iPhoning It In

I’m sitting here in Sam’s hospital room. After 30 minutes of trying to jury-rig an Internet connection through my MacBook Pro’s Bluetooth radio to Sam’s powerbook which is able to connect to the Internet (as my MacBook Pro obviously is not) to no avail (my Mac can see the Bluetooth PAN, get a vended IP address and DNS info, but nothing further), I’m typing a blog entry with my iPhone.

Even though I’ve clocked in at over 35 wpm with one-finger typing on a virtual keyboard, it is a lot easier to use 9 digits on a full-sized keyboard at 100 wpm or so.

But I just canceled my EV-DO service with Verizon, and so at least I’m able to post something.

Hospitals are a comforting place for me. I’m not a hypochondriac, I just mean that I feel at ease in them, but yesterday when I was here, I experienced a very strange and somewhat scary set of symptoms—my hearing dropped to about a quarter of normal and there was a very loud ringing, there were strange artifacts in my vision, and every time I stood up, I had to sit right back down for fear of fainting.

Eventually I could stand and them felt confident enough to get down to the cafeteria. It was closed, so my only recourse was the vending machines. I loaded up with coffees and candy bars, and eventually everything was back to normal.

I still don’t know what the hell was going on, and I’m only mostly certain it was dehydration and/or low blood sugar. But again, not 100% sure, and that’s the most frightening bit.

It’s been a fairly consistent thing, having no appetite because of the chronic pain, but it appears I’ve reached the point where I have to force myself to remember to eat.

What a ridiculous thing to add to iCal on this phone.

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Artificial “Intelligence”

Sometimes I think the closest we’ll ever come—certainly the closest we have come thus far—to a non-human having something even slightly recognizable as intelligence is the Bureaucracy.

Which Bureaucracy? Well, any bureaucracy which emerges out of a sufficiently large organization, really. Once enough “policy” is put in place, once those policies are manned by (ahem) Human “Resource” organizations, middle management and others who defer to the Bureaucracy who possess even a trivial latitude of discretion with respect to the organizational policies, the only human power over such a beast can only be trivial. Well, trivial and/or petty.

Think about it. Humans in such an organization are slaves to the machine, and those above individual-contributor level are coxswain at best and a form of clergy at worst. The reality lives too close to the “at worst” side of things.

Passing the buck is the first step in opening up enough space to exercise one’s own discretionary powers and clearly marks the passer as having given up fundamental initiative. Passing the buck to another human is deplorable enough, but when one passes the buck to a set of bureaucratic policies, the quality of it moves beyond—or rather, below—humanity in its description. And I’m torn between finding this irony laughable or reprehensible.

When you add to the policy-laden bureaucratic beast the fact that a hierarchical organization is required to keep the beast’s vitals within acceptable parameters, you’re left with everyone not at the top of the hierarchy impotent in every applicable way to “superiors”, leaving each to aim downward in order to shore up his or her own sense of worth. In rare times, this results in a kind of power-with unit-cohesiveness created by a common misery. More common (and “common”) cases involved a power-over kind of move in order to maintain the illusion that the “superior” isn’t entirely toothless.

The latter is the environment in which “making an example of” thrives. This is the environment in which personality conflicts between non-piers truly does make the subordinate entirely powerless: the “superior” always wins because there’s no recourse. You see, the policies that created the needed hierarchy will always favor the maintenance of that hierarchy and, like you might clean your body to rid it of dirt, filth and a few million epidermal cells in a five-minute shower, the beast-entire has little thought to any one individual, a quantity directly proportional not to talent, not to humanity, not to fairness, not to decency, but entirely to “rank”. The lower you are in the political hierarchy, the less it matters. No matter what, it[‘]s rank.

No wonder then that more people play at politics the more aware they are of the beast’s true needs. Those are the ones who make the connections, pay attention to “networking” and find devious or clever—but always non-duty-related—ways to close off subordinates and promote self-promotion—or at least tangle themselves enough across nodes in the hierarchy such that no one other person can completely decide their fate and no one level can form a consensus.

All effort that could be better spent doing real work, but hey, the Bureaucracy only expends effort for self-maintenance—a non-human form of the will to live—and generates valuable output solely in the service of keeping itself in existence among other hierarchies (competitors) and outside influences (pestilent—from the perspective of the Bureaucracy—swarms of humans, for example).

So I dared claim that bureaucracies possess organizational-level intelligence, but now that I think about it, most forms of organizational intelligence are not those easily recognizable by a human being. There are edge cases, of course, and some of those do present themselves as bits of intelligent behavior but those are rare and effete, no more than sinister grace notes that do nothing but season the larger march (or dirge, depending on perspective).

Is there a particular event that provided the impetus for painting such a picture? The only worthwhile answer that can be offered is this: it genuinely does not matter.

Not to the beast.

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Robotic Automobiles

My alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University won the “DARPA Urban Challenge”. A quick description from CMU’s own story:

A self-driving SUV called Boss made history by driving swiftly and safely while sharing the road with human drivers and other robots. The feat earned Carnegie Mellon University’s Tartan Racing first place in the DARPA Urban Challenge.

BossThe team, “Tartan Racing” also has its own site with some pretty cool images of “Boss”, the robotic Chevy Tahow which won the race.

I was a biology geek back then, and far removed from CMU’s Robotics Insistute, but I did attend an ethics of computer science kind of meeting there, and Red Whittaker, team lead for Tartan Racing gave a talk and I was just blown away by the vision he had. He didn’t offer abstract and grand visions of the future, but specifics of what the future of CS and robotics would bring, and damned if he isn’t just following through on everything I can remember.

Nice job, guys.

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“Why Apple?”

I can’t recall anyone ever asking me that question. I remember asking Perri Nejib back in Junior High School why she loved her Apple II when I was busy Z-80ing it with a TRS-80.

Point being, no one ever asked me. Oh, they tell me why, or quietly assume why (which chaps my ass even more), but never do they ask because they “already know”. Well, someone else answered it, and I’m certain he speaks for quite a few (perhaps in the millions).

This from Stephen Fry in his first column for The Guardian, a UK publication:

So you can guess that I certainly do think design is important. But it doesn’t have to come from Apple. In fact, I wish to goodness it came from everywhere. I hope you’ll believe I’m not an unthinking slave to Cupertino. Apple gets plenty of small things wrong, but one big thing it gets right: when you use a device every day, you cannot help, as a human being, but have an emotional relationship with it. It’s true of cars and cookers, and it’s true of computers. It’s true of office blocks and houses, and it’s true of mobiles and satnavs. A grey box is not good enough, clunky and ugly is not good enough. Sick building syndrome exists, and so does sick hand-held device syndrome. Fiddly buttons, blocky icons, sickeningly stupid nested menus — these are the enemy.

I couldn’t have described my own point of view better. (Nod to Daring Fireball for the reference.)

It’s interesting that the idea of “Apple fan” went to “Apple cultist” to a supposedly redundant “Apple elitist” all the way back to a sexist and ageist “Apple fanboi”. The names changed through the years but the meaning behind them didn’t. Ironically, since the world seems to have landed on “Apple fanboi”, the word has stayed but the meaning has changed when it comes to so-called crow eaters Switchers, where an “Apple fanboi” == “anyone who championed a Mac before I bought one”.

Egotism leads to reason; I love it

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