Elias presents ... a worm!    Thoughts on family, philosophy,
and technology


Friday, March 31, 2006

Respecting, versus defending, free speech

In my reading of this letter from an NYU administrator, NYU decided to allow the event, with the unveiling, despite the protests of Muslim groups (in the interest of free speech), but chose to exclude the general public in order to minimize the security risk. For this stated logic, I do not fault NYU. NYU may have security guards, but I doubt they employ an anti-terrorism security force. They have a responsibility to allow free speech, but it is not their job to physically defend it at all costs. Rather, they have an overriding responsibility to ensure the basic safety of persons on their property. This responsibility is real and objective, it is not "cowardice."

Could they have asked for police or National Guard protection of the event? That would be an interesting question for Mr. Beckman.

Or did NYU already have sufficient security? I read that a metal-detector was used. But the issue of sufficient security is a technical, not philosophical, question.

Update: I've been pointed to this quote of NYU policy, which promises NYU will pay for "extraordinary security measures" at speaking events. This is a key fact in the whole issue, and I wish it were explicitly mentioned in the latest ARI press release, because it is required to prove the allegation that NYU's reference to security concerns were mere "pretense".

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


From ARI:
New York University is censoring the display of the Danish cartoons at this evening's panel discussion on free speech that NYU's Objectivist club has organized. We urge you
to contact NYU's administration and let them know what you think about their display of cowardice and censorship.
Imagine the headline, "NYU censors critics of censorship". That can't be good PR. ARI will get a spotlight out of this, and will philosophically skewer NYU's decision.

Neurons on a chip

Someone has fused neurons with silicon and achieved two-way interaction? If this is true, the article is quite understated.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Little boy cometh

We've realized that we suddenly don't think of Elias as a baby anymore. How could we, now that he is able to proudly talk about the freshly extracted worm he is holding?

Or maybe it has more to do with the baby girl who will show up any day.

Monday, March 20, 2006

"On" as in on

A friend asked if Elias really gets the concept "on". Elias can say "light on" when he sees a lit bulb, but does he really have the concept of "on", or is it just some sort of a word association for him? This question puzzled me, and maybe I didn't really understand what was being asked, but in hindsight the answer is that he has definitely grasped the concept "on".

The essence of grasping a concept is being able to distinguish the instances of the concept from everything else. This is the purpose and meaning of a concept. So if Elias can sort things (lights, stereos, TV's, etc) that are on from those that are off using this word, he's got the concept. There's nothing else to "getting the concept." Even if he could only apply "on" to lights, and hadn't made the connection to other equipment yet, I would still say that he grasps the concept, just not fully.

I think every word is either nonsense or exclamation for him ("boo!"), OR it stands for a concept. There is no middle ground.

The rate (how many per week) and speed (how many examples per word) of conceptualization are both just ferocious. Who would have thought that someone could learn so much more than he already knows in a single month?

Very often Elias forms a concept when he has only one example to work with. I say this because I've noticed that it is not uncommon for people to misread Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology to be stating that since a concept is an integration of "two or more" units, you cannot grasp a concept before you've experienced two concrete instances. That is a non-sequitur from Ayn Rand's definition, and it's also not true because my son forms a concept from one example all the time!

Related to all this, Amy and I have noticed that Elias's memory is awesome. He broke into a non-musical rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" this weekend even though we can't even remember the last time he would have even heard it (at least a week?), and we've never even worked with him to be able to say it. He also spoke, with no prompting, the alphabet with very few errors, and he counted to 30 with about 70% accurancy -- not bad for 19 months on this planet.

P.S.: Elias really cracks up if I say "Tom, Dick, and Harry"! I think he was saying "Mr. Messy Messerson" to Amy this weekend, too. Ah, becoming just as silly as his parents at a very young age.

Vista preview

Here's a good month-old preview on the major new features of Vista. I used to be skeptical of the security and usability improvements, but seeing the details I'm now very impressed. This is going to be anything but an incremental improvement to XP.

Friday, March 17, 2006

IE7+WPF will do the trick, actually

I was underestimating Microsoft's revolution in that previous post: their new networked-software stack will work in IE7, just as long as it is running on a machine sporting the Windows Presentation Foundation. And it seems WPF is being backported to Windows XP. And Microsoft even plans to create plug-ins for other browsers so that XAML/WPF apps will run in Firefox on a WPF-enabled machine.

