Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why We Fight

I've been watching Why We Fight, a great documentary about the thinking behind the modern state of continuous armament and readiness for war which has come to be accepted as a fact of life. The race to be the most-armed is circular, and it must be remembered that all money spent on arms is money not-spent on more productive things. Arms are often not used, become out-dated and are discarded, arms which are used have more serious consequences.
The film quotes a speech by Eisenhower. It speaks for itself:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.
It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.
It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.
We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.
We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tagging MP3's and music files: Multiple Genres & Artists would be GREAT

I'd really love to start using a media library. I have at least 150Gb of music and it would be nice to say, pick a genre and see what it throws up. Some of it is well-organised, a lot of it is not.

But one thing that really irks me is that there's no way to tag a file with several genres or with several artists. For example, 'Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans' has to be exactly that, but media library software won't connect together all the 'Cannonball Adderley' music with the stuff he did with Bill Evans.

Equally, being able to web-2.0 style tag genres would make life a lot easier for those hard-to-categorise records (like Pete & Fiete: are they flamenco, rock, jazz, what?)

Kevin Keegan has this to say:

I know that ID3v2 supports adding multiple genre tags to a file but does any software support this? I have not seen any that does and I don't understand why. Most music belong in multiple sub genres, take Fleetwood Mac for instance, it belongs in Rock, but also a sub category of Classic Rock. Most people just classify it as Classic Rock, but what if you want to here a mix of all Rock songs, then you would have to select each subgenre of Rock. Also imagine the issue of a song that people can not agree on what the subgenre is.

So first, a strong shout-out to who-ever is coding this stuff, I'd like multiple artist & genre tag-ability! Here's my suggestion:

  • It seems to me that the simplest multiple genre implementation would be a tagging style field (in the web-2.0 sense). See or for example implementations.
  • The user would be free to enter as many genres as they want in free-text, separated by some separator character e.g. ;
  • Free-form text input is key for user-friendliness, but to avoid slight derivative spellings forming two genres, tagging software and media libraries could suggest what to write based on the genres already present in the user's library or 'tag cloud'. For example, is it 'electronic', 'electronic music', 'electro', 'electro-pop' or 'electronica'? Or something else? Your media-library would suggest whatever you'd previously used, but you'd equally be free to type electro-punk-funk if you felt like it.
  • As long as the ID3 standard doesn't place any limit on the length of the genre field, it is possible to enter multiple genres already. Genre searching features can then be added-on later.

It could be argued that non-standardised genres don't allow interoperability, but taking it a bit further, if genre tags could be listed online somewhere, they would take on a social dimension: i.e. you could utilise not only your genre listings but also those of others. Interoperability could be achieved through the net. Since genres are essentially subjective, this would give a similar consensus opinion, like Wikipedia.

It would also allow cool gadget features like a tag cloud of your MP3 collection.


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Friday, January 05, 2007

Richard Dawkins' Soul

A while back, I sent this to Richard Dawkins:

Hi Richard,

I recently read a transcript of a discussion you had several years ago with Steven Pinker. Within, you express lack of belief in the existence of souls.

You define a soul therein as "the principle of life in man or animals", "the principle of thought and action in man commonly regarded as an entity distinct from the body, the spiritual part of man in contrast to the purely physical", "the spiritual part of man regarded as surviving after death, and as susceptible of happiness or misery in a future state", "the disembodied spirit of a deceased person regarded as a separate entity and as invested with some amount of form and personality".

With this in mind, can I buy your soul? It will be easy for you to fob me off with something like "what's the point of selling what is effectively a non-entity". However, as far as I'm concerned, it's fine if you don't believe in them. I would be buying your agreement that I own your soul, if you do have one. Please get back to me if you are interested. If you're not interested, why not? Surely it's free money to you? Either way, I would love to receive a reply.

Best wishes,


I didn't get a reply. At the time, I was very excited, but I guess in retrospect it's not that surprising. He probably doesn't want there to be any indication whatsoever that he believes in anything supernatural...

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Love is the Answer...

but while you're waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions."
Woody Allen

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sony Ericsson K750i as a Winamp remote control (via Bluetooth)

I have a K750i. It's not the prettiest phone, but it has loads of gadget features (without being overly-complicated to use). A nice one is being able to remote-control your PC via Bluetooth, but no Winamp remote control settings come as standard.

I've made some, but they require a bit of custom setup: either you have to change the Winamp hotkeys to match the one's I specify below, or you have to use Sony Ericsson's software to make your own Winamp remote control settings file.

