• Mon. Oct 25th, 2021

Wergosum's

Food, climate, disasters, analyses and more…

2011

  1. 20111204 The Jews of Khazaria (Kevin Alan Brook)
  2. 20111113 Arago et sa vie scientifique (Joseph Bertrand)
  3. 20111112 Crazy Girls (Kindle Single) (Max Lance)
  4. 20110822 Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World (David Keys)
  5. 20110815 Beware Dangerism! (Kindle Single) (TED Books) (Gever Tulley)
  6. 20110820 The Future According To Me (Kindle Single) (Rob Kutner)
  7. 20110803 Homo Evolutis (Kindle Single) (TED Books) (Steve Gullans and Juan Enriquez)
  8. 20110731 Martial’s Epigrams: A Selection (Garry Wills and Garry Wills)
  9. 20110729 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune): Massacre shifts Europe’s politics Anti-20110724 L’Internet et les
  10. langues (Marie Lebert)
  11. 20110710 Entropy Demystified (Arieh Ben-Naim)
  12. 20110612 Linux Bible 2011 Edition: Boot up to Ubuntu, Fedora, KNOPPIX, Debian, openSUSE, and 13 Other 20120612 PC Magazine (PC
  13. Magazine):  The Desktops And Laptops, Will Greenwald
  14. 20110612 Operating Systems Uncovered (George Hopkins)
  15. 20110611 The Mail & Guardian (M&G Media):  Little commitment to fixing dysfunctional secretariat,
  16. 20100610 Reason (Reason)
  17. 20110519 Smithsonian Magazine (Smithsonian) : Have Meme, Will Travel Information behaves like life itself. And vice versa, James Gleick
  18. 20110515 Succubus Shadows (Richelle Mead)
  19. 20110511 Best Fantastic Erotica (Cecilia Tan, Arinn Dembo, Thomas S. Roche, Jason Rubis, Kal Cobalt, Catherine Lundoff and Diane Kepler)
  20. 20110424 The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (Victor J. Stenger)
  21. 20110409 Kepler’s Witch (James A. Connor)
  22. 20110409 No Tech Hacking: A Guide to Social Engineering, Dumpster Diving, and Shoulder Surfing (Johnny Long)

20111204 The Jews of Khazaria (Kevin Alan Brook)

I first came across the Khazars in a historical novel by Marek Halter (Le vent des Khazars). The multi-ethnic multi-religious Khazar khaganate (618-1048, see wikipedia) played a major role in the balance of powers and destiny of world civilization, although it remains little known. The interesting thing is that the Khazars purposefully adopted Judaism as their state religion after consultation with “experts”, because Judaism was, at the same time, more acceptable to their Christian neigbours than Islam, and  more acceptable to the Islamic neigbeours than christianity! They constitute an important but mostly overlooked buffer between Christianity and Islam in western-central Asia.

As was the case with most nomadic Turks, the Khazars were racially and  ethnically mixed. Among the Turks were black-haired peoples with dark  brown eyes, red-haired peoples with green or hazel eyes, and fair-haired peoples   with blue eyes. Some had high cheekbones, wide faces, and narrow eyes,  resembling the peoples of east Asia. Many others resembled Europeans or  Middle Easterners. The Khazars were described by ibn-Said al-Maghribi as having blue eyes,  light skin, and reddish hair.12 Many other early Turkic tribes also had red hair.  Chinese and Muslim sources indicated that the ancient Qirghiz (Kyrgyz) people   living north of the Sayan Mountains along the upper Yenisei River had red  hair, blue eyes, and white skin. The book has a most interesting appendix D on Other Instances of Conversion to  Judaism in Historywith the following sections: Judaism among the Alans, European converts to Judaism, The Sabbatarians, The Subbotniki, Converts in Adiabene, Converts among Semitic tribes of Greater Israel (Itureans and Idumeans or Edomites), Converts in Yemen, Converts in Ethiopia, Converts in North Africa, Converts in Uganda.

20111113 Arago et sa vie scientifique (Joseph Bertrand)

Cependant une boussole à boîte de cuivre, livrée à Arago par un habile constructeur, ne répondait pas à ses espérances. Malgré la perfection de sa monture, elle se montrait extrêmement peu mobile, sans que les yeux exercés et pénétrants d’Arago y pussent découvrir le moindre défaut. Il entreprit méthodiquement une série d’épreuves, et comme beaucoup d’autres observateurs attentifs, il trouva bientôt ce qu’il ne cherchait pas.

20111112 Crazy Girls (Kindle Single) (Max Lance)

“You’re a really nice guy, but I want you to be saved.” “Saved from what?” “Judgment Day.” “Do they take converts?” “You have to be a believer.” “Shit.” “Judgment Day. People who are saved go to Heaven, everyone else goes to Hell for eternity.” “I don’t really believe in that stuff,” I said gently. “Then you probably won’t go to Heaven.” “But you sin all the time. You said you hook up with guys and you’re not married.” “Christian guys.” “That doesn’t make it OK.” “And I repented.” “That seems like you’re trying to game the system. Kind of a Jewish thing to do.”

20110822 Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World (David Keys)

See this post, originally “inspired” by Key’s book.

[…] the four academics who first realized that there had been a climatic disaster in the mid-sixth century—Richard Stothers and Michael Rampino, who published some of the Roman historical evidence in a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research 88 in 1983; Kevin Pang, whose work on the Chinese records of the catastrophe was reported in Science News 127 in 1985; and Mike Baillie, who first noticed the tree ring evidence for the disaster and published it in Nature 332 in March 1988, and—together with the Roman and Chinese historical evidence—in Archaeology Ireland in summer 1988. Indeed I first heard about the climatic events of the mid–sixth century at a lecture given by Mike Baillie at an archaeology conference in Bradford in April 1994. Up till the mid–sixth century, Yemen had been the most powerful native political force in the Arabian Peninsula. But with the destabilization of the world’s climate in the second half of the 530s and the 540s, two disasters hit Yemen. First, bubonic plague devastated the country—probably from 539 or 540 onward. Certainly the disease had arrived there by the 540s. And second, the agricultural economy of a key part of the country was substantially destroyed by the collapse of the Marib Dam. This huge structure was not one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but it probably should have been. It was one of the largest and most spectacular feats of civil engineering achieved by humanity in premodern times. The main dam was 53 feet high, 2,046 feet long, and at least 200 feet wide at the base. Its main job was to concentrate floodwaters so that they reached a particular height and could be channeled through 2 main sluices into a 3,700-foot-long canal and thence through 15 secondary sluices and 121 tertiary sluices into a massive irrigation system consisting of hundreds of miles of canals. In total, the complex irrigated twenty-four thousand acres and supported a population of between thirty thousand and fifty thousand people. The city of Marib had been the capital of the powerful kingdom of Saba (sometimes said to be Sheba in the Bible) up till the late third century A.D. and then became a major center of the united kingdom of Saba and Himyar, after ancient Saba had become subject to the Himyarites. The worldwide climatic disruption that started in A.D. 535 and lasted for up to thirty years was almost certainly responsible directly and indirectly for a series of floods and dam bursts that ultimately led to the deterioration and abandonment of the dam and the consequent collapse of agricultural production. The deterioration of the Marib Dam complex, culminating in its final abandonment around A.D. 590, should be seen as a process spanning fifty to sixty years—a series of connected events rather than a single catastrophe. However, that process was initially triggered by the climatic chaos of the mid–sixth century, which seems to have produced not only drought but also occasional rainstorms of extreme severity. One of these freak deluges produced such massive quantities of water that, sometime in the 540s, the great Marib Dam gave way for the first time in a hundred years. The event was recorded in a royal inscription, and a workforce from all over Yemen had to be raised to repair it, so serious was the damage. Archaeological work at the site suggests that the force of the flood was unprecedented. Certainly the authorities took unprecedented measures to try to stop it from happening again. For the first time ever, large blocks of stone were used to reinforce the dam. Severe floods harmed the complex in two quite distinct ways: They tended to weaken or break the dam itself, and they swept thousands of tons of silt into the reservoir basin that lay behind the dam. As the basin got filled up with alluvial sediment, the distance between the basin floor and the top of the dam decreased, and it became less and less useful as a reservoir. Geomorphological investigations at the dam have revealed that in the ten years after the dam burst in the 540s, the rate of silt deposition increased dramatically. In one part of the basin sediment levels rose nearly thirty feet in a decade. Although the parts of the basin concerned are different and therefore not fully comparable, it is striking that in the hundred or so years between the breaking of the dam in c. 450 and its giving way in the 540s, only sixteen feet of silt were deposited. In the 550s the dam seems to have broken again. This time the silting up of the basin was so severe that the entire design of the dam complex had to be rethought. Building the dam much higher would have been one way of overcoming the sedimentation problems, but it would have been very expensive. Instead, the authorities decided to abandon the major sluice system and most of their agricultural land, opting instead to use the reservoir to water previously uncultivated land to its north. At a stroke this reduced the amount of agricultural land and food production by around 50 percent. After the 550s Marib was therefore probably no longer capable of feeding its population, and many clans within the oasis, as well as the nomadic groups that interacted with them, would have been forced to migrate or to drastically change their annual migration patterns, respectively. Nevertheless, the scaled-down Marib Dam complex, now watering just the area north of the reservoir, continued in use. However, the drought conditions and intermittent storms of the 530s, 540s, and 550s had combined to damage not only the dam and the reservoir but also the ecology of the highland area from which the water swept down. Drought must have killed off much of the highland vegetation; as a result, erosion increased dramatically, and more and more silt was swept down into the Marib reservoir. Even after the climatic chaos of the mid-sixth century had subsided, it would have taken several decades for the plant ecology to fully recover and the rate of erosion and alluvial deposition to slow. The geomorphological evidence shows that silt was still being washed down in above-average quantities for part or all of the period between 560 and 590. Thus, when floods broke the dam yet again in c. 590, the great structure was abandoned, Marib’s population fell to a fifth or a sixth of what it had been, and agricultural production at Marib declined to a mere shadow of its pre-530s level. The recently reduced population of Marib, and indeed the plague-hit population of Yemen, was simply not able to afford the increased cost of repairing the dam. Thus it was that one of the greatest engineering achievements of the ancient world passed into history. According to both the Koran and other Arab sources, the deterioration and final abandonment of the Marib Dam did indeed force large numbers of people to leave the Marib area in search of new lands.³ Thus it was that two tribes—the Banu Ghassan and the Azd—are said to have migrated north to the Medina oasis in central Arabia. At the same time, the climatic problems that started in the 530s were forcing the pace of change in two other ways in the Arabian Peninsula. First, the climate problems in central and northern Arabia—this time probably drought—seemed to have caused agricultural failure and famine. In Mecca—the city in which, forty years later, Muhammad was to be born—there appears to have been a serious famine, probably in the mid- to late 530s. The Mecca famine was reported by several eighth- and ninth-century Arab historians as having taken place in the lifetime of Muhammad’s great-grandfather Amr. Although the earliest of the great Islamic historians, Ibn Ishaq, was writing 150 years after the time of Amr, the famine probably was a real historical event, as it seems to have occurred at around the time that similar famines were breaking out in many other areas of the world as a result of the global climatic problems of the 530s. The available textual evidence suggests that the famine was so bad that, as one of the leaders of his people, Amr had to obtain wheat from as far away as Syria, and that he fed them on a sort of broth made with broken-up loaves. “Amr, who made bread-and-broth for his people—a people in Mecca who suffered lean years,” wrote a sixth- or seventh-century poet, quoted by Ibn Ishaq. Another sixth-century poet, Wahb ibn ‘Abd Qusayy—quoted by the ninth-century historian al-Tabari—reported how Amr saved his people from the famine. [Amr] took upon himself the responsibility which no other mortal was able to undertake. He brought them sacks from Syria, full of winnowed wheat, And gave the people of Mecca their fill of broken bread. Mixing the bread with fresh meat, the people were surrounded by wooden bowls piled high whose contents were overflowing.4 Another Meccan poet quoted by al-Tabari, Matrud, wrote: Amr, who broke up bread for tharid [broth] for his people when the men of Mecca were drought-stricken and lean.5 Amr’s efforts to counteract the famine seem to have—quite literally—made his name. Thenceforth he was known almost exclusively as Hashim (ostensibly after the word hashama, meaning “to crumble,” in commemoration of his crumbling or breaking of the bread made from the wheat he brought from Syria). Amr’s role in saving his people earned his family increased status. He was referred to by the poet Matrud as “the Lofty One,” and by others as one of “those who make mighty.” It is probable that Amr’s high reputation, gained in the crucible of the 530s famine, helped to cement the social standing of his descendants—including ultimately his great-grandson Muhammad.

20110815 Beware Dangerism! (Kindle Single) (TED Books) (Gever Tulley)

To compare nuclear power to cars from a perception-of-risk perspective (and keep in mind that this was 1969, before mandatory seat-belt laws and at the dawn of the age of crumple-zones in cars, so accidents were often tangled nightmares of twisted metal and body parts), Chauncey decided to convert the available statistical data into a common basis of fatalities per hour of individual exposure to the activity. This unit of measure could reasonably be compared with the expected benefit for a precise risk/rewards analysis. With the methodology figured out, he goes on to compare all manner of voluntary and involuntary activities, from railroad travel to gun ownership and, in particular, automobile use and nuclear power. What he found is that—across the board—people are willing to accept one thousand times more risk in a voluntary activity than in an involuntary one. Now think back to the top five things parents fear the most: other than drugs, they are all involuntary.   Christie Barnes has surveyed what parents are most worried about: Kidnapping School Snipers Terrorists Dangerous Strangers Drugs Scary stuff. And all of these things have happened at some time; in every case it is a real tragedy that should not be trivialized. Now, compare that list to what is actually hurting and killing children: Car Accidents Homicide (almost two-thirds of the time by a parent) Abuse (more than two-thirds of the time by a family member) Suicide Drowning

20110820 The Future According To Me (Kindle Single) (Rob Kutner)

OH, THE PLACES THEY’LL GO   (From the late-unearthed writings of the unheralded prophet Seusstrodamus)  

From the North shall come a terror

Wreaking havoc through the dark

And when all the screams are silenced

Then shall rise a mighty Glark.  

Then the Sprunch with seven antlers

Each of them bedecked with Fantlers

Shall crush humans into ant-blur

As they try to run but can’t, Sir.  

And the blood-starved Razzmagoon

Shall start munching orphans soon,

Snozzling widows with a spoon,

As he snorts a circus tune.

Why does he not dine at noon?

You will have to ask the Shmlune.  

TEACH THE WORLD TO SING   (The new World-Imperial Anthem, c. 2043 – translated from the Flemish)  

From Old Beijing to Washingtwerp

The Lion Flag proudly flies.

The Flemish Empire tops the world

Like mayonnaise on fries.  

Like Sinter Klaas, they make a list

Of righteous and of doomed,

Their enemies cook in pot’je vleesch

With blood of the Walloon.  

Each Hindu, Jew, and Protestant

Baptized in Yser’s mists

Then strictly reared, by law and rite,

A lifelong atheist.  

Salute the Hanswijkcavalcade

Its giant puppets rambling.

At Krakelingen pray the priests

Don’t swallow you like grondeling.  

So raise a glass

Then raise again

At finish of the toast.

To diamonds, hops, and Vlaamsche Land

Our great and glorious Hosts.

20110803 Homo Evolutis (Kindle Single) (TED Books) (Steve Gullans and Juan Enriquez)

One of the most remarkable little books I have read in years! The book makes it very cleat that biology is the science of the future. Co-evolution. A process which begins just as soon as we are born and inherit an initial bacterial flora, at birth from mom, the doctor, and a few nurses as well as the nursery… (So are microbes part of nature or nurture?) OK… But perhaps by now you are saying to yourself… “Self, this is all fascinating, but what does it have to do with Homo evolutis?” But behold, there is a method to our madness… A reason we used microbes as our first example. Time and again we are seeing how changes in our environment, food, cleanliness, and how exposure, or lack of exposure, to microbes and parasites affect our bodies… And now two things are happening… One we are profoundly changing our day to day relationship with microbes. Take a look at asthma… There has been a substantial increase in asthma over two decades. It now affects about 6.4% of Americans, 12% of Australians. All kinds of potential culprits have been mentioned, ranging from air conditioning, chemicals, cars, and overcrowded living conditions. Meanwhile, Dr. Carsten Flohr, Nottingham U, was examining a seemingly odd question… Why are allergies and asthma practically unknown in rural Vietnam?71 Oddly enough he is arguing the problem is a lack of parasitic gut worms. For most of human history things like hookworms were simply something we suffered. But in recent decades, even in quite poor countries, we have been able to rid ourselves of these pests. Good thing since they often made folks really sick and anemic. But there is almost always a “but”… We evolved to fight these types of creatures, parasites, and microbes. And when we get rid of some of them, sometimes our immune systems become imbalanced. Perhaps there is not enough to attack. Because it’s not just Vietnam. Kids growing up on U.S. farms suffer far fewer autoimmune diseases. And less diversity in your gut may lead to Crohn’s disease.72 As the incidence of allergies, eczema, and asthma rises, some proponents of the Hygiene Hypothesis are arguing the culprit is un-natural amounts of cleanliness.73 “Johnny go out and play in the dirt.” Future catch phrase of helicopter moms? By now you are getting the idea that microbes can play a key role in the evolution of a hominid, at least indirectly… But for now we hope the idea of a rapid evolution of our species into a species that directly and deliberately guides its own evolution, and that of other species, is no longer completely outlandish because… It is not one technology, government, company, region, or discipline that is driving speciation. Discovery is widespread and decentralized. An avalanche of discoveries, modifications, rapid changes, small and large, accumulate and accumulate… Until we are no longer the same. Somewhere in the midst of the mind bending changes occurring within extreme plastic surgery, organ building, vanity, sports performance and medical breakthroughs… We begin to glance at what is coming. And these changes are just a taste of a tsunami of new technologies, options, and choices our descendants will face and make. Likely no one of these changes, in and of itself, speciates us… But taken together these changes can alter how we… Think…    Smell…                Taste…                      Look…                            Mate…                                  See… Far fewer factors than these led to a break between humans and Neanderthals… Likely we will soon alter our bodies […]

20110731 Martial’s Epigrams: A Selection (Garry Wills and Garry Wills)

Why should his ear so smell of shit? Because you whispered into it. I used this quote in the post Xenofobia, an article about immigrants in Italy in the Osservatore tore Romano. Why do people hold their praise To heap it on “the good old days”? To dead men they are far more giving, But envy undermines the living. New temples cannot match the old, Whose glory is in legends told. So Virgil was no Ennius. They treated even Homer thus. Menander was called second-rate, And Ovid only pleased his mate. If I must die to get my fame, I gladly will put off the same.

20110729 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune): Massacre shifts Europe’s politics Anti-immigration forces tone down the rhetoric that fueled their rise, NICHOLAS KULISH

BERLIN — Less than a week after the killings in Norway, evidence of a shift in the debate over Islam and the radical right in Europe already appeared to be taking hold on a traumatized continent. Members of far-right parties in Sweden and Italy were condemned from within their own ranks for blaming multiculturalism for the attack, as expressions of outrage over the deaths crossed the political spectrum. A member of France’s far-right National Front was suspended for praising the attacker. Lurking in the background is the calculation on all sides that such events can drive shifts in public opinion. Most of Europe’s right-wing parties have condemned the actions of Anders Behring Breivik, the man the Norwegian authorities say has admitted carrying out the twin attacks and whose lawyer says is probably insane. Still, politicians have begun to question inflammatory oratory in the debate over immigrants that has helped fuel the rise of right-leaning politicians across Europe in recent years. Referring to Mr. Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the Green bloc in the European Parliament, said, ‘‘So much of what he wrote could have been said by any right-wing politician.’’ The manifesto is full of calls for violence but also to preserve national identity and values. As a result, Mr. Cohn-Bendit said, ‘‘A lot of arguments about immigrants and Islamic fundamentalism will now be much easier to question and to push back.’’ The head of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, told the German news service Dpa on Wednesday that a trend toward xenophobia and nationalism in the region had fostered the attacks in Norway. In a society where anti-Islamic sentiment and isolation were tolerated, he said, ‘‘naturally, on the margins of society, there will be crazy people who feel legitimized in taking harder measures.’’ ‘‘The center of society has to make clear that there is no room for this with us, even for sanitized versions,’’ Mr. Gabriel said. ‘‘There is a deep feeling in society that the pendulum has swung too far toward individualism.’’ It is too soon to tell what the political fallout from the terrorist attacks will be. The left in Europe is out of power in major countries including Britain, France, Germany and Italy and has struggled to find a cause to revitalize it — or to reframe the passionate debate over immigration. The mainstream right, on the other hand, could find it more difficult to accept support from the far-right parties after the horrific events in Oslo and on Utoya Island. ‘‘The biggest challenge is the opportunism of the center, and I think this will change now,’’ said Joschka Fischer, Germany’s former foreign minister and a leading European voice on the left, pointing to the Danish government’s cooperation with the far-right Danish People’s Party, which has pushed through a partial reinstitution of border controls. The political fallout will be unpredictable, in part, because Europe is still so varied in its political landscape, given each country’s different history and culture. Norway, for instance, is not even a member of the European Union. That may make it more difficult for a left-leaning politician to seize the initiative against rightists the way that President Bill Clinton did following the Oklahoma City bombing in the United States, which was carried out by the extreme rightist Timothy McVeigh. Pascal Perrineau, professor at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris, or Sciences Po, where he directs the Center for Political Research, said French parties were being ‘‘extremely cautious’’ in their approach to the events in Norway out of fear of looking like they were exploiting them. According to Mr. Perrineau, the massacre is unlikely to shift the balance of power between right and left in France but could make it more difficult in elections for the far-right National Front and its leader, Marine Le Pen. The clearest evidence of a change in tone in Europe at this early stage may be the way anti-immigrant parties try to rein in their members. A member of the National Front, Jacques Coutela, was suspended for calling Mr. Breivik ‘‘an icon’’ on his blog. He replaced it with a note saying he denounced Mr. Breivik’s actions. Erik Hellsborn, a local politician for the nationalist Sweden Democrats in the southern town of Varberg, wrote on his blog that ‘‘in a Norwegian Norway this tragedy would never have happened,’’ according to the local daily Hallands Nyheter. Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats, distanced himself from Mr. Hellsborn’s sentiments in comments to the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet on Wednesday, saying ‘‘You can’t blame the actions of individuals on social structures like this.’’ Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament from Italy with the anti-immigrant Northern League, made comments on a radio talk show on Monday that some of Mr. Breivik’s positions regarding the Islamic threat to Europe ‘‘could certainly be agreed with.’’ He called the Oslo killings ‘‘the fault of a multiracial society,’’ the kind of society he called ‘‘disgusting.’’ Italy’s minister for legislative simplification, Roberto Calderoli, who once donned a T-shirt with one of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published by a Danish newspaper, said Tuesday that Mr. Borghezio’s statements ‘‘should be taken as a delirious rant.’’ The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s party, People of Liberty, which is in coalition with the Northern League, said Mr. Borghezio should offer ‘‘a personal apology’’ to Norway. Other far-right groups have sought to distance themselves from Mr. Breivik and his actions, and from violent acts in general. After reports that Mr. Breivik was in touch with Britain’s far-right English Defense League, the group issued a statement saying that it could ‘‘categorically state that there has never been any official contact between him and the E.D.L.’’ Debates have begun over how to crack down on radical extremists, including through stepping up the monitoring of online chat groups. Andrea Nahles, a leading member of Germany’s Social Democrats, renewed the party’s call for the banning of the far-right National Democratic Party. But experts say banning political parties can have the opposite of the intended effect, driving individuals further from mainstream dialogue and encouraging the kind of rejectionist philosophy that ultimately leads to violence. And shutting down communications by extremists online seems nearly impossible, according to Peter Molnar, an expert on free-speech law and one of the founders of the Center for Media and Communication Studies at Central European University in Budapest. ‘‘It is like jumping on a shadow,’’ Mr. Molnar said. Elisabetta Povoledo in Rome, Scott Sayare in Paris, Christina Anderson in Stockholm and Victor Homola in Berlin contributed reporting.

