October 2010

The long zoom

by Limbic on October 17, 2010

Steven Johnson has a concept called the “long zoom”:

Steven defined long-zoom thinking as a manner of analysis that “jumps from scale to scale, and from discipline to discipline, to explain its object of study.” In seeking a full explanation for any significant cultural or historical phenomenon, he says, you need to take into account various layers of explanation, none of which should dominate the conversation: neurochemistry, biography, social networks, information networks, technological platforms, political regimes, economic modes, and settlement patterns. Major events rarely unfold within a single layer, he writes. I see the Long Zoom as a practical application of pragmatist philosophy — a search for a language that reaches, wherever possible, outside of strict ideologies and specialized fields.

Sometime in Year 3 or Year 4 of writing The Rest Is Noise, when I felt overwhelmed by my subject, I had a long conversation with Steven about his Long Zoom idea, and it had a liberating effect. I realized that I could encompass the mass of material not by trying to subdue it under a single conception but by following the intersections of the layers. The zoom metaphor allowed me to make sudden shifts without unduly agonizing over them: if I moved from musical analysis to personal biography to political history to narratives of technological or social change, I was staying true to the intricacy of music’s engagement in the world. Indeed, that darting movement might reveal something that a fixed perspective might miss. As Steven says in his new book, “seeing the problem of innovation from the long-zoom perspective does not just give us new metaphors. It gives us new facts.” For that insight, much thanks.

From: Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise: The Long Zoom of music

{ 1 comment }

There is a stage in every war…

by Limbic on October 17, 2010

“Courage is not enough in war: victory will go to the side who best organises that courage”

“There is a stage in every war when the possibility of defeat appears, and yet the possibility cannot be admitted, and one has to go on killing. Where does that leave the liberal conscience?”

– Peter Watson discussing the Spanish Civil War in in “A Terrible Beauty“.


Lonely dog awaiting is master outside Maxi supermarket

Superb article from Douglas Rushkoff on the next 10 years.

Here is a taster…

5) You’ll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent state

A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years – The Globe and Mail


The pernicious persistence of the West’s guilt

by Limbic on October 16, 2010

@Guilty_ By Surreal Sways

Great article in Prospect reviewing a new book by Pascal Bruckner on Western guilt, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism.

Here is an excerpt from the article “Self-serving white guilt”:

According to Pascal Bruckner, we in the west suffer from neurotic guilt, a condition imposed upon us by the high priests of the left. This secular clerisy are heirs to the Christian tradition of original sin, which universalised guilt by claiming that humans are fallen and must redeem themselves. Nietzsche denounced Christian guilt as a psychic evil which forces man’s will to power in on himself. Pascal Bruckner is a latter-day Nietzschean who gives no quarter when it comes to excoriating our new moral elite.

…Beneath Bruckner’s eloquence is a serious message: we remain prisoners of a white guilt whose victim is its supposed beneficiary. Our guilt, he writes, is actually a means for us to retain our superiority over the non-white world, our masochism a form of sadism. After all, if everything is the fault of the west then the power to change the world lies squarely in the hands of westerners.

This belief demeans Frantz Fanon’s “wretched of the earth”—the non-western poor who we are supposed to redeem. Worse than this, it excuses the barbarism of tinpot dictators from Mao to Mugabe, who are considered irresponsible children, their crimes the result of colonialism, racism or capitalist exploitation. In upholding one moral code for the west (and Israel) and another for the rest, we retard human progress. Surely the column inches devoted to Israel’s atrocities, which Bruckner doesn’t gloss, should be overshadowed by the more significant carnage of Darfur. Yet “Nazi” Israel excites leftist ideologues like Gilles Deleuze, while the more serious war crimes of Congo et al do not.

The left avoids these contradictions through relativism. Bruckner, however, staunchly defends Enlightenment liberalism. He has no truck with those who blame the west for jihadism—notably the postmodernist stalwart Jean Baudrillard, who reacted in “pornographic jubilation” to the fall of the twin towers. Moreover, leftist radicals remain cloaked in a respectability which we would never accord the far right, and Bruckner seeks to rip through this bogus status.

Take multiculturalism, which for Bruckner “imprisons” minorities in separate boxes outside the mainstream…The result is a profusion of victim groups—racial, regional, sexual—each seizing on particular episodes to stake their legal and moral claims against the majority. This hampers the integration needed to address social exclusion.

Bruckner imagines a playground in which French children introduce themselves as descendants of slaves, colonised peoples, slave traders, bandits, peasants, beggars. Since only victimhood confers identity, one must ransack one’s family history for any usable wrong. Public policy and official proclamations take their cue from this new zeitgeist. Immigrants are to be welcomed out of guilt—as a means of repaying the debts of colonialism—rather than selected for their ability to contribute to society. The result is that Europe bars talented Africans and Asians while accumulating an unskilled migrant underclass.