Straightforward setup:

  • Set your Winamp hotkeys to the following settings:The Winamp Hotkeys I use
    Click the image to see it larger
  • Download winamp.hid, save it to your desktop or somewhere safe if you want to keep it.
  • Use Bluetooth to send this file from your computer to your phone; right-click on the file and choose Send to, Bluetooth Device.
  • Once the file has been transferred, you will be prompted - on the screen of your cellphone - if you want to save the file and if you want to ‘Add to Remote control’. Press ‘Yes’.
  • You will now see this displayed on the screen of your phone:
  • The 2-key (play/pause) will play or pause depending on the current state, the 5-key (play) will play if paused, or start the track again if playing
  • The 1-key & 3-key skip tracks, the 4-key & 6-key skip 5-seconds
  • The 7-key plays to the end, the 9-key stops with a fadeout
  • The *-key presses 'Start', the #-key shows or hides Winamp

I hope using it is straightforward!

Custom setup:

  • If you'd rather keep your own Winamp hotkey settings, you'll have to make your own HID profile.
  • To do this, first download the Bluetooth Remote Control app from
  • For the background, you can either use the one which comes with the app, the one I supplied (shown above), or you can adapt my Illustrator file to make your own.
  • If you want to do this, you're obviously fairly tech-literate, so I'll leave you to it!

Credit to, I borrowed some of your text.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Science is Practical

As previously mentioned, I'm studying a Science & Technology Studies unit as part of my degree. Here's something I've half figured-out, comments will be greatly appreciated!

Current historical and epistemological views of science find no basis for truth in current scientific knowledge. Modernists believe that although we can never know that scientific knowledge is completely true, it is a good (and always improving) approximation to truth. Post-modernists believe that science is not objective and therefore not actually progressing toward truth.

I believe that both these views incorrectly focus on truth as the fundamental quality of scientific knowledge. I believe that science is in-fact the search for useful, practical knowledge: knowledge for the production of technology. “What gives scientists their special voice and power is not the ‘truth’ of their theories, but the application of these theories in technology.” (Nick Battey, Nature 399, 1999, Scientists must Bridge the Communication Gap, subscription required)

To be useful, knowledge must be reliable: you don’t want to board a plane which flies based on theories which only work some of the time! By redefining the focus of science studies on the usefulness rather than the truth of scientific knowledge, this does not rule out that science is progressing toward truth. I myself agree with the modernist view that reliability or repeatability indicates truth, and that science is progressing toward truth. That said, my fundamental view is that a focus on the truth of scientific knowledge produces a confusing view, but that a focus on the usefulness of scientific knowledge produces a clear view.

I intend to show that:

  • Scientific knowledge undeniably produces useful technology.
  • Historically, science has persisted due to its usefulness.
  • Technoscience demonstrates science as the search for reliable technology.
  • Although ‘pure’ science does occur, examination of the funding sources of this research demonstrates the ultimately practical aims of the funding organisations.
  • Science only appears to be the search for truth when its context within society is ignored. Scientific research is a complex investment opportunity: resources of society are given preferentially to scientific research programmes which eventually produce practically applicable knowledge.

Scientific knowledge undeniably allows useful technology. Electricity as an energy source was developed scientifically, and is now vital for most human activity: it underpins modern information and communications networks which are themselves fast, reliable and ubiquitous. Modern methods of transport also owe a lot to scientific enquiry.
Maybe it would be good to have some more/more-concrete examples here? Answers on a postcard...

History suggests that the persistence of science as a human activity is due to its usefulness, not its accuracy. As early as the 4th century AD, Augustine supported the practical aspect of ‘science’: “cognition of temporal and changeable things that is necessary for managing the affairs of this life”, referring to improvements of crop yields through study. Against a background of the mediaeval scholasticism, Francis Bacon proposed science as a method of obtaining practical knowledge to drive economic growth: “knowledge is power”/“Ipsa Scientia Potentas Est” (Meditations, 1597). Alchemy is an example of a human activity which was not fruitful and has died out: it was never found out how to turn base metals into gold.
Maybe it would also be good to have some more/more-concrete examples here? Answers on a postcard...

The practical goal of science is obvious within ‘technoscience’: the harnessing of science by large organisations for the purpose of managed innovation and invention. Technoscience produces technology; the value of technology is in not only its practical use but its originality, as only original work can be patented or copyrighted. Following from this, the financial value of the scientific knowledge which technology depends upon, itself ultimately depends on the usefulness of the technology allowed. This does not limit my view of science to that specifically directed toward the production of technology: I aim to demonstrate that almost all science is ultimately directed toward the production of technology. As an example, the study of disease associated with pharmaceutical development demonstrates how research with wide-ranging implications and applications can be funded to meet a specific goal.

