Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Just some fun stuff from the archive. I found my rune files.

Here are the runes. I created these documents about 15 years ago when I discovered this nice drawing program. I also have fonts of the English/Saxon set that I made.

The first document is all sets - Gothic, English, Scandinavian, Danish pointed, Helsinge/Haelsinga, etc., showing variations. So, for example, Danish Pointed has a B for the sound B, and a B with two dots in it for the sound P, whereas Saxon/English has something like the letter Pi on its side (looks a bit like C). The central row is Gothic/Standard, all else are variations.

The second document is the standard Viking set (16 characters). Because it was shorter, they used the same letters for voiced and unvoiced sounds, so V/F, D/T/TH, P/B, S/Z, etc. So for example siklt in Old Norse Runes = seglode in Old English ("sailed", pronounced something like "sayloada").

The character -R is NOT the same as r. -R is the ending -uR seen in Old Norse and Icelandic, signifying a noun. I suspect the Gothic (east Germanic) pronunciation was closer to Z, or modern Swedish sj, since modern Icelandic has an R and Latin has an S (which by Grimm's law is related to Z, hence the R/Z confusion. Interestingly, the same confusion occurs in Arabic: the letter for R and Z in Arabic are both a kind of j, but one has a dot and one doesn't.).

Obviously, many of the letters derive from Latin, hence R, T, B, S, F, U, C, A, H, I, M. But some derive from Greek, Hence OE (looks like Omega), L looks like Lambda, and NG, which is a double-G (runic G is an X, so runic NG is a double X), just like in Greek where they use a double-gamma for "ng", ie Angelos = aggelos in the Greek alphabet.

My understanding is that they have this angular appearance to make it easier to carve into wood, which is what the Germanic people preferred for their monuments etc., since they hung round in pine forests and liked log cabins. Obviously the majority of the surviving examples are on stone memorials.

The Helsinge set appears, as I understand it, in one particular place in Scandinavia, and it represents a shorthand or simplified version of the scandinavian set. Probably the first shorthand script ever, other than Demotic Egyptian.

Interestingly, the modern-day Asatru cult still uses the runes, and many adherents of Wicca do as well, however, they consider them to have magical properties. Presumably, in ancient times, writing would have seemed magical because it would convey thoughts over distances. It's not a coincidence that in English, a "spell" is magic, and "spelling" is writing.

Apparently the word "rune" comes from an old Germanic word meaning whisper or magic. "Raunen" is German for "murmur".

I hope you enjoyed this little essay. Here are the tables:

Monday, 16 August 2010

Free-will is like an appendix

If the appendix has no function, why do we have it?

The same goes for conscious "choice". It's a side-effect, not a causal agent. Libet (1982) found that there's a certain time threshold for sensations to be perceived. If a contact/touch/whatever sensation does not endure for longer than, if I recall correctly, 80-200 milliseconds, we don't register it at all. The longer it persists, the more we become aware of it. So, when the brain is busy deciding to do something, once the decision state has existed for longer than the threshold of consciousness' minimum, then we become aware of it. It's a question of persistence of a state.

Are we automated machines influenced by outside factors? Yes. Think about it. You only respond to outer stimuli. Inner stimuli are, generally, memories. And memories are simplified reduced versions of previous outer stimuli, so they're still outer stimuli. The only inner stimuli we're aware of are neurological, e.g. When you have a headache. But we still have no control over those things; they 'happen to us'.

Why do we internalise outer factors? This is because our brains do process information even if it is non-conscious. I'm not saying they don't. What I'm saying is something like this: consciousness, as we know it, is a bit like a child in a trolley (shopping cart, for my American readers) - with a fake steering wheel. He's being pushed around in the trolley but he can still see where he's going, and his mom tells him as she pushes him round the shop, what she's doing. So she turns into the breakfast cereal aisle and says "now we're looking at breakfast cereals". He gets notified about what is going on after the decision has been taken. He has a fake steering wheel which he frantically turns, but it doesn't actually do anything. It just gives him the illusion of control. Sometimes his trolley goes the direction he turns it, sometimes it doesn't. He doesn't understand why, but when it does go the way he turns it, he thinks he's the one that did it, and gets a thrill of being in control.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

God would not create

Why would God not create? Simple.

