"The function of words, then is to be sensible marks of ideas." ~ John Locke

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Sensible Marks of Ideas

Monday, 14th Apr. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

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Sunday, 13th Apr. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

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Saturday, 12th Apr. 2014


8.37 pm - Your Mom

Can we please stop using "your mom" in tech discourse, as in "This is an app your mom can use" or "Linux won't make the desktop until your mom can use it"? Do you really think being female and old enough to have children who read tech forums makes you incompetent? Whenever I hear "your mom", I think first of my mom (well, mum, because I'm British), who is 85 and has been using computers since about 1985. She's no geek, but she can usually work out how to use a new piece of software. Then I think of my colleague Reyyan, who is also someone's mom, and in fact someone's grandma. She's also head of the Computer Education department, an active member of WIC, an expert on information ethics and a pretty competent programmer. So presumably, when you say "your mom", I guess you mean yo mamma.

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12.00 pm - My tweets

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Friday, 11th Apr. 2014


9.52 pm - When Prevention Isn't Better Than Cure

We are told that prevention is better than cure, and in fact that an ounce of the former is worth a pound of the latter. It seems obvious, and almost impossible to argue against, which is one reason why I feel compelled to do so. The other reason came to me when I was helping administer an exam, but more of that later; first I want to take a more obvious example: burglary.

It is true that with crime in general, prevention is laudable. If you can prevent people from becoming criminals in the first place, then so much the better, but this logic does not apply all the way down the line. Let's assume we have failed in our noble goal of diverting young minds from the path of crime, and that we have the usual number of felons engaged in their employment. Is the best thing always to try to prevent them from pursuing their felonious little plans? It makes sense to lock your doors when you leave the house, cancel the papers when you go on holiday (do people still have papers delivered?) and all the small, unobtrusive crime prevention techniques. Is it, though, always a good idea to put a big burglar alarm on your house? Some say yes, it deters burglars; others say no, it advertises the fact that you have something worth stealing. Gated communities say it even more clearly; you might as well put up a sign saying "Lots of loot here!" Plus there's the fact that the more crime prevention measures you display (barbed wire, security cameras, Neighbourhood Watch signs) the more scared of crime you look, which all encourages the idea that there is a lot of crime about, and therefore crime pays, because criminals are not the kind of people to engage in tiring, unprofitable activity. Conspicuous prevention not only proclaims that there is something to prevent, but also implies that this something is worth doing.

Coming back to exams, it strikes me that conspicuous measures to prevent cheating often encourage it, whereas punishing the cheaters may well discourage their peers. What ID checks on the door, impounding of mobile devices and the like do is say loud and clear "You really should be trying to cheat here." This is particularly true in places where there is already a culture of cheating; every security measure is a move in a game where the students try to cheat and the school tries to prevent them. An honour system at least has the advantage that we can react with outrage if a student is caught cheating; elaborate security measure imply that we expect them to cheat. Better to expel a few cheaters and terrorise the others; cure is better than prevention here; in fact cure, forcibly executed, is prevention.

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12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Thu, 21:06: RT @garwboy: And lo, Jesus could have fed the masses with 5 loaves and 2 fishes, but didn't as they'd only become lazy and dependant on him…

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Monday, 7th Apr. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

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Saturday, 5th Apr. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Fri, 18:51: RT @tomscott: The Internet of Things: never mind your phone, now your whole house can be obsolete after a couple of years!

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Friday, 4th Apr. 2014


10.35 am -

I have all these ideas for clever Malcolm Gladwell / Alain de Botton-type articles and no time to write them, but here's an idea (pasted from Evernote) of what may be coming up when I get this batch of grading done ...

  • Leo Allatius
  • types of desire (experience/achieve/be)
  • types of violence
  • when prevention is worse than cure
  • fantasmophere
  • first kiss and viral marketing

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Wednesday, 2nd Apr. 2014


5.43 pm -

Happy birthday, miss_next!

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12.00 pm - My tweets

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Tuesday, 1st Apr. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Mon, 14:22: I notice people are using the term "Generation Z" seriously now. Grr, arrgh, braaaiinzzz!
  • Mon, 17:13: RT @Jared_Wade: DON'T START A TWEET THAT WAY. RT @NBCNews: Just In: Air Force fires nine nuclear missile commanders over two-year cheating …
  • Mon, 18:40: RT @samuelpepys: To Mrs. Turner’s, where I could not woo The. to give me a lesson upon the harpsicon and was angry at it.

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Monday, 31st Mar. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

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Wednesday, 26th Mar. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Tue, 12:20: Watching Cirque du Soleil, I feel sad that 52 is probably too old to run away and join the circus.

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Monday, 24th Mar. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

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Sunday, 23rd Mar. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Sat, 18:45: RT @SaddestTiger: everyday we breathe in countless dead cells. the lifeless particles of people we love and total strangers. inside us. hm?…
  • Sat, 18:46: RT @rodneyorpheus: Scientists to Americans: This climate change thing really is a big deal | Grist http://t.co/7imBAJnCn2
  • Sat, 18:50: Ancient Greeks and Romans didn't put space between words. It's like everything was a big Unix file name.
  • Sun, 09:14: Spring has officially arrived, what with the equinox and the weird bugs on the balcony.
  • Sun, 10:23: "Knowledge isn't power. Power is power."

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Saturday, 22nd Mar. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

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Friday, 21st Mar. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

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Sunday, 16th Mar. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Sat, 12:56: Toothpicks make great tapers for lighting candles etc.
  • Sat, 12:57: The reason there are so few games for Macs is that the computer itself is a toy. Of course that's not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Sat, 20:27: RT @N_everwhere: Wolverine'e sıcak bakıyorum. Ama Batman de olabilir gibi. http://t.co/iUXrBIhpbp
  • Sun, 00:22: Come, tie his body to my horse's tail; Along the field I will the Troyan trail.

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Thursday, 13th Mar. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Wed, 23:08: Men can get women directly by becoming attractive to women, or indirectly, by rising in the male hierarchy. These are often incompatible.

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