Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.
A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man - a man of restless and versatile intellect - who… plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.
      - Thomas Henry Huxley, replying to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce during a debate on Darwin's theory of evolution at the meeting of the British Association at Oxford, June 30, 1860.
The computer is only a fast idiot, it has no imagination; it cannot originate action. It is, and will remain, only a tool to man.
The mind can store an estimated 100 trillion bits of information-compared with which a computer’s mere billions are virtually amnesiac.
      - "Memory: Science Achieves Important New Insights into the Mother of the Muses," Newsweek. September 29, 1986

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In the cybernetic age, the individual becomes increasingly subject to manipulation. His work, his consumption, and his leisure are manipulated by advertising, by ideologies, by what Skinner calls "positive reinforcements." The individuals loses his active, responsible role in the social process; he becomes completely "adjusted" and learns that any behavior, act, thought, or feeling which does not fit into the general scheme puts him at a severe disadvantage; in fact he is what he is supposed to be… What has happened in modern industrial society is that traditions, and common values, and genuine social personal ties with others have largely disappeared. The modern mass man is isolated and lonely, even though he is part of a crowd; he has no convictions which he could share with others, only slogans and ideologies he gets from the communications media.
      - The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness by Erich Fromm, February 15, 1992.
'How do you know so much about everything?' was asked of a very wise and intelligent man; and the answer was 'By never being afraid or ashamed to ask questions as to anything of which I was ignorant.'
To understand the place of humans in the universe is to solve a complex problem. Therefore I find it impossible to believe that an understanding based entirely on science or one based entirely on religion can be correct.
      - Wilton Robert Abbott, aerospace engineer. Who's Who in America, 43rd Edition 1984-85

Monday, June 28, 2010

Good books tell the truth, even when they're about things that never have been and never will be. They're truthful in a different way.
I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you've probably misunderstood what I've said.
Einstein argued that there must be simplified explanations of nature, because God is not capricious or arbitrary. No such faith comforts the software engineer.
- Fred Brooks, in the essay "No Silver Bullet," 1987

Sunday, June 27, 2010

If I would've asked people what they wanted, they would've said 'faster horses.'
Around computers it is difficult to find the correct unit of time to measure progress. Some cathedrals took a century to complete. Can you imagine the grandeur and scope of a program that would take as long?
- "Epigrams in Programming," SIGPLAN, Association for Computing Machinery, September 1982
People think dreams aren't real just because they aren't made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.
Around computers it is difficult to find the correct unit of time to measure progress. Some cathedrals took a century to complete. Can you imagine the grandeur and scope of a program that would take as long?
- "Epigrams in Programming," SIGPLAN, Association for Computing Machinery, September 1982

Saturday, June 26, 2010

When we all think alike, no one thinks very much.
      - Walter Lippmann
Mapping the human genome has been compared with putting a man on the moon, but I believe it is more than that. This is the outstanding achievement not only of our lifetime, but in terms of human history. A few months ago I compared the project to the invention of the wheel. On reflection, it is more than that. I can well imagine technology making the wheel obsolete. But this code is the essence of mankind, and as long as humans exists, this code is going to be important and will be used.
What is the use of a house
if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?
- If you cannot tolerate the planet that it is on?
- Henry David Thoreau
From a letter to Harrison Blake May 20, 1860 later published in "Familiar Letters," 1865

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's how creativity works. Especially in humans. For every good idea, ten thousand idiotic ones must first be posed, sifted, tried out, and discarded. A mind that's afraid to toy with the ridiculous will never come up with the brilliantly original.
An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.
Playfully doing something difficult, whether useful or not, that is hacking.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.
I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination - stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern - of which I am a part… What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
      - Buddha, roughly 2500 years ago.
It's a truism in technological development that no silver lining comes without its cloud.
      - Bruce Sterling on the "National Research and Education Network" A speech before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, April 29, 1993

