A compendium of links
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I've decided that if I cant be disciplined enough to write a proper post by myself, I should atleast post links regularly.
From the The Skeptical Environmentalist:Measuring the Real State of the World
In a highly interconnected world, statistical short-term reversals are bound to occur in long-term trends. If we allow environmental arguments - however well-meaning - to be backed merely by purported trends of two or three carefully selected years, we invariably open the floodgates to any and every argument. Thus, if we are to appraise substantial developments we must investigate long periods of time. Not the two or five years usually used, but as far back as figures exist. Of course, we must be aware that a new tendency may be developing, and we must also be extra careful to include and analyze the latest available figures. But insisting on long-term trends protects us against false arguments from background noise and lone swallows.
If you (even in a vague, unarticulated way) believe that technology or modernity or capitalism or what-have-you are rapidly, mercilessly screwing up the planet, then you definitely ought to pay attention to this book.
Here's the review of the book in the Economist.
Here's a good post on the methodology that this book follows (I found this in a long session of link-following that yielded a lot of good blogs).
Nobody has done more to popularise open source and bring it into the mainstream than Eric Raymond. His Cathedral and the Bazaar was the first essay that really convinced me about open-source. It also alerted me to the way bottom-up processes are so much more efficient at solving large-scale problems than traditional top-down solutions. Think Evolution vs Intelligent Design, Capitalism vs Communism, traditional encyclopedias vs Wikipedia and whole a lot of other processes.
(Rajat also pointed me sometime back to another good essay, Open Source-onomics: Examining some pseudo-economic arguments about Open Source. )
Why have I suddenly brought up ESR? Jaron Lanier, a pioneer of Virtual Reality recently wrote , IMO, a very muddled-up essay whose point it seemed to be to pan the Internet, Microsoft and Capitalism, all in one go. ESR responded to it, and the response is far more worth reading.
I have begun reading his Homesteading the Noosphere, and its been a gem until now. His fundamental insight is that open source development, like any other human activity, is best explained by understanding the incentives that drive its programmers. He has some great insights as to the unspoken taboos and customs among open source communities and why they have arosen.
Christof Koch is a Prof in Caltech who has been working with the late great Francis Crick on finding the neurological bases for consciousness. If you have a great net connection, you can acces videos of his lectures from here. A few days back I could access all the chapters of his book too, but I cant find it today. Anyway, do read the first chapter, it's got to be the smallest synopsis of all the important philosophical positions on consciousness.
In case you havent much idea about all the fantastic developments going on in bio-technology, then this debate on its promises, perils can fill you in. I myself dont know too much about the specifics , but I've been told by a friend whose friend is working in the field that all sorts of unimaginable things (such as an injection performing eye surgery) may soon start becoming reality. The debate on what it really holds for the future is great food for thought. My own outlook is decidely optimistic, but its justification will need a proper post that I am, as usual, postponing to a later date.
This can do for now. I have to get back to writing suck-letters to profs.
Update: You can in-fact, access all of Prof. Koch's book chapters from here