in the article to collect this sort of information.  I originally thought that some of the precautions we took were somewhat OTT, but with technology and companies like this emerging, I’m glad that some people back then had the foresight to insist that we did take those precautions.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Ninja Cows and Other Stories of the Highlands

I spent a few days up in Pitlochry on holiday recently. It’s a lovely part of the world and I’m glad that I’ve seen it but an incident did bring home to me that although I do tend to go on holiday to places where I can walk in the country, I’m really an urban lad at heart.

I found a marked walk that looked fairly easy so bought a map from the tourist office (which turned out to be woefully inadequate) and set off. It wasn’t until I reached the first point where I had to make a decision as to which trail to follow that I realised that I had started off the wrong way down the walk, and the signposts were all one way. Here was my first mistake: I thought, in classic Top Gear style, how hard can it be to reverse engineer the route? It turned out that my map wasn’t detailed enough to let me do so with any accuracy so ended up relying on trial and error (and I only got lost twice or thrice, so I don’t feel completely incompetent).

At one point, I ended up in a field and followed what appeared to be a little trail along the edge of the field rather than going over the bridge where the signpost was. I walked until I noticed that there was a herd of cows at the other end and my first thought wasn’t “oh, I must have taken a wrong turn”, but more “who routed a path through a field full of cows?” I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly at this point, having already cursed the rain and mud gods thoroughly. Half way along the trail, still hoping that there would be a stile or something before I reached the cows at the end, I found a little ruined turret or something that had an information board in it. Apparently this was part of the ruins of the Black Castle of Moulin. I spent a couple of minutes reading the boards but would turn round every so often to try and see where the trail was going, and every time I did so, the cows would have moved closer towards me, but I never saw them move! Eventually my nerve deserted me, and I retraced my steps with some alacrity, escaping from the pack of Ninja Cows by the skin of my teeth.

I eventually found the proper path and followed it through an overgrown section and a field and have never been more pleased to find myself come out to a road. It was at this point that I realised that no matter how much I try and kid myself otherwise, I’m not a child of the country, but someone who although doesn’t mind walking, prefers to do it on a paved path. Not that it will stop me doing something equally daft next year, I suspect.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Wedding Photos

I’ve been to several weddings over the past three or so weeks and have put photos from them all online. Rather than linking to each one piecemeal, here’s a single post to links for all of them.

The weddings were all great fun but I’m somewhat knackered after so many in quick succession. That’s me for the rest of the year anyway, with my suit dry-cleaned and hung away again until my sister ties the knot next year.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Immigration again

I watched the last pre-election leaders’ debate the other day and about the only real impression that I got from it was that Birmingham University’s Great Hall is very nice (probably nicer than our own Bute Hall). It was a good debate though, probably the best of the three, as the leaders have all become more comfortable with the role and actually felt like a debate.

As I mentioned in my comments about the first one though, the subject of immigration continued to annoy me, mainly because of the very parochial SE-England attitude, especially in light of this article from the BBC talking about a rise in the Scottish population, where a Scottish Government spokesman called the rise (due in very large proportion due to migration) a key contributor to sustainable economic growth. This is being ignored by the main parties in their drive to appeal to the middle-Englanders without any recognition of the different needs of different regions of the country. I find this dishonest and wrong.

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