God, if he exists, is perfect.
Perfect things do not contain privations of any kind.
In order to "want" to create, God would have to have a privation or want of some kind.
Therefore since God is perfect, and since he does not have any privations of any kind, he would not want to create.

A perfect universe can only contain one perfect thing.
There is nothing better than perfect.
God is perfect.
Therefore a universe with more than just God in it could not be be better/more perfect.
Therefore there is no reason, from an argument towards a better universe, to claim that God would create, since he could not make the universe more perfect than it already is with him alone.

A perfect thing cannot be bored.
God cannot be bored.
Therefore God would not create out of boredom.

The only possible explanation for creation is to argue, as some do, that the act of creativity is some kind of giving of an abundance. But if God is infinite in every respect, he cannot add to the universe, because it is already infinite with him inside it. Therefore God would have no reason to create.

God is omniscient.
God is all-good.
If God had known that creating humans would introduce evil, he would not have created humans.
Therefore either God is not omniscient (he didn't know that humans would introduce evil), or, God is not all-good, or he did not create us.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Open Letter to Steve Jobs

Dear Mr Jobs, iRedeemer and Prophet-in-Chief of Apple

Please read the comments below. I hope you will take them into consideration when designing Mac OS XI or 10.7, whichever comes first.

1. Is there a good reason why windows interleave on OS X? I realise one just needs to use Exposé to bring them together, but by default it is possible to bring a window of a program to the front and have one of its other windows hidden behind some other program. It would be better if all the windows of a program came to the front, or at least if we could choose to have this behaviour. Perhaps a checkbox under the Appearance preferences pane which says "Keep windows grouped by application"

2. I think the future of packaged software shipment is USB flash, not DVD or CD. It should be possible, for example, to have OS X on a flash disk and boot and install off that flash disk. Why can PCs boot off USB, but Macs can't?

3. Why can I only play sounds via AirTunes in iTunes? Why can I not tell the Sound system preferences pane to send all sound output through Airtunes? When I am previewing a song in the Finder with QuickLook, I want the sound from that song to go via Airtunes also. I realise that Airfoil solves this problem, but it would be nice to not have to buy such a thing.

4. Please buy WindowShade. It is very useful. It takes a lot of time to mouse over to the Dock to fetch a minimised window, plus it looks like Windows™ behaviour. Minimise-in-place is much better.

My questions:

a. I know someone who was recently on the iTunes store who was offered an opportunity to buy m4a versions of her m4p DRM tracks that she'd already bought. Now, supposing she's already bought the LP (in the 1970s), the audio cassette (in the 1980s), the CD (in the 1990s), and the m4p file from iTunes (in the noughties), isn't it a bit unfair to keep asking her to buy the same music when she's already bought it several times, even digitally? Surely by now she has the right to the music in whatever form it may be? Why did you charge your customers for an m4p track to prevent them from pirating the music, and now you want to make them buy it again to get rid of the DRM that they didn't want in the first place? If they had the honesty and decency to buy the music in the first place, despite the fact that it was DRM'ed, surely you can see that it's unfair to make your customers buy the non-DRM when they already have the rights to the DRM'ed version? Very unfair.

b. Are you going to nuke the Mac OS interface and replace it with the iPhone iOS? If so, that is a horrid idea. I think the future of interfaces is what we see Tom Cruise using in Minority Report. That would be cool. You're almost there - with your latest external trackpad and the iPhone touchscreens. But I, for example, choose the Mac because of the Mac UI, not the Dashboard. Making the whole OS look and work like the dashboard is a rather unsavoury idea. I personally don't use the dashboard because it's intrusive, it takes over the whole screen, and none of the widgets are compelling to use - e.g. the calculator doesn't have a scientific mode, and the stickies disappear rather than staying on one's screen. I can appreciate, from having had to help many people, that most people find the Finder hard to understand and use, and most people think of documents as being "inside" a program rather than a filesystem, but that doesn't mean that experts such as myself (24 years IT experience) - want that. For example, a strongly compelling reason for me to use the Mac is that I can write PHP/CSS/Java/Perl/Shell on it and test the scripts using the preinstalled Apache. I can't begin to imagine doing anything like that with iPhone OS. It's not the look and feel of the Dashboard/iPhone that I dislike, in fact, it is in some ways more attractive. The thing that concerns me is the functionality level. And even if you do go ahead and move the Mac to that UI, please at least add an "expert mode" button?

Thanks for listening