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

So the thing to remember is this: the web is huge and very important, but it’s just one of the many things that run on the internet. The net is much bigger and far more important than anything that travels on it. Understand this simple distinction and you're halfway to wisdom.
      - "The internet: Everything you ever need to know" by John Naughton, June 20, 2010.
Most people don't realize how important librarians are. I ran across a book recently which suggested that the peace and prosperity of a culture was solely related to how many librarians it contained. Possibly a slight overstatement. But a culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas and without ideas, well, where are we?
      - The Sandman by Neil Gaiman Character: Lucien, Librarian of the Dreaming.
All life is an experiment.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups... So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
Do not try the patience of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
There is nothing more dreadful than imagination without taste.
Any fool can use a computer. Many do.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands. The loom of time and space works the most astonishing transformations of matter.
If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.
Technology is a word that describes something that doesn't work yet.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.
In view of the kind of matter we work with, it will never be possible to avoid little laboratory explosions.
It came to me then, as if I was making it up; but I may have heard it long ago. Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," he used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. Public libraries depend on voluntary contributions. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.
In science, self-satisfaction is death. Personal self-satisfaction is the death of the scientist. Collective self-satisfaction is the death of the research. It is restlessness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, agony of mind that nourish science.
Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.
A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it.
      - William Styron in an interview in Writers at Work, First Series, 1958.
It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us - there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation of a distant memory, as if we were falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.
It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.
To be nobody-but-myself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I often find that a novel, even a well-written and compelling novel, can become a blur to me soon after I've finished reading it. I recollect perfectly the feeling of reading it, the mood I occupied, but I am less sure about the narrative details. It is almost as if the book were, as Wittgenstein said of his propositions, a ladder to be climbed and then discarded after it has served its purpose.
      - " The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age" by Sven Birkerts, 1994.
Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

...the Internet is the government in the broad sense of "the thing that governs or dictates policy." The Internet is the new kind of awareness. It’s not something you look at. It is the way or means through which you look at things. So it becomes the basis of your whole way of thinking — your new way of imagining things — and this process is largely unconscious.
Technology inspires art, and art challenges technology.
Perhaps some future [D&D] variation may even take a cue from recursive movies like "Being John Malkovich" and the "Scream" series. In it, you'd play a game-company vice president with the Bard-like name of Dancey. To win, you'd need to regain the trust of e mbittered former loyalists and guide them through the bizarre Astral Plane known as the Internet -- where a cruel kingdom called Microsoft battles a guild of gnome-like tinkerers and their nebbishy leader, a sorcerer from faraway Finland, the one with an unpronounceable name and a magic penguin.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fiction is evolutionarily valuable because it allows low-cost experimentation compared to trying things for real.
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
There is nothing more dangerous than a resourceful idiot.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping...waiting...and though will its jaws, and howl. It speaks to us...guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. the joy of love...the clarity of hatred...and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we'd know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we'd truly be dead.
On all levels primary, and secondary and undergraduate - mathematics is taught as an isolated subject with few, if any, ties to the real world. To students, mathematics appears to deal almost entirely with things whlch are of no concern at all to man. ...mathematics is expected either to be immediately attractive to students on its own merits or to be accepted by students solely on the basis of the teacher's assurance that it will be helpful in later life. [And yet,] mathematlcs is the key to understanding and mastering our physical, social and biological worlds.
      - Translated from an editorial written by Morris Kline for his June 11, 1992 obituary in the New York Times.
Here lies a toppled God -
His fall was not a small one.
We did but build his pedestal,
A narrow and a tall one.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic god. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times.
As machines become more and more efficient and perfect, so it will become clear that imperfection is the greatness of man.
Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

To design something really well you have to get it. You have to really grok what it's all about. It takes a passionate commitment to thoroughly understand something -- chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don't take the time to do that.

Creativity is just connecting things.

When you ask a creative person how they did something, they may feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after awhile. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people have.

Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. They don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions, without a broad perspective on the problem.

