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Stuff I've Thought About Other People's Thoughts

Why I program in Lisp XKCD and what it means to me, The Alice's Restaurant Massacree, George Soros - The Alchemy of Finance, Peter Morville - Ambient Findability, Yes - Relayer, King Crimson - Discipline


George Soros - The Alchemy of Finance

There is a new version of the book that was just published in 2003, but I read the 1994 release of the frst edition text and it was a real eye-opener.

Among the many things which George Soros covers in this book, by far the most important is his theory of Reflexivity. It is a truly postmodern deconstruction of the scientific method when applied to self-aware systems. Now George meant any self-aware systems — in other words, people. Apparently he only went into markets and currency trading in order to test his theories.

The implications of Reflexivity are too numerous to even begin to dive into in a review of the book, and in fact George doesn't really dive into them in the book itself. It degenerates into the most turgid prose imaginable once you get beyond the fourth chapter. But if you have any interest at all in the philosophy of Science, or the study of the mind I would have to call this book mandatory reading. The ideas are simply that important.

Don't let the business weenies own this man's thoughts. They're way too valuable for the rest of us, too.

Peter Morville - Ambient Findability


This book reminds me a lot of some of the theses I have read in the field of Human/Computer interaction. That shouldn't be too surprising since it covers material about the ways that people interact with information - the fun part is that computers and the web are treated as an outgrowth of a universal human activity. Morville's broad-minded approach led me to more than one epiphany concerning the mission and design of a new business venture, so for me, it was almost a perfect book: a detailed exposition of core principles which I could apply to my existing projects.

That said, I am not an expert in HCI, although I have been a software professional for over 20 years. Some aspects of this book may also be considered flaws by people who do not think in the same ways that I do. Peter Morville relies fairly heavily on analogical reasoning, and he seems to have a healthy aversion to extremes. So in a sense, his book doesn't answer any questions, but it strongly suggests that the process of exploration is probably the answer. He makes it very clear, to anyone who didn't already realize it, that we are in the midst of a major socio-cultural revolution and can almost seem pedantic at times. But I can honestly say that I felt every page was worth reading.

And once you've read it you'll understand how by writing this review I am intertwingled with the findability of his works, and with my own.


Yes - Relayer


For whatever reason, I have been on a Yes binge lately. The latest manifestation of this came when I impulsively dropped into the Tower Records above Eason's on O'Connell Street in Dublin, because I wanted to check to see if they had Relayer. Well they did. And I bought it. And it turns out to be not only a re-mastered version, but also re-mixed (and it certainly sounds different from my memory of it and I'm not so sure that I like the new mix. WHY do people have to do these things? Is it so hard to leave a good thing alone?).

But that's not the point of this rambling. The point is that I had exactly the same reaction to it I had the first time around - I didn't like it. But somehow it got stuck in my head and wouldn't leave, and I'm back to thinking it's a brilliant piece of work. Can you believe it?

Well part of me can't. Aspects of the lyrics are terribly strained. Patrick Moraz's keyboards and compositional taste is no substitute for Rick Wakeman and the drumming ranges from inspired to lame. And the soundscape is so dense as to be positively noisy. Perhaps this is why they tried to remix it, but I don't think the remix helped it any, because I remembered this album for the contrasts. It always was noisy and chaotic.

And Yes never really was about chaos. They were an affirmation sung into space created by a generation of dreamers(and no, I'm not a baby-boomer and I generally have a certain contempt for a lot of the baby-boomer's conceits - maybe I'm just jealous that I wasn't there - but they also did much good for the world and I have to honor that as well). And that element is very present on this album. Somehow, it manages to soar above its flaws and shine. After 16 minutes of The Gates of Delirium, chaos and noise and blood and thunder, it comes home as Jon Anderson sings:

Soon, Oh soon the light
ours to shape for all time,
ours the right;
the sun will lead us,
our reason to be here

Which may be sentimental and hopelessly new-agey, but also carries with the echoes of a deep truth. I, for one, will always be glad they made this record, if only because sometimes I need to be reminded. And if it ultimately means nothing(I recall a drumming seminar where I heard Bill Bruford strenuously deny that Yes' lyrics were anything more meaningful than additional instrumental ear-candy), then that nothing is made a little brighter by the artistry they bring to it.

King Crimson - Discipline


On Vinyl the contrast of the two sides was very pronounced, the Indiscipline side...Elephant Talk to Indiscipline is very 'loose' (if this KC lineup could ever be called such a thing) and the Discipline side is tight as the drum-heads that Bruford uses to move this album along.

I first heard Indiscipline at a live show, and while the studio version here is perhaps not as loud, it is still just as electric. The music produced by Fripp's boys has the mechanical precision of a Kraftwerk album, it is still a very human album; visceral even.

Really the best you can hope for is to echo Adrian Belew: