The only way to read these days …

(By way of “what have you been up to?”, or “have a blog, say something!”)

I just finished two fairly large reading projects, and I’m quite happy I stuck with it and finished it. A decade ago, I used to read in short, intense bursts (days on end of doing nothing else), and when this became no longer possible (less time!), I stopped reading, more or less, until about two or three years ago when I slowly began reading bits and pieces again. What I figured out was this: there’s only one long-term sustainable way to keep reading, and that’s the “slow and steady” way.

So now, I read on average two or three pages a day. Sometimes five or six. But never beyond ten. Always at least one. And I think this works for most books.

The first of the two isn’t a book but a series of online articles — more accurately, a series of usenet posts, all written by Erik Naggum over a ten-year period from 1994-2004. The entire list is here. Now you either don’t know about this guy at all, or if you do you probably have a negative preconception, just as I did, based on (say) his Wikipedia page, or some highly opinionated (and IMHO, ignorant) posts like this one; but I’m not the only one to advocate a more open-minded reading of his posts, c.f. Stanislav here, so you may be interested too.

The second is a series of books. I first came across Eric Hobsbawm in a very negative context (a youtube clip of him quixotically refusing to reconsider his prior stance, decades ago, on communism) — and I expected his writing to be similarly polemical. Imagine my surprise, then, when it was not (what really confuses me, then, is this contrast between the historian self and the public interview self). Instead, the series “The Age of Revolution (1789-1848)”, “The Age of Capital (1848-1875)”, “The Age of Empire (1875-1914)” and “The Age of Extremes (1914-1991)” is the best grand overview of everything that I’ve come across. The last one, if you’re curious, is actually logically three books (“Catastrophe”, “The Golden Years”, “Landslide”) which explains its semi-frustrating length. I wonder what he would make of the post 9/11 era, though he wasn’t very optimistic about the end of the Landslide.

A giant CS/Lisp rant

Read the whole piece here, here’s a flavor:

Why are we not out there to offer a real database system with Common Lisp datatypes instead of the tragic mess that SQL imposes on us in the C-based APIs out there (not to mention that XML calamity)? Why are we not out there building the next planning system for interstate highway updates?

Why are we not building publication solutions that would allow a reversal of the most hostile of all hostile intellectual activities undertaken by mankind in the past 40,000 years – the flooding of innocent people with senseless loads of marketing crap – and building the foundation for pull advertising?

Where the hell did the intelligent agents go, anyway? Where is the grammar- and synonym-sensitive search engine that finds matches for articles with words you did not think of? Where is the dumbing-down service that can take a precisely formulated and primarily correct technical or scientific article and turn it into a meaningful piece of information for the 1000-word-vocabularians? Where is the research on machine representation of contextgoing? Never mind the expert system that learns, I simply want an interface to an encyclopedia or specialized information database that expects me to remember what I read in some other article not all that long ago, so I do not need the full-blown version aimed at the relatively ignorant.

Where is the artificial intelligence that can actually take care of some of the things the human brain sucks at, like precision in its otherwise amazing memory? Where is the active suggestor, as opposed to the passive computer of what-if-scenarios? I want to let the network of company computers run what-if-I-had-thought-of-that-experiments and other Searches for Terrestial Intelligence instead of wasting computrons on SETI. What if people were not so goddamn scared of machine intelligence higher than their own that they would keep computers as stupid as can be? Where are the people working on the future?

Where are the futurists that do the interesting stuff that will hit us all around the next bend? I mean, to hell with some practical extraction and reporting language, I want real progress, and I want it before I go mad with rage over the wastes of human ingenuity, such as it is, that goes into writing yet another spyware “app” for Windows so yet another retard can send his obnoxious, insulting advertising to people who explicitly do not want that kind of information? For that matter, where is the spam filter that does the job of the intelligent, conscientious receptionist I can no longer afford because of the supposed labor-saving office automation that makes an ordinary business letter cost 20 times what it did in 1965 (adjusted for all important economic indicators)?

While I am at it – where is the real savings of the computer revolution? Who took all my money and gave me advertising for life insurance and Viagra?