Sunday, November 19, 2017

Does Social Media Endanger Knowledge?

If you believe this article, knowledge is endangered by social media:
Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’

It is a development that further proves the words of French philosopher Guy Debord, who wrote that, if pre-capitalism was about ‘being’, and capitalism about ‘having’, in late-capitalism what matters is only ‘appearing’—appearing rich, happy, thoughtful, cool and cosmopolitan. It’s hard to open Instagram without being struck by the accuracy of his diagnosis.
I believe all of this is essentially correct, but it is not knowledge that is endangered or threatened. Rather it is the role of knowledge in society. It is not that this threat is new, but rather that it has grown stronger. We will ignore it at our own peril, and, judging by recent developments, we will ignore it. And it will not be the first time.

Nabokov's Dream Diary on Index Cards

It's well know that Nabokov wrote many of his novels on index cards (see here). The Guardian reports that a 1964 dream diary of his will soon be published. It consists of 128 index cards like this:

Apparently, one of Nabokov's main purposes in recording his dreams was recording experiments in "backwards time flow," a rather questionable notion developed by John Dunne. His book An Experiment With Time presents the view that "the human mind has the ability to rove back and forth along the time-line so that precognition is a physical possibility."[1] Not surprisingly, Nabokov's dream diary fails to establish that possibility, but it does shed light on his own rather strange theories about time in the novel Ada, for instance.

I find his use of index cards more interesting than his musings about time.

1.The book can be had at Amazon. Before you buy it, you might also look here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

RedCircle in Gold

I wrote before of RedCircle pencils (aee here). I recently purchase RedCirle pensil in gold:

I do not know whether the innards of the pencil have changed from previous models or colors.

There is a very good review of redcircle pencils here. The main problem, as I see it, is this: "To keep the lead from falling out of the pencil when the button is clicked, there is just a random piece of rubber in the tip of the pencil. It is not glued or otherwise held in place, just resting in the tip of the pencil." I did not see any "discoloration due to oxidation (rusting)". The random piece of rubber presents a problem, if you take apart the pencil--I lost it.

I have been using the silver version without a problem for at least two years.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Didion on Her Notebooks, Again

In an interview with the Guardian, Joan Didion, says:
I have kept notebooks since I was a child. They are a fundamental part of my process. The next stage is to polish them, to retype them and see what’s there. If I’m very lucky, something is there. If I’m not very lucky, I do another draft of them. I still keep notebooks. I don’t have plans to publish others, but that may change.
I like the idea that you have to engage what is written in the notebooks to "see what's there", and that you should not give up if at first nothing seems to be there. The typewriter seems to play for her an essential role in this rewriting. I don't think this has to be the case for everyone--but what do I know?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ulysses, One More Time

David Hewson writes that the Ulysses subsription plan is a good idea. He also finds:
Some of the moans out there also remind me of a curious fact I noticed years ago. There are lots of people who want to write and expect others to pay for their writing. But when it comes to paying for the intellectual property they use themselves… well that’s different.
I cannot share this feeling. The moans are for the most part not by people who have not paid and who are not willing to pay but by those who have already paid and who would be willing to continue to pay for updates whenever they become available. I would certainly fall into that category.

Nor am I against subscription per se. I do subscribe to some services, journals, and newspapers. I might even be willing to pay a subscription fee for some software, but I resent the fact that when I bought a license for a certain program, I am forced at some point (without prior consultation) to switch from a straightforward license to the subscription model. It used to be my free decision whether to upgrade or not, now I would be forced to pay a monthly or yearly fee to use it. As I try to keep my monthly outgo to a minimum, I will not subscribe. My budget for software is limited. And whether or not spend more money on Ulysses has to be weighed against other needs.

Nor is the price of software of 20 years ago relevant to the consideration of whether Ulysses has enough value for me to justify the expense.

I also understand that some software is more important to others than it is to me, and that they might be willing to pay more on a regular basis. I am not one of those. Nor do I consider this change a "wonderful idea" for the user. A carpenter needs a hammer to conduct his business. That does not mean that s/he should pay a subscription for a hammer. (I do understand that you never really own a piece of software, but get a license that allows you to use it, but this does not change the fundamental fact that the move to a subscription model changes the cost structure and is far from "wonderful" for the user. I have written books, and I have made money from them, but I would not consider it fair if my readers were all at once forced to pay a subscription" for being able to continue to read them because there might be new editions in the future.

Software developers have, of course, the right to charge as much they want, or better: as much as the market will support. But I reserve the right to reject the subscription. You may call this a "subjective" reaction, but it is no more subjective than my (and anyone else's) decision to buy, say, a robotic vacuum cleaner.

That being said, I wish the developers of Ulysses all the luck in the world.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ulysses Has Lost its Way

As you can read on Daring Fireball (

Max Seelemann, development lead for [Ulysses]:

Before getting into details, though, you should know that this switch was neither a quick decision, nor did we take it easily. We have been talking about it for over 2 years now. We’ve had uncountable discussions, and the topic came up at least once every month — yet we always postponed a decision. The sheer complexity and far reach of this change were too intimidating. I am not exaggerating in saying that this was the hardest decision in our whole time as professional software developers. After all, we have a system which currently works — after 14 years we are still around, Ulysses is still “a thing”, it’s even going better than ever before, and there are no immediate signs which hint at a change coming soon.

So why bother at all then? Well, we need a good way forward before we run into trouble. We want to make sure the app will be around for years and years to come. We want to heavily invest in its development, and this requires the right setting for our team, our families and our users. Writers want to rely on a professional tool that is constantly evolving, and we want to keep delivering just that.

This is a really thoughtful article, and I fully support their decision. I think subscription pricing is an excellent option for truly professional apps like Ulysses, particularly ones that are cross platform (Mac and iOS).

There are, of course, several other places, including the Ulysses Blog, to find out about this "improvement." I chose the one from Daring Fireball because Gruber thoughtlessly, albeit "fully," supports their decision without telling us why "subscription pricing is an excellent option for truly professional apps like Ulysses, particularly ones that are cross platform (Mac and iOS)." I don't think any: "truly professional app" (whatever that may be) should be based on the subscription model. I'll supply a reason when I hear one from Gruber.

As to the claim that subscription guarantees that the subscription model "will be around for years and years," I have my doubts. Good luck, but I will not subscribe (just as I did not subscribe to TextExpander)!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thieves' Fondness for Philosophers

The Guardian reports: "At the London Review Bookshop, John Clegg reports a fondness for philosophers. “Our most-stolen authors, in order, are Baudrillard, Freud, Nietzsche, Graham Greene, Lacan, Camus, and whoever puts together the Wisden Almanack. The appetite for Greene (which seems to have died down a little now) was particularly surprising, but I suppose they identify with Pinkie,” said Clegg." I wouldn't have considered Greene a philosopher, but Baudrillard, Nietzsche, and Lacan surprising--especially as most of these thieves sell them again on "the internets" (and probably don't first read them).