The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.
The future masters of technology will have to be light-hearted and intelligent. The machine easily masters the grim and the dumb.
In this culture, I figure people have the right to name themselves; if you feel like a geek, you are one. But there are some clues : You are online a good part of the time. You feel a personal connection with technology, less its mechanics than its applications and consequences. You're a fan of The Simpsons and The Matrix. You saw The Phantom Menace opening weekend despite the hype and despite JarJar. You are obsessive about pop culture, which is what you talk about with your friends or co-workers every Monday.
You don't like being told what to do, authority being a force you see as not generally on your side. Life began for you when you got out of high school, which more likely than not, was a profoundly painful experience. You didn't go to the prom, or if you did, you certainly didn't feel comfortable there. Maybe your parents helped you get through, maybe a teacher or a soulmate.
Now, you zone out on your work. You solve problems and puzzles. You love to create things just for the kick of it. Even though you're indispensable to the company that's hired you, it's almost impossible to imagine yourself running it. You may have power of your own now - a family, money - yet you see yourself as one who never quite fits in. In many ways, geekdom is a state of mind, a sense of yourself in relation to the world that's not easily rewritten.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The case for digitally-driven stupidity assumes we’ll fail to integrate digital freedoms into society as well as we integrated literacy. This assumption in turn rests on three beliefs: that the recent past was a glorious and irreplaceable high-water mark of intellectual attainment; that the present is only characterized by the silly stuff and not by the noble experiments; and that this generation of young people will fail to invent cultural norms that do for the Internet’s abundance what the intellectuals of the 17th century did for print culture.
Software is a great combination between artistry and engineering. When you finally get done and get to appreciate what you have done it is like a part of yourself that you've put together. I think a lot of the people here feel that way.
Technology will definitely solve all our problems, but in the process it will create brand-new ones. But that's OK because the most you can expect from life is to get to solve better and better problems.
The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance - the idea that anything is possible.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.
Our earth is round, and, among other things, that means that you and I can hold completely different points of view and both be right. The difference of our positions will show stars in your window I cannot even imagine. Your sky may burn with light, while mine, at the same moment, spreads beautiful to darkness. Still we must choose how we separately corner the circling universe of our experience. Once chosen, our cornering will determine the message of any star and darkness we encounter.
      - Introduction to the "Corners on the Curving Sky" by June Jordan, 1970.
...It makes no sense to try, or even to want, to fit into a place where you don't belong. ...It's not going to happen, and if it ever did, it's not what you would want anyway. ...It's a delusion. The trick is to take something that's painful, and to make it so trivial that it's inconsequential. Just walk away and make it trivial. My advice to geeks? If you don't like it, leave, leave fast, make it trivial. Come to terms with who you are.
      - Jesse Daily, in correspondence with Jon Katz Published in Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho by Jon Katz

Sunday, June 6, 2010

When, as we must often do, we fear science, we really fear ourselves. Human dignity is better served by embracing knowledge.
I was in my mid-teens when I discovered that I was a writer. Notice that I didn’t say 'wanted to be a writer.' 'Want' has almost nothing to do with it. It's either there or it isn't. If you happen to be one, you're stuck with it. You'll write whether you get paid for it or not. You won't be able to help yourself. When it's going, well, it's like reaching up into heaven and pulling down fire. It's better than any dope you can buy. When it's not going well, it's much like giving birth to a baby elephant.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Learning is seeing patterns in the world around us. Teaching is creating the conditions in which students can see the known pattens of our collective understanding. Nobel prize winners see patterns where they have not been seen before
I put my heart and my soul into my work,
and have lost my mind in the process.
It is the essence of genius to make use of the simplest ideas.
      - Charles Deguy

Friday, June 4, 2010

I've developed a new philosophy - I only dread one day at a time.
Science is wonderful: for years uranium cost only a few dollars a ton until scientists discovered you could kill people with it.
      - 20,000 quips & quotes by Evan Esar.
The Net is a unique creation of human intelligence.
... the first intelligent artificial organism.
... represents the growth of a new society within the old.
... represents a new model of governance.
... represents a threat to civil liberties.
... the greatest free marketplace of ideas that has ever existed.
The Net is in imminent danger of extinction.
The Net is immortal.
      - Henry Edward Hardy, introduction to The History of the Net
      Master's Thesis for the School of Communications, Grand Valley State University (September 28, 1993)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Man is manifestly not the measure of all things. This universe is shot through with mystery. The very fact of its being, and of our own, is a mystery absolute, and the only miracle worthy of the name.
If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.
If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence-whether much that is glorious-whether all that is profound-does not spring from disease of thought-from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.
There's no point being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes.
Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

...modern technology is a major evolutionary transition - as important as when the first cells came together to form multicellular organisms. It would be astonishing if that occurred without disrupting existing life.
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-God damn it, you've got to be kind.


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