20110724 L’Internet et les langues (Marie Lebert)

L’ASCII permet uniquement la lecture de l’anglais et du latin.   Surnommé à juste raison “le plus petit dénominateur commun”, l’ASCII sur sept bits est le seul format compatible avec 99% des machines et des logiciels, et pouvant être converti dans de nombreux autres formats. Il sera toujours utilisé quand d’autres formats auront disparu, à commencer par les formats éphémères liés à quelques appareils de lecture lancés entre 1999 et 2003 et déjà disparus du marché. Il est l’assurance que les collections ne deviendront jamais obsolètes, et survivront aux changements technologiques des prochaines décennies ou même des prochains siècles. Il n’existe pas d’autre standard aussi largement utilisé, y compris l’Unicode, système d’encodage “universel” créé en 1991. Ce jusqu’en 2008, date à laquelle les deux systèmes d’encodage sont également représentés sur le web.   Dans un rapport de l’UNESCO du début des années 1950, l’enseignement dispensé dans sa langue maternelle était considéré comme un droit fondamental de l’enfant. La possibilité de naviguer sur l’internet dans sa langue maternelle pourrait bien être son équivalent à l’âge de l’information. Si l’internet doit vraiment devenir le réseau mondial qu’on nous promet, tous les usagers devraient y avoir accès sans problème de langue. Le considérer comme la chasse gardée de ceux qui, par accident historique, nécessité pratique ou privilège politique, connaissent l’anglais, est injuste à l’égard de ceux qui ne connaissent pas cette langue.   Publié par SIL International (SIL: Summer Institute of Linguistics), un organisme basé à Dallas (Texas), cet ouvrage de référence est disponible aussi sur CD-ROM (payant) et en version imprimée (payante). Il répertorie 6.800 langues selon plusieurs critères (nom de la langue, famille linguistique, pays dans lesquels la langue est parlée, code officiel de trois lettres, etc.), avec moteur de recherche unique. Barbara Grimes, sa directrice de publication entre 1971 et 2000 (8e-14e éditions), relate en janvier 2000: “Il s’agit d’un catalogue des langues dans le monde, avec des informations sur les endroits où elles sont parlées, une estimation du nombre de personnes qui les parlent, la famille linguistique à laquelle elles appartiennent, les autres termes utilisés pour ces langues, les noms de dialectes, d’autres informations socio-linguistiques et démographiques, les dates des Bibles publiées, un index des noms de langues, un index des familles linguistiques et des cartes géographiques relatives aux langues.” Les deux principaux outils de recherche sont l’Ethnologue Name Index (Index des noms de l’Ethnologue), qui donne la liste des noms de langues et dialectes et de leurs synonymes, et l’Ethnologue Language Family Index (Index des familles linguistiques de l’Ethnologue), qui organise les langues selon leurs familles linguistiques.

20110710 Entropy Demystified (Arieh Ben-Naim)

Is the Second Law of Thermodynamics a Law of Physics? Most textbooks on statistical mechanics emphasize that the Second Law is not absolute; there are exceptions. Though extremely rare, entropy can go downwand “once in a while.” Noting this aspect of the Second Law, Greene (2004) writes that the Second Law “is not a law in the conventional sense.” Like any law of nature, the Second Law was founded on experimental grounds. Its formulation in terms of the increasing entropy encapsulates, in a very succinct way, the common feature of a huge number of observations. In its thermodynamic formulation or, rather, in the non-atomistic formulation, the Second Law does not allow exceptions. Like any other law of physics, it proclaims a law that is absolute, with no exceptions. However, once we have grasped the Second Law from the molecular point of view, we realize that there can be exceptions. Though rare, extremely rare, entropy can go the other way. The Second Law is thus recognized as not absolute, hence Greene’s comments that it is not a law in the “conventional sense.” Greene’s statement leaves us with the impression that the Second Law is somewhat “weaker” than the conventional laws of physics. It seems to be “less absolute” than the other laws of physics. But what is a law in the conventional sense? Is Newton’s law of inertia absolute? Is the constancy of the speed of light absolute? Can we really claim that any law of physics is absolute? We know that these laws have been observed during a few thousand years in which events have been recorded. We can extrapolate to millions or billions of years by examining geological records or radiations emitted from the time near the Big Bang, but we cannot claim that these laws have always been the same, or will always be the same in the future, and that no exceptions will be found. All we can say is that within a few millions or billions of years, it is unlikely that we shall find exceptions to these laws. In fact, there is neither theoretical nor experimental reason to believe that any law of physics is absolute. From this point of view, the second law is indeed “not a law in the conventional sense,” not in a weaker sense, as alluded to by Greene, but in a stronger sense. The fact that we admit the existence of exceptions to the Second Law makes it “weaker” than other laws of physics only when the other laws are proclaimed to be valid in an absolute sense. However, recognizing the extreme rarity of the exceptions to the Second Law makes it not only stronger but the strongest among all other laws of physics. For any law of physics, one can argue that no exceptions can be expected within at most some 1010 years. But exceptions to the Second Law can be expected only once in 1010000000000 or more years. Thus, the Second Law when formulated within classical (non-atomistic) thermodynamics is an absolute law of physics. It allows no exceptions. When formulated in terms of molecular events, violations are permitted. Though it sounds paradoxical, the relative “weakness” of the atomistic formulation makes the Second Law the strongest among other laws of physics, including the Second Law in its thermodynamic (non-atomist) formulation. Putting it differently, the admitted non-absoluteness of the atomistic-Second-Law is in fact more absolute than the proclaimed absoluteness of the non-atomistic-Second-Law.29 In the context of modern cosmology, people speculate on the gloomy fate of the universe, which ultimately will reach a state of thermal equilibrium or “thermal death.” Perhaps not?! On the other end of the time scale, it has been speculated that since entropy always increases, the universe must have started in the “beginning” with a lowest value of the entropy. Perhaps not?! And besides, the last speculation is in direct “conflict” with the Bible: “1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2. And the earth was unformed, and void.” Genesis 1:1 The original Hebrew version includes the expression “Tohu Vavohu,” instead of “unformed” and “void.” The traditional interpretation of “Tohu Vavohu,” is total chaos, or total disorder, or if you prefer, highest entropy! Having said these, I would venture a provocative view that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is neither “weaker” nor “stronger” than the other laws of physics. It is simply not a law of physics at all, but rather a statement of pure common sense. This brings me to the last question. 8.6. Can We Do Away with the Second Law? If the Second Law of Thermodynamics is nothing but a statement of common sense, do we have to list it and teach it as one of the laws of Physics? Paraphrasing this question, suppose that no one had ever formulated the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Could we, by purely logical induction and common sense derive the Second Law? My answer is probably yes, provided we have also discovered the atomic nature of matter and the immense number of indistinguishable particles that constitute each piece of material. I believe that one can go from the bottom up and deduce the Second Law.30 We can certainly do so for the simple example of expansion of gas or mixing two different gases (as we have done at the end of Chapter 7). If we develop highly sophisticated mathematics, we can also predict the most probable fate of a falling egg.31 All of these predictions would not rely, however, on the laws of physics but on the laws of probability, i.e., on the laws of common sense. You can rightly claim that I could make this “prediction” because I have benefited from the findings of Carnot, Clausius, Kelvin, Boltzmann and others. So it is not a great feat to “predict” a result that you know in advance. This is probably true. So I will rephrase the question in a more intriguing form. Suppose that all these great scientists, who founded the Second Law, never existed, or that they did exist but never formulated the Second Law. Would science arrive at the Second Law purely through logical reasoning, presuming the currently available knowledge of the atomic nature of matter and all the rest of physics? The answer to this question might be NO! Not because one could not derive the Second Law from the bottom up even if no top-down derivation has ever existed. It is because science will find it unnecessary to formulate a law of physics based on purely logical deduction.

20110612 Linux Bible 2011 Edition: Boot up to Ubuntu, Fedora, KNOPPIX, Debian, openSUSE, and 13 Other Distributions (Christopher Negus)

20120612 PC Magazine (PC Magazine):  The Desktops And Laptops, Will Greenwald

12,000 of you, our readers, rated 24,000 PCs. Here’s how you think computer manufacturers are doing, for better or worse. By Ben Z. Gottesman E ach year, when we analyze our reader survey results, Carole King’s song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” gets stuck in my head. Consumers ask this of the products that they buy and the companies that make them. And, it is exactly this question that PCMag’s Readers’ Choice Survey always helps to answer. There’s no doubt that consumers want to love the products they use and be loved in return. It’s less obvious that all of the vendors care as deeply. There’s Apple at one end of the scale, with whom most of its customers are deeply, hopelessly in love, even when its products don’t hold up. At the other end, there are a handful of well-known companies that consistently receive mediocre scores, despite selling product in large quantities. According to this year’s desktop and laptop survey results, in general, you don’t seem to be getting, nor giving, as much love as you did last year. Comparing the results to last year’s survey, we saw satisfaction ratings trending downward, especially among laptop PC vendors where the average ratings decreased for all measures except the percent of units needing repair, which stayed unchanged. Several of the desktop ratings are off as well, although satisfaction with support and repairs are both trending up. In all, nearly 12,000 of you rated over 24,000 PCs, including those used at home and at work. (For details on the survey’s methodology and scoring, click here.) The majority of the systems are still desktop computers, but the margin is shrinking. Last year, 59 percent of the computers rated were desktops. This year it was 53 percent. The difference would be even slimmer if we included Apple iPads and Android-based tablets with the laptops […] As has been widely discussed, however, the sheen seems to be off of the netbook market due in large part to the growing popularity of Apple’s iPad and other tablet devices and, to a lesser degree, because of the rising popularity of powerful yet affordable mid-range laptops. Overall scores and the likelihood-to-recommend ratings were down for every netbook vendor this year. The Apple Love Once again, Apple’s ratings are in their own league despite the fact that 15 percent of the Apple notebooks rated in our survey needed repairs within the last 12 months. That’s significantly worse than the industry average, and it’s a higher rate of repair than everyone but Alienware (21 percent), Dell (19 percent), and Gateway (16 percent). Nine brands had better repair rates; three were even down into the single digits: Samsung (5 percent), Asus (9 percent) and Acer (9 percent) […] What is impressive, though, is that respondents don’t hold the reliability issues against Apple the way they do against other brands. The difference in average overall rating between Apple users who didn’t need repairs and those who did was only 0.4 (9.2 versus 8.8). The difference in reliability rating is only 0.9 (9.4 vs. 8.5). By contrast, no other company had an overall repair rating difference of less than 1.1 and a reliability rating of 1.6 […] LAPTOPS & NETBOOKS: The Winners Overall/Work/Home/Less Than a Year Old: Apple Inc. Apple once again has incredibly high overall satisfaction and likelihood-to-recommend ratings in every category it competed in. This is despite a high number of units needing repairs. We now present the answer to that question as both an average and a Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures brand loyalty. Calculating NPS is very straightforward. We ask the recommendation question on a 0 to 10 scale, on which 10 is best. We break the answers down into three groups according to the methodology’s definitions: Promoters (score 9 or 10): loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others Passives (score 7 or 8): satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings Detractors (score 0 to 6): unhappy customers who can damage the brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth We then subtract the percent of detractors from the percent of promoters: Promoters percent – Detractors percent = NPS. So, for instance, in desktop PCs, 87 percent of Apple respondents are Promoters and 3 percent are Detractors, so Apple has an excellent 84 percent NPS. HP’s Compaq brand, on the other hand, has far fewer Promoters (26 percent) and a lot more Detractors (32 percent) for a negative six percent NPS. Compaq actually has more people bad-mouthing the brand than promoting it[…]

20110612 Operating Systems Uncovered (George Hopkins)

Considering the boom of the technology market, it’s really a surprise that there are so few operating systems in existence. There really isn’t an easy explanation for this, but it is a reality. It would only seem logical that with all of the different computer manufacturers out there, there would be more of a choice for an OS than what there is. It is certainly another anomaly in the world of computer technology.

20110611 The Mail & Guardian (M&G Media):  Little commitment to fixing dysfunctional secretariat,

The SADC secretariat is widely understood to be ineffectual and disorganised and the way SADC members relate to this condition is as good a measure as any of the collective commitment to regional integration. The South African government’s relationship with the secretariat is especially important, since, as University of Cape Town academic John Akokpari says, “when South Africa doesn’t take any initiative in the SADC, everything collapses”. According to Wits professor Anthoni van Nieuwkerk, South Africa’s commitment to SADC has dwindled over the years. “It started big time in the mid-’90s on the back of liberation euphoria, became mind-bendingly technical a few years later because SADC had to be reshaped and then it started to become more routine and South Africa almost exited from the SADC as far as representation at headquarters is concerned.” South Africa’s contribution to SADC’s fiscus is, at $6 268-million for the 2011-12 financial year, among the highest in the region. Yet there are no South Africans employed at management level and no permanent South African staff. “The highest-ranking South African is a secondment, who basically fulfils the role of quartermaster. There’s something wrong with that,” says Van Nieuwkerk. Department of International Relations (Dirco) deputy director general Santo Kudjoe, the South African representative to SADC, says that when it comes to important decisions “all member countries are equal with an equal, vote in meetings, similar to the African Union and the United Nations”. This is misleading, though, because South Africa cares very much what happens at the UN and dedicates serious human resources to ensuring that its mission can work within that organisation to reform it. Mere reform might not be enough to save SADC, though, if the mood of secretariat employees is anything to go by. Over a period of two weeks the Mail & Guardian called the directorates of the secretariat and rounded up more than 50 complaints lodged by seven different individuals, including allegations of everything from poor management to corruption. “They must do a proper investigation into the work being performed and the commensurate packages,” said a source. “Then fire all of us and recruit from scratch because we are all polluted to a certain extent.” The M&G tried repeatedly to elicit a response to these allegations, but none was forthcoming. Kudjoe admitted that South Africa, with other member states, had “dealt with the issue of excessive travelling by officials at the secretariat and there was a summit decision to limit it”. “If there are other allegations of financial abuse or irregularities, we are not aware of them, but South Africa will not be pleased if these allegations are found to be true,” he said. Dirco did not respond to allegations that former director general Ayanda Ntsaluba has been told about corruption in the SADC secretariat in 2009.  