In funding research, organisations typically require the knowledge to have a value to obtain a return on investment: this value arises from the usefulness of the knowledge. Organisations funding research and their motivations are pivotal in determining what research is undertaken: although the scientists who perform the research advise their financiers, funding organisations can ultimately veto the research undertaken in determining what grants are available. The scientists must therefore work within the objectives proposed.

Scientific research only appears to be ‘pure’ because the knowledge produces has no immediate application. From the scientist’s perspective:

  • He/She is working on a highly specific area within the body of scientific knowledge
  • He/She can see that the knowledge being produced may never have any practical application.
  • He/She has a commitment to repeatability in experimental work.

John Dalton discovered that elements combine to form compounds in specific proportions, and that this consistent composition distinguished compounds from mixtures. His well accepted, not by established scientists like Berthollet, but by the new generations of chemists for the practical usefulness of Dalton’s theories in their work. In this way, work produced by the scientist without an envisaged application can quickly find one.
The organisation funding the research, like all investors, works on the assumption that some investments do not give a return. If funding organisations are well managed, the costs of knowledge which has no practical value will be offset by financial gains through the knowledge which ultimately has practical application. The scientist has a commitment to repeatability in experimental work; although repeatability increases the likelihood that truth has been found, it can never guarantee truth. Gustin (1973) found that “recognition is a theoretically and empirically inadequate key to the motivation of scientists”: that “research was personally enjoyable” and “career reasons” (promotion and salary) were of primary importance.

The perspectives of individuals involved in scientific research are immaterial, the directions of scientific efforts are determined by market economics, which ultimately values usefulness.

Governments are possibly best positioned to fund research most removed from practical application: it can be justified as a ‘public good’. In fact, even if the knowledge does not directly make money for the Government, the eventual technologies enabled do make money. The Government then takes a cut through the tax system. Governments therefore fund a lot of ‘pure’ research through universities, allowing universities to determine the research undertaken.

This view of science as an aspect of technology suggests that scientific work should be limited to that which will have positive technological benefits: harmful technologies or research dead-ends reduce the efficiency of science as a method of generating useful knowledge. Lewis Wolpert has a different view: that although the application of scientific knowledge can be ethically/morally questionable, but knowledge itself cannot be held to be unethical/immoral. “Scientists cannot easily predict the social and technological implications of research” therefore research must not be curtailed for ethical/moral reasons: this gains nothing but does limit possible usefulness. “Whatever new technology is introduced, it is not for scientists to make moral or ethical decisions about its use, as they have no special rights or skills in this regard.” (Nature 398, 1999, Is Science Dangerous?, subscription required)

In answering the question: Is science a worthwhile activity?, previous evaluations which relied on the truth of scientific knowledge would give a mixed opinion. Evaluations which base the worth of scientific knowledge on reliability and usefulness find science to be an emphatically useful activity.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Science and Technology Studies (STS)

Recently I've been revising for a university unit on science and technology studies (STS).
As a general rule, I've often found articles to be written in an overly opaque style. As an example, here's one from my lecturer (scroll down to the abstract by Gooding, you'll get the picture).
Why the obscure language?
I've also noticed that the titles all follow a particular style with a catchy/obscure headline, a colon, and a tagline- "Great Big Jugs: The Use of Amphora in Pre-Eruption Pompeii". STS scholars also like to unnecessarily use words from other European languages, my lecturer is fond of referring to science as scientia and art as ars (both from Latin).
Plenty of examples of this writing style are available (just refresh the page for another).
Why the pretension? Maybe they need to dress up their ideas with all this to obscure triviality. As an example, Ihde and Selinger coined the phrase 'epistemology engine' to refer to inventions which have inspired a lot more scientific thinking than was required for their invention. It is a cute phrase, but did it really require a 16-page explanation?
Many STS articles are critical of science and the idea that humans can obtain objective knowledge, but STS has produced no alternative. Do you really expect scientists to adopt your new paradigm?
What is the solution? The STS community is currently highly insular: it needs to broaden its appeal and get scientists on board. Scientists are often very interested in what STS has to say, but are put off by the pretentious writing and the perceived anti-science prejudice. It seems that your intended audience is one-another...surely as a critique of scientists, your intended audience should be scientists?! Scientists may also have a lot to contribute: "many eyes make all bugs shallow" (Linus Torvalds). Widen your possible audience and you might widen your influence!
P.S.: This isn't intended as a flame, but as constructive criticism!

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