Substituting the complex reality of history for victimology, Bruckner’s spade turns up some awkward truths. For instance, there has not been one slave trade, but three: an Arab, an African and a European. The first two were more enduring and trafficked more people than the western variant. The west’s innovation was to end slavery on moral grounds, while it lingered in the Arab world until the 1980s. Despite these inconvenient facts, any questioning of the idea that slavery is a predominantly European crime immediately places one beyond the pale. On this note, Bruckner neatly juxtaposes the tirades of a contemporary professor who urges reparations for slavery from “the Christian nations” with the actual words of Frantz Fanon, the black intellectual whom the reparationists appropriate without a proper reading: “Don’t I have other things to do on this earth than avenge the blacks of the seventeenth century… I am not a slave of the slavery that dehumanised my ancestors.”

Bruckner seeks a more rounded history. Nations should celebrate their heroes and victories while acknowledging their stains, because there are “no angels and sinners among nations.” In the west, the balance needs to tilt back toward a celebration of achievements and heroes who have fought for freedom and equality. Elsewhere, a little self-criticism would go a long way.”


Nice summary of Cloud Computing in 2 minutes

by Limbic on October 16, 2010


Starved of refreshing pauses, our brains fail

by Limbic on October 9, 2010

Superb article from the new York Times called “Your Brain on Computers – Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime

When people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

…At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience.

The researchers suspect that the findings also apply to how humans learn.

“Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”

…Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.

“People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,” said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.


The surprising truth about what motivates us

by Limbic on October 9, 2010

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose…

YouTube – RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us


The 4 defining components of Cloud Computing

by Limbic on October 9, 2010

I enjoyed Phil Wainright’s article on “Defining the true meaning of cloud“.

In it he defines what he sees as the four components that make up the definition of cloud:

Abstracted infrastructure. In most cases, that means virtualization, but I’ve chosen a slightly more generic term because virtualization implies a specific technology choice and the key point here is that the underlying infrastructure isn’t tied to any specific hardware or operating software. In theory, any component could be swopped out or exchanged without affecting the operation of whatever is running above. Crucially, the abstraction provides elasticity to scale usage up or down without having to stop to upgrade the underlying infrastructure.

As-a-service infrastructure.
The pairing of virtualization with automated provisioning and management has been a crucial element in enabling the on-demand, pay-as-you-go nature of public cloud. When enterprises talk about implementing private cloud, these are the ingredients they focus on, and there’s no doubt that they deliver enormous cost savings and productivity gains when implemented privately. But these components alone are not the only constituents of cloud. Taking existing platforms and applications and implementing them on a pay-as-you-go, virtual machine is not cloud computing. You’ll still have enormous extra management overhead, duplicated resources and wasted redundant capacity — and gain none of the additional benefits of a fully cloud-scale environment.

Multi-tenancy. Sharing a single, pooled, operational instance of the entire top-to-bottom infrastructure is more than simply a vendor convenience; it’s the only way to really achieve cloud scale. Look beyond the individual application or service and consider also the surrounding as-a-service infrastructure and any connecting framework to other cloud resources. Understand the value of having all of that infrastructure constantly tuned and refreshed to keep pace with the demands of its diverse user base across hundreds or even thousands of tenants. The most conservative among them will constantly probe for potential risks and weaknesses. The most progressive will clamor for new functionality to be brought into production as rapidly as possible. Every tenant benefits from sharing the collective results of those two extremes and all points in-between, keeping the shared infrastructure both battle-hardened and future-proofed. Every tweak and enhancement is instantly available to every tenant as soon as it’s live.

Cloud scale. It’s no accident that cloud architectures are multi-tenant — just look at Google, Amazon, Facebook and all the rest. If you start from a need to perform at cloud scale, you build a multi-tenant infrastructure. It’s the only way to deliver the walk-up, on-demand, elastic scalability of the cloud with the 24×7 reliability and performance that the environment demands. Cloud scale consists of all of this globally connected operational capacity, coupled with the bandwidth and open APIs required to effortlessly interact with other resources and opportunities and platforms as they become available in the global public cloud. A computing architecture can have all the other attributes of cloud, but without this cloud scale dimension, it will not be able to keep pace with the operational demands, the overwhelming connectivity and the continuous rapid evolution of the cloud environment.


Glitches on the rise

by Limbic on October 9, 2010

I heard a very interesting interview with Jeff Papows, author of Glitch: The Hidden Impact of Faulty Software, on Technometria with Phil Windley.

Jeff makes the point that system failures are increasing dramatically, citing examples ranging like dramatically increased calls being dropped on cellular networks. I have noticed this too, with things like the skyrocketing rates of electrical blackouts in the US.

He blames multiple factors, including sheer scale of contemporary systems, incompetent programmers, poorly executed mergers and over worked IT departments.

It is well worth a listen.


For men, it pays to a bit chubby

by Limbic on October 9, 2010

From The Wall Street Journal

obese women have a far harder time climbing the career ladder than their slimmer female counterparts, while men actually improve their chances of reaching the corner office when they gain weight.

Now, a new study goes a step further by showing that employers seem to treat women exactly the way the fashion industry does – by rewarding very thin women with higher pay, while penalizing average-weight women with smaller paychecks. Very thin men, on the other hand, tend to get paid less than male workers of average weight. Men earn more as they pack on the pounds – all the way to the point where they become obese, when the pay trend reverses.

When it comes to men, I am not sure that the study adjusted for age. Men tend to gain weight as they age, particularl in the late 20s and 30s, a period of often rapid career progress. I am wondering if this study is seeing causes where there are only correlations?