20100610 Reason (Reason)

There is some truth to all of this and a lot of truth to some of this.   When it comes to prophets, Gardner prefers foxes to hedgehogs. This distinction was made famous by the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who was adapting an observation by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Foxes are intellectual omnivores obtaining disparate information where they can. Hedgehogs, by contrast, fit all information into one grand scheme that explains the operation of the world. “Hedgehogs are big-idea thinkers in love with grand theories: libertarianism, Marxism, environmentalism, etc.,” writes Tetlock. “Their self-confidence can be infectious.”

20110519 Smithsonian Magazine (Smithsonian) : Have Meme, Will Travel Information behaves like life itself. And vice versa, James Gleick

What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life.’ It is information, words, instructions,” Richard Dawkins declared in 1986. Already one of the world’s foremost evolutionary biologists, he had caught the spirit of a new age. The cells of an organism are nodes in a richly interwoven communications network, transmitting and receiving, coding and decoding. Evolution itself embodies an ongoing exchange of information between organism and environment. “If you want to understand life,” Dawkins wrote, “don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.” We have become surrounded by information technology; our furniture includes iPods and plasma displays, and our skills include texting and Googling. But our capacity to understand the role of information has been sorely taxed. “TMI,” we say. Stand back, however, and the past does come back into focus. The rise of information theory aided and abetted a new view of life. The genetic code—no longer a mere metaphor—was being deciphered. Scientists spoke grandly of the biosphere: an entity composed of all the earth’s life-forms, teeming with information, replicating and evolving. And biologists, having absorbed the methods and vocabulary of communications science, went further to make their own contributions to the understanding of information itself. Jacques Monod, the Parisian biologist who shared a Nobel Prize in 1965 for working out the role of messenger RNA in the transfer of genetic information, proposed an analogy: just as the biosphere stands above the world of nonliving matter, so an “abstract kingdom” rises above the biosphere. The denizens of this kingdom? Ideas. “Ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms,” he wrote. “Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely play an important role.” Ideas have “spreading power,” he noted—“infectivity, as it were”—and some more than others. An example of an infectious idea might be a religious ideology that gains sway over a large group of people. The American neurophysiologist Roger Sperry had put forward a similar notion several years earlier, arguing that ideas are “just as real” as the neurons they inhabit. Ideas have power, he said: Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet. Monod added, “I shall not hazard a theory of the selection of ideas.” There was no need. Others were willing. Dawkins made his own jump from the evolution of genes to the evolution of ideas. For him the starring role belongs to the replicator, and it scarcely matters whether replicators were made of nucleic acid. His rule is “All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities.” Wherever there is life, there must be replicators. Perhaps on other worlds replicators could arise in a silicon-based chemistry—or in no chemistry at all. What would it mean for a replicator to exist without chemistry? “I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet,” Dawkins proclaimed near the end of his first book, The Selfish Gene, in 1976. “It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind.” That “soup” is human culture; the vector of transmission is language, and the spawning ground is the brain. For this bodiless replicator itself, Dawkins proposed a name. He called it the meme, and it became his most memorable invention, far more influential than his selfish genes or his later proselytizing against religiosity. “Memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation,” he wrote. They compete with one another for limited resources: brain time or bandwidth. They compete most of all for attention. For example: Ideas. Whether an idea arises uniquely or reappears many times, it may thrive in the meme pool or it may dwindle and vanish. The belief in God is an example Dawkins offers—an ancient idea, replicating itself not just in words but in music and art. The belief that Earth orbits the Sun is no less a meme, competing with others for survival. (Truth may be a helpful quality for a meme, but it is only one among many.) Tunes. This tune has spread for centuries across several continents. Catchphrases. One text snippet, “What hath God wrought?” appeared early and spread rapidly in more than one medium. Another, “Read my lips,” charted a peculiar path through late 20th-century America. “Survival of the fittest” is a meme that, like other memes, mutates wildly (“survival of the fattest”; “survival of the sickest”; “survival of the fakest”; “survival of the twittest”). Images. In Isaac Newton’s lifetime, no more than a few thousand people had any idea what he looked like, even though he was one of England’s most famous men. Yet now millions of people have quite a clear idea—based on replicas of copies of rather poorly painted portraits. Even more pervasive and indelible are the smile of Mona Lisa, The Scream of Edvard Munch and the silhouettes of various fictional extraterrestrials. These are memes, living a life of their own, independent of any physical reality. “This may not be what George Washington looked like then,” a tour guide was overheard saying of the Gilbert Stuart portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “but this is what he looks like now.” Exactly. Memes emerge in brains and travel outward, establishing beachheads on paper and celluloid and silicon and anywhere else information can go. They are not to be thought of as elementary particles but as organisms. The number three is not a meme; nor is the color blue, nor any simple thought, any more than a single nucleotide can be a gene. Memes are complex units, distinct and memorable—units with staying power. Also, an object is not a meme. The hula hoop is not a meme; it is made of plastic, not of bits. When this species of toy spread worldwide in a mad epidemic in 1958, it was the product, the physical manifestation, of a meme, or memes: the craving for hula hoops; the swaying, swinging, twirling skill set of hula-hooping. The hula hoop itself is a meme vehicle. So, for that matter, is each human hula hooper—a strikingly effective meme vehicle, in the sense neatly explained by the philosopher Daniel Dennett: “A wagon with spoked wheels carries not only grain or freight from place to place; it carries the brilliant idea of a wagon with spoked wheels from mind to mind.” Hula hoopers did that for the hula hoop’s memes—and in 1958 they found a new transmission vector, broadcast television, sending its messages immeasurably faster and farther than any wagon. The moving image of the hula hooper seduced new minds by hundreds, and then by thousands, and then by millions. The meme is not the dancer but the dance. For most of our biological history memes existed fleetingly; their main mode of transmission was the one called “word of mouth.” Lately, however, they have managed to adhere in solid substance: clay tablets, cave walls, paper sheets. They achieve longevity through our pens and printing presses, magnetic tapes and optical disks. They spread via broadcast towers and digital networks. Memes may be stories, recipes, skills, legends or fashions. We copy them, one person at a time. Alternatively, in Dawkins’ meme-centered perspective, they copy themselves. “I believe that, given the right conditions, replicators automatically band together to create systems, or machines, that carry them around and work to favor their continued replication,” he wrote. This was not to suggest that memes are conscious actors; only that they are entities with interests that can be furthered by natural selection. Their interests are not our interests. “A meme,” Dennett says, “is an information-packet with attitude.” When we speak of fighting for a principle or dying for an idea, we may be more literal than we know. Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor….Rhyme and rhythm help people remember bits of text. Or: rhyme and rhythm help bits of text get remembered. Rhyme and rhythm are qualities that aid a meme’s survival, just as strength and speed aid an animal’s. Patterned language has an evolutionary advantage. Rhyme, rhythm and reason—for reason, too, is a form of pattern. I was promised on a time to have reason for my rhyme; from that time unto this season, I received nor rhyme nor reason. Like genes, memes have effects on the wide world beyond themselves. In some cases (the meme for making fire; for wearing clothes; for the resurrection of Jesus) the effects can be powerful indeed. As they broadcast their influence on the world, memes thus influence the conditions affecting their own chances of survival. The meme or memes comprising Morse code had strong positive feedback effects. Some memes have evident benefits for their human hosts (“Look before you leap,” knowledge of CPR, belief in hand washing before cooking), but memetic success and genetic success are not the same. Memes can replicate with impressive virulence while leaving swaths of collateral damage—patent medicines and psychic surgery, astrology and satanism, racist myths, superstitions and (a special case) computer viruses. In a way, these are the most interesting—the memes that thrive to their hosts’ detriment, such as the idea that suicide bombers will find their reward in heaven. Memes could travel wordlessly even before language was born. Plain mimicry is enough to replicate knowledge—how to chip an arrowhead or start a fire. Among animals, chimpanzees and gorillas are known to acquire behaviors by imitation. Some species of songbirds learn their songs, or at least song variants, after hearing them from neighboring birds (or, more recently, from ornithologists with audio players). Birds develop song repertoires and song dialects—in short, they exhibit a birdsong culture that predates human culture by eons. These special cases notwithstanding, for most of human history memes and language have gone hand in glove. (Clichés are memes.) Language serves as culture’s first catalyst. It supersedes mere imitation, spreading knowledge by abstraction and encoding. Perhaps the analogy with disease was inevitable. Before anyone understood anything of epidemiology, its language was applied to species of information. An emotion can be infectious, a tune catchy, a habit contagious. “From look to look, contagious through the crowd / The panic runs,” wrote the poet James Thomson in 1730. Lust, likewise, according to Milton: “Eve, whose eye darted contagious fire.” But only in the new millennium, in the time of global electronic transmission, has the identification become second nature. Ours is the age of virality: viral education, viral marketing, viral e-mail and video and networking. Researchers studying the Internet itself as a medium—crowdsourcing, collective attention, social networking and resource allocation—employ not only the language but also the mathematical principles of epidemiology. One of the first to use the terms “viral text” and “viral sentences” seems to have been a reader of Dawkins named Stephen Walton of New York City, corresponding in 1981 with the cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter. Thinking logically—perhaps in the mode of a computer—Walton proposed simple self-replicating sentences along the lines of “Say me!” “Copy me!” and “If you copy me, I’ll grant you three wishes!” Hofstadter, then a columnist for Scientific American, found the term “viral text” itself to be even catchier. Well, now, Walton’s own viral text, as you can see here before your eyes, has managed