Archive for January, 2011

Tonight I wish the people of Egypt peace…  Salaam, Egypt.

Throughout time, moments come when the voices of caution face the forces of change.  We are now watching history!

This week, the glowing ember of freedom is sparking into fire in the chests of the Egyptian people.  Tomorrow will see the million person march.  History will be on display and we (the people of the world) will be watching it.

This week, the first tentative steps to a new Egypt have been taken.  Small steps.  Important steps.  The people are stirring.  Their voices are rising.  “Hope and justice.”

There has been violence.  There will be more…  Salaam, Egypt.  The future is peace.  Move firmly towards the future and strive to do it peacefully.  The world is watching you.  Allah is watching you.

Poland, South Africa, the Philippines, East Germany… 

Peace works!  The transition will not be easy.  True liberty and self-determination are both messy, but hard work will bring you both if you seek them with peaceful determination.  Salaam, Egypt.

I wish I could promise you the United States government will support you in your immediate efforts.  I can not.  Here the voices of caution and half measures can never acknowledge the fierce urgency of now which beats in your hearts.  To do so would mean we have to acknowledge the hearts and hopes of others like you who are not quite ready to take the steps you are now taking.  Take heart, the people of America wish you freedom and hope and justice even if our government cannot openly side with you (at the moment). 

Salaam, Egypt.  Eschew violence.   Salaam, Egypt.  We are watching and we are praying for you…

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Learning occurs at the fringes of what you already know; so that you learn some new things similar to what you know already.  If what you are trying to learn is not too far away from what you already know, you can learn.  The bigger that fringe is —  the more you know — the more likely it is, the more possible it is, to discover new things.

—  Douglas B. Lenat

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I believe that all the non-quantitative things probably carry over almost completely from one culture to the other.
   —  Donald E. Knuth
From his book: “Things  A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About
[Which explains why all cultures have their own bogey-men!  —  KMAB]

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I believe there is a great value to prayer, but I don’t know why.

—  Donald E. Knuth
Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About

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Today’s book review is a “funny” book.  This is a book about a series of seminars which were held to discuss an earlier book the author wrote.  The book I just completed is titled: “Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About“, (2001©) and the original book was titled: “3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated” (1990©), both written by Donald E. Knuth. Basically, a world famous computer scientist (Knuth) wanted to “know” something about the bible.  Having grown up as a Lutheran, he felt he had a general understanding of the Bible, but he felt he wanted a “depth” of knowledge as well.  As a computer scientist, Knuth felt one way to accurately get the measure of anything is to do a random sampling of the thing, and provided you used a large enough sampling, you could gain a “probable” understanding of thing being studied.  He therefore chose to study Chapter 3, verse 16 of each book in the Bible.
Knuth found he had to study the verses immediately before and after the target verse to actually determine the meaning of the verse.  He also discovered a number of other things which he found personally interesting.  For example, in examining the works of others who discussed the various verses, he found there was general (and specific) disagreement as to what was actually being said.  He therefore went back and personally translated the verses from Greek and Latin.  Knuth then rewrote the verses as he understood them and approached a friend (a world expert in calligraphy), who in turn approached a number of other world experts in calligraphy and asked if they would each take a verse and “interpret”.
The series of verses became a an integral part of the book and later a world traveled exhibition which is currently (permanently housed) held at the San Francisco Public Library.  (And which I hope to make a visit to see.)
To make a longer story shorter, the book (and exhibit) produced a wide amount of interest which led to the series of lectures, which in turn led to the book I’ve recently completed reading.  For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, just prior to my trip to Baltimore, I selected twelve books to take with me to read.  “Things…” was one of these twelve.  Before anyone gets the idea this was “planned”, the taking books was indeed planned, this book was not.  I found the book at my local Half Price Books store in the storefront $2 racks.  Complete serendipity!!
So much for background, how did I like the book?  I enjoyed it tremendously!  What are the things a computer scientist rarely talks about?  His religion, his faith and his God.  The lectures were interesting and faintly humorous.  The author’s brilliance (depth and breadth) are obvious and his humility is engaging.  Knuth’s reasons for belief are straight forward: Faith gives me comfort and I choose to have / keep it.  He seems to be perfectly willing to straddle both worlds: science and faith; and, more importantly, he seems quite willing to let others enjoy whatever faith (or lack of faith) they may have.
If there is a weakness in his book, it is his occasional lapses into trying to explain a facet of God by comparing it to a known (or unknown) in science.  For example, his comparison of infinity (God) and human ability to comprehend (or more accurately not comprehend) very large values like Super K – which he describes as 10 to the 10th power, to the 10th power.  Because this value is greater than the projected number of atoms in the universe, the “value” of the number is purely symbolic.  It exists as an imaginary number (symbol) which we can describe, but which is still not the end of numbers, even though it would be impossible to even write the value down as anything except a symbol.  The bottom line is we can never understand God, we can only choose to believe or not.  Knuth chooses to believe.
I probably found 50-plus great ideas or things worth quoting in this book, so you’ll have to bear with me for a while as I post them periodically.  I will be scheduling them, so you won’t be hit with them all in one go, but you may find getting them over the course of the next month just as annoying.  Once again, highly recommended reading!

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The knowledge principle says the performance depends on the knowledge base, not the logic.  So if the knowledge is out of date, or if you do not routinely update the knowledge, the performance of the system decays over time.

—  Edward A. Feigenbaum

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Biologists believe that simple mathematical theories are usually wrong, because biological systems are multicausal, poorly partitionable — basically, messy.  Biological systems do have a beauty, but it is one of complexity and richness, rather than the simple reductionist elegance of physics.

—  W. Daniel Hillis

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