Did I say Trojan horse before? This is going to be a tidal wave.

I know which big programming book I'm going to read next. It is currently being written by the all-class Charles Petzold, who wrote the book I started reading on my first day at my first job after college:

Thursday, March 16, 2006


During Elias's 19th month, he...

  1. solidly abstracted from first level abstractions, e.g., he really gets that "animal" means cats+dogs+etc now
  2. decided that he likes the BINGO song ("there was a farmer had a dog..."), and loves the ELIAS versions I created of it ("there was a baby sister who had a big brother..." and "there was a mama/daddy who had a son...")
  3. got good at going right to sleep once Daddy and him lay down
  4. got his own table with two chairs, one is for baby sister
  5. often said "right there" and "no no no!" and "Daddy pick [me] up!"
  6. used different forms of verbs more and more comfortably in simple three word sentences, e.g. "mama drinking water"
  7. learned to spell his name thanks to aforementioned song
  8. started to learn to count to 30 thanks to the "numbers" song, which is really just numbers sung to the ABC song -- I'll pause and let him fill in the number, and usually he gets it right, though when he should say something like "twenty-six" he just says "six", but he likes to say "thirty"
  9. had a really bad cold and gave it to Mama and Daddy and then they felt like they were going to die and they both went to the doctor
  10. started to really appreciate that his baby sister is coming soon

Monday, March 13, 2006

IE8 as Google's Trojan horse

The demand for a watered-down online office (and for real-time document collaboration) is no where near as big as the hype would suggest. For example, I use Word at work a lot and depend on its advanced features, but at home I rarely need "word processing" beyond using gmail or blogger at all. So even though I've had a Writely account for months, I've never had any need for it or anything like it, just as I rarely fire up Word or OpenOffice for personal stuff. I doubt I'm alone.

This post about online/offline is on-the-mark. People want to be able to do everything, everywhere. It's that simple. Whereas desktop apps don't travel well, AJAX apps lack many features that businesses are addicted to (like strong support for a little thing called printing). As for non-business users, Writely et al may be sufficient, but like me, how many home users have anything to write at home besides emails and blogposts? I suspect most Writely users (those who are actually active) use it as a front-end to their blogs. Big whoop.

The future is the best of both worlds -- and AJAX will not cut it, because current web standards, official and de facto, will not cut it. What does that leave?

Super-browsers. Sound crazy? I'll even guess at the name for one of them: Internet Explorer. It'll be the Greek soldiers inside Vista: in five years, fat .NET 2+/XAML apps will be running in the latests IE on tens of millions of Vista desktops. These apps will be safe and secure, full-featured, and they will powerfully merge online and offline activity. Users will love it, why wouldn't they? And Mozilla will copycat, if they can, enabling .NET 2+ support, or they will fade back to obscurity.

This is already starting: Vista will be shipping in less than a year. So I don't even see the preceding as speculation, it's simply the most likely scenario.

The area left for interesting speculation is: what is Google going to do? Although there have been rumors that they'd come out with their own browser, the move doesn't make sense until you realize how Microsoft is going to, once again, leverage its desktop ubiquity. Then a Google super-browser which enables fat clients (Java applets, take 2?) seems plausible. Especially given that it just bought Writely, because what that says to me is that all those Googlenerds can't be bothered writing some wussy on-line word processor in a month that hardly anyone will use and will never even pay for itself; instead they are working on something really big and secret ... like GBrowser running GOffice against GDrive.

Or maybe not. Why would Google force a final elimination round between themselves and Microsoft like this, where it's their "stack" versus .NET, one codebase to rule them all? It'd probably be a losing strategy, so long as virtually all desktops run IE out of the box. Wouldn't it make more sense for them to assume that everyone will use IE8+ with .NET enabled, and then write the best .NET apps themselves with Google servers as the backend? IE8 as Google's Trojan horse. This would be leveraging the Windows-opoly on the desktop to get at the global market of computer users with more intriguing online products than ever before. Sounds like a good way to drive a lot of business, to me.