to commandeer the facilities of a very powerful host—an entire magazine and printing press and distribution service. It has leapt aboard and is now—even as you read this viral sentence—propagating itself madly throughout the ideosphere! Hofstadter gaily declared himself infected by the meme meme. One source of resistance—or at least unease—was the shoving of us humans toward the wings. It was bad enough to say that a person is merely a gene’s way of making more genes. Now humans are to be considered as vehicles for the propagation of memes, too. No one likes to be called a puppet. Dennett summed up the problem this way: “I don’t know about you, but I am not initially attracted by the idea of my brain as a sort of dung heap in which the larvae of other people’s ideas renew themselves, before sending out copies of themselves in an informational diaspora…. Who’s in charge, according to this vision—we or our memes?” He answered his own question by reminding us that, like it or not, we are seldom “in charge” of our own minds. He might have quoted Freud; instead he quoted Mozart (or so he thought): “In the night when I cannot sleep, thoughts crowd into my mind…. Whence and how do they come? I do not know and I have nothing to do with it.” Later Dennett was informed that this well-known quotation was not Mozart’s after all. It had taken on a life of its own; it was a fairly successful meme. For anyone taken with the idea of memes, the landscape was changing faster than Dawkins had imagined possible in 1976, when he wrote, “The computers in which memes live are human brains.” By 1989, the time of the second edition of The Selfish Gene, having become an adept programmer himself, he had to amend that: “It was obviously predictable that manufactured electronic computers, too, would eventually play host to self-replicating patterns of information.” Information was passing from one computer to another “when their owners pass floppy discs around,” and he could see another phenomenon on the near horizon: computers connected in networks. “Many of them,” he wrote, “are literally wired up together in electronic mail exchange…. It is a perfect milieu for self-replicating programs to flourish.” Indeed, the Internet was in its birth throes. Not only did it provide memes with a nutrient-rich culture medium, it also gave wings to the idea of memes. Meme itself quickly became an Internet buzzword. Awareness of memes fostered their spread. A notorious example of a meme that could not have emerged in pre-Internet culture was the phrase “jumped the shark.” Loopy self-reference characterized every phase of its existence. To jump the shark means to pass a peak of quality or popularity and begin an irreversible decline. The phrase was thought to have been used first in 1985 by a college student named Sean J. Connolly, in reference to an episode of the television series “Happy Days” in which the character Fonzie (Henry Winkler), on water skies, jumps over a shark. The origin of the phrase requires a certain amount of explanation without which it could not have been initially understood. Perhaps for that reason, there is no recorded usage until 1997, when Connolly’s roommate, Jon Hein, registered the domain name jumptheshark.com and created a web site devoted to its promotion. The web site soon featured a list of frequently asked questions: Q. Did “jump the shark” originate from this web site, or did you create the site to capitalize on the phrase? A. This site went up December 24, 1997, and gave birth to the phrase “jump the shark.” As the site continues to grow in popularity, the term has become more commonplace. The site is the chicken, the egg and now a Catch-22. It spread to more traditional media in the next year; Maureen Dowd devoted a column to explaining it in the New York Times in 2001; in 2002 the same newspaper’s “On Language” columnist, William Safire, called it “the popular culture’s phrase of the year”; soon after that, people were using the phrase in speech and in print without self-consciousness—no quotation marks or explanation—and eventually, inevitably, various cultural observers asked, “Has ‘jump the shark’ jumped the shark?” Like any good meme, it spawned mutations. The “jumping the shark” entry in Wikipedia advised in 2009, “See also: jumping the couch; nuking the fridge.” Is this science? In his 1983 column, Hofstadter proposed the obvious memetic label for such a discipline: memetics. The study of memes has attracted researchers from fields as far apart as computer science and microbiology. In bioinformatics, chain letters are an object of study. They are memes; they have evolutionary histories. The very purpose of a chain letter is replication; whatever else a chain letter may say, it embodies one message: Copy me. One student of chain-letter evolution, Daniel W. VanArsdale, listed many variants, in chain letters and even earlier texts: “Make seven copies of it exactly as it is written” (1902); “Copy this in full and send to nine friends” (1923); “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life” (Revelation 22:19). Chain letters flourished with the help of a new 19th-century technology: “carbonic paper,” sandwiched between sheets of writing paper in stacks. Then carbon paper made a symbiotic partnership with another technology, the typewriter. Viral outbreaks of chain letters occurred all through the early 20th century. Two subsequent technologies, when their use became widespread, provided orders-of-magnitude boosts in chain-letter fecundity: photocopying (c. 1950) and e-mail (c. 1995). Inspired by a chance conversation on a hike in the Hong Kong mountains, information scientists Charles H. Bennett from IBM in New York and Ming Li and Bin Ma from Ontario, Canada, began an analysis of a set of chain letters collected during the photocopier era. They had 33, all variants of a single letter, with mutations in the form of misspellings, omissions and transposed words and phrases. “These letters have passed from host to host, mutating and evolving,” they reported in 2003. Like a gene, their average length is about 2,000 characters. Like a potent virus, the letter threatens to kill you and induces you to pass it on to your “friends and associates”—some variation of this letter has probably reached millions of people. Like an inheritable trait, it promises benefits for you and the people you pass it on to. Like genomes, chain letters undergo natural selection and sometimes parts even get transferred between coexisting “species.” Reaching beyond these appealing metaphors, the three researchers set out to use the letters as a “test bed” for algorithms used in evolutionary biology. The algorithms were designed to take the genomes of various modern creatures and work backward, by inference and deduction, to reconstruct their phylogeny—their evolutionary trees. If these mathematical methods worked with genes, the scientists suggested, they should work with chain letters, too. In both cases the researchers were able to verify mutation rates and relatedness measures. Still, most of the elements of culture change and blur too easily to qualify as stable replicators. They are rarely as neatly fixed as a sequence of DNA. Dawkins himself emphasized that he had never imagined founding anything like a new science of memetics. A peer-reviewed Journal of Memetics came to life in 1997—published online, naturally—and then faded away after eight years partly spent in self-conscious debate over status, mission and terminology. Even compared with genes, memes are hard to mathematize or even to define rigorously. So the gene-meme analogy causes uneasiness and the genetics-memetics analogy even more. Genes at least have a grounding in physical substance. Memes are abstract, intangible and unmeasurable. Genes replicate with near-perfect fidelity, and evolution depends on that: some variation is essential, but mutations need to be rare. Memes are seldom copied exactly; their boundaries are always fuzzy, and they mutate with a wild flexibility that would be fatal in biology. The term “meme” could be applied to a suspicious cornucopia of entities, from small to large. For Dennett, the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (quoted above) were “clearly” a meme, along with Homer’s Odyssey (or at least the idea of the Odyssey), the wheel, anti-Semitism and writing. “Memes have not yet found their Watson and Crick,” said Dawkins; “they even lack their Mendel.” Yet here they are. As the arc of information flow bends toward ever greater connectivity, memes evolve faster and spread farther. Their presence is felt if not seen in herd behavior, bank runs, informational cascades and financial bubbles. Diets rise and fall in popularity, their very names becoming catchphrases—the South Beach Diet and the Atkins Diet, the Scarsdale Diet, the Cookie Diet and the Drinking Man’s Diet all replicating according to a dynamic about which the science of nutrition has nothing to say. Medical practice, too, experiences “surgical fads” and “iatro-epidemics”—epidemics caused by fashions in treatment—like the iatro-epidemic of children’s tonsillectomies that swept the United States and parts of Europe in the mid-20th century. Some false memes spread with disingenuous assistance, like the apparently unkillable notion that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii. And in cyberspace every new social network becomes a new incubator of memes. Making the rounds of Facebook in the summer and fall of 2010 was a classic in new garb: Sometimes I Just Want to Copy Someone Else’s Status, Word for Word, and See If They Notice. Then it mutated again, and in January 2011 Twitter saw an outbreak of: One day I want to copy someone’s Tweet word for word and see if they notice. By then one of the most popular of all Twitter hashtags (the “hashtag” being a genetic—or, rather, memetic—marker) was simply the word “#Viral.” In the competition for space in our brains and in the culture, the effective combatants are the messages. The new, oblique, looping views of genes and memes have enriched us. They give us paradoxes to write on Möbius strips. “The human world is made of stories, not people,” writes the novelist David Mitchell. “The people the stories use to tell themselves are not to be blamed.” Margaret Atwood writes: “As with all knowledge, once you knew it, you couldn’t imagine how it was that you hadn’t known it before. Like stage magic, knowledge before you knew it took place before your very eyes, but you were looking elsewhere.” Nearing death, John Updike reflected on A life poured into words—apparent waste intended to preserve the thing consumed. Fred Dretske, a philosopher of mind and knowledge, wrote in 1981: “In the beginning there was information. The word came later.” He added this explanation: “The transition was achieved by the development of organisms with the capacity for selectively exploiting this information in order to survive and perpetuate their kind.” Now we might add, thanks to Dawkins, that the transition was achieved by the information itself, surviving and perpetuating its kind and selectively exploiting organisms. Most of the biosphere cannot see the infosphere; it is invisible, a parallel universe humming with ghostly inhabitants. But they are not ghosts to us—not anymore. We humans, alone among the earth’s organic creatures, live in both worlds at once. It is as though, having long coexisted with the unseen, we have begun to develop the needed extrasensory perception. We are aware of the many species of information. We name their types sardonically, as though to reassure ourselves that we understand: urban myths and zombie lies. We keep them alive in air-conditioned server farms. But we cannot own them. When a jingle lingers in our ears, or a fad turns fashion upside down, or a hoax dominates the global chatter for months and vanishes as swiftly as it came, who is master and who is slave? Adapted from The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, by James Gleick. Copyright © 2011 by James Gleick. Reprinted with the permission of the author. James Gleick is the author of Chaos: Making a New Science, among other books. Illustrator Stuart Bradford lives in San Rafael, California.

