Archive: May 26, 2003

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Ceci n'est pas Mimi

Monday,  05/26/03  10:40 AM

Ceci n'est pas Mimi

Ceci n'est pas une pipe
Ceci n'est pas Magritte

The Human Condition
The Human Condition
(click for larger view)

I saw an interesting post on Marc Cantor's site: a picture of his daughter Mimi, next to a computer which has a picture of a computer, which has a picture of Mimi.  Marc asks "Which Reality is Real?"

Of course this is a trick - the answer is "none of the above"!  The outermost reality is just a web page with a photograph.  In fact, as you're viewing this right now you have - a web page with a photograph of his web page with a photograph!  Which reality is real, indeed?

This type of confusion of levels was the specialty of René Magritte, one of my very favorite artists.  His most famous work is a simple painting of a pipe, with the caption "ceci n'est pas une pipe" which means "this is not a pipe".  At one level you are tempted to say "wait a minute, that is a pipe!", but then you realize "oh, it isn't a pipe, it is a painting of a pipe!".  Of course this is neither a pipe nor a painting, this is a web page with a photograph of a painting of a pipe.

Lest you think Magritte was only into "thought art", you should check out some of his other work; it is visually amazing as well as thought-provoking.  You can Google for other examples of his work on the 'net. 

My personal favorite is "The Human Condition", shown below at right.  Magritte insisted that this piece be displayed unframed, giving the illusion of a "real" window with a painting on an easel in front of it.  The image on the painting appears to be identical to the view through the window, but is it?  After staring at this for a bit, you may feel "aha, I get it; Magritte is saying we are like a canvas, and the 'real' world is painted onto it by our senses."  Then you realize, "hey, this work of art is painting itself onto my brain."  Still later you realize "this work of art has a message, and its message is being painted onto my brain."  Cool.

This same confusion of levels is at the core of the Matrix movies - a reality which is a simulation within an outer reality.  At the end of the Matrix Reloaded we understand suddenly that the outer reality is also a simulation (!) nested inside a reality another level out.  I wouldn't be surprised if the conclusion in the Matrix Revolutions is that all reality is a series of nested realities, with no "outermost" level.

I urge all of you to take a screenshot of this page, and post it on your website.  Then you'll have a page with a photograph of a page with a photograph of a page with a photograph...  For even more fun, view it through a mirror.  Which Reality is Real, indeed!


Monday,  05/26/03  05:30 PM

Memorial Day, 2003.  Today we honor all those who gave their lives defending America and in the pursuit of freedom and liberty everywhere.  Particularly poignant this year, with the recent actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I am personally am very grateful and proud of all the men and women in our armed forces, and especially those who've given their lives for our lifestyle.  Thank you all.

CNN: Canada, Taiwan wrestle with SARS.  I haven't been reporting SARS news - I guess I don't feel I add much to what's already out there - but this continues to be a worry.  The only real weapon we appear to have in this battle is quarantine; I was encouraged by the apparent progress in Beijing (still, with China you just don't know the real story), but Toronto and Taipei continue to report new cases daily.  The global death toll now stands at a little over 700.

I dislike SUVs.  I think they're ugly.  I do understand I'm in the minority on this (check out any nearby mall parking lot), and if you own an SUV rest assured this isn't personal; I would staunchly defend your right to purchase an ugly vehicle.  Okay, got that out of the way.

Although I'm not an SUV fan, I do think Arianna Huffington's Detroit Project is ridiculous ("drive an SUV, fund a terrorist").  Tim Blair points to a great column by Csaba Csere in Car and Driver which skewers the logic behind this in ten different ways.

Razib has posted a nice review of Matt Ridley's new book Nature via Nurture.  Overall he had a lukewarm reaction, perhaps because Matt tends to objectively review issues rather than injecting his own opinions.  Sounds like a nice read, I'll have to check it out.

Jeremy Zawodny says PageRank is Dead.  "PageRank stopped working really well when people began to understand how PageRank worked."  Hmmm...  The Heisenberg-ness of this is appealing, but I don't think many people have changed their linking behavior to optimize for Google.  Sure, you read about Google bombs but they're isolated incidents.  Now that Google is making serious money with their text advertising there may be pressure for them to do things differently, but they seem to be maintaining their integrity.  Recently there was a flurry of discussion about Google and blogs (I joined it myself).  The bottom line was that Google was concerned that blogs might be disproportionately weighted in their search rankings and they might take corrective action.  This wasn't to punish blogs, it was to optimized search results.  Part of the problem is that "authoritative" sources like newspapers often hide their archives behind a paywall, and/or don't link through their archives, so they are effectively under-weighting themselves.  A while back I suggested a mechanism for weighting links explicitly; this didn't seem to attract much interest (!).  However Google continues to weight links implicitly by their source, which is self-correcting.  I guess I disagree with Jeremy; there are challenges posed by Google's success (they are no longer merely an observer, they are a major influence), but the fundamental technique of using links to categorize web pages is still valid.

I've been waiting to see if Dave Winer replies to Evan Williams' comments on the blogger API.  He noted that he had to read it carefully, but so far he's withheld comment.  This matters because Evan and Dave are the authors of the two weblog APIs (blogger and metaWeblog).  It sure would be nice if there was only one, and/or if they were compatible.  Particularly if you were, say, building a facility to post email messages to blogs :)


Echo the Gecko

Monday,  05/26/03  09:24 PM

Echo the Gecko
(click for larger pic)

We have a new member of our household, please welcome "Echo"!  She is a baby Leopard Gecko and we think she is pretty darn cute.  Seems like a friendly little thing, too...

Right now she is banded - almost like a snake - but when she's older she'll have spots like a leopard.

Unfortunately geckos eat live crickets - four per day - so when you take on a gecko as a pet, you are also taking on a bunch of crickets and they are not cute.  Also they are not silent.  Amazingly both Alex (9) and Megan (6) grabbed a cricket and fed Echo.  Our cat Reggie is interested in both Echo and the crickets, so we have our hands full keeping nature at bay.  Stay tuned.


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