20110515 Succubus Shadows (Richelle Mead)

Dreams can be lies, but truth is truth. I studied the fire again. Humans, I realized idly, liked to burn things. Objects. Each other. “Because men cannot surpass the gods. Not yet anyway.” “Prometheus never intended his gift to be used like this.”

20110511 Best Fantastic Erotica (Cecilia Tan, Arinn Dembo, Thomas S. Roche, Jason Rubis, Kal Cobalt, Catherine Lundoff and Diane Kepler)

The purpose of Condistas like Maddy was to worry efficiently.

20110424 The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (Victor J. Stenger)

This is the book that made me realise that being agnostic is not enough. Religion is a moral and factual error. Being tolerant is not the right attitude in religeous matters! A quote from Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899): When I became convinced that the Universe is natural-that all the ghosts and gods  are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the  sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the  dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust.  I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the  wide world-not even in infinite space. I was free free to think, to express my  thoughts free to live to my own ideal free to live for myself and those I loved free  to use all my faculties, all my senses free to spread imaginations wings free to  investigate, to guess and dream and hope free to judge and determine for myself-free   to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have  produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past free from popes and priests-free   from all the “called” and `set apart”-free from sanctified mistakes and holy  lies free from the fear of eternal pain free from the winged monsters of the night free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no  prohibited places in all the realms of thought-no air no space, where fancy could not  spread her painted wings-no chains for my limbs-no lashes for my back-no fires  for my flesh-no masters frown or threat-no following another’s steps-no need to  bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly,  joyously, faced all worlds. And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in  love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and  brain-for the freedom of labor and thought-to those who fell in the fierce fields of war,  to those who died in dungeons bound with chains-to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s   stairs-to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn-to  those by fire consumed-to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts  and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch  that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still. Two more quotes, from physicist Steven Weinberg: The more the universe seems comprehensible,   the more it also seems pointless and Religion is an insult  to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing  good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do  evil things, that takes religion.

20110409 Kepler’s Witch (James A. Connor)

He confesses to a difficult personality […] Overanxious to please, yet quick-tempered […] This person has the nature of a dog. His only comfort was in his own mind […] He was, from his earliest days, at war both with the world and with himself […] If he believed that he was in the right, which was most of the time, he would never give in. This last trait followed him throughout his life […] Typically he argued his positions forcefully and with wry humor, which led to arguments and sometimes to fistfights […] Kepler was intense, chewing on ideas like they were meat; he didn’t have much tact or patience for those who couldn’t keep up. Some of this reminds me of someone I know well!

20110409 No Tech Hacking: A Guide to Social Engineering, Dumpster Diving, and Shoulder Surfing (Johnny Long)

We’re obviously in tricky water here, as these are dangerous searches indeed. All identifying information in these and following searches has been blurred out, and any information that could lead to the recreation of the Google query has been removed as well. Additionally, most of the sensitive documents found in this chapter have since been removed from the web.