EDIT: I decided to add some explanation of what this is, since it’s pretty confusing without context. Albert Camus is a philosopher whom I really admire, and all the text below is quoted from his masterwork The Myth of Sisyphus, which outlines the philosophy of Absurdism. I highlighted these passages because I thought they were particularly relevant to the entrepreneurial experience. Then I realized the feelings that I read in these passages were very similar to the feelings I found expressed in the drawings of FAKEGRIMLOCK, and he helpfully licenses them freely, provided attribution, so I found an image to illustrate each passage. However, FAKEGRIMLOCK insisted there were TOO MANY WORDS (and he was right), so I pared down each passage to its essential line, and this is the result.
«The absurd man sees nothing in rules but justifications and he has nothing to justify.»
«In that daily effort in which intelligence and passion mingle and delight each other, the absurd man discovers a discipline that will make up the greatest of his strengths.»
«I must sacrifice everything to these certainties and I must see them squarely to be able to maintain them. Above all, I must adapt my behavior to them and pursue them in all their consequences.»
Text excerpted from The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
Images by FAKEGRIMLOCK, CC-BY 2.0
@vyrpan proposes a new acronym: Very Short Reply Expected (VSRE). This is a good temporary solution to one of the major shortcomings of email, which is that the social norms associated with the medium are no longer in line with the human structure of the communications network. From the rise of Rome to about 2005, it was a pretty solid assumption that people whose attention was highly sought after would have assistants who managed their incoming correspondence, for the following reasons. Such people travel frequently and have tight schedules, because people are willing to pay high prices for their time, and even the subset of such people who they are interested in dealing with still exceeds the amount of time they are physically and logistically able to give. They have little time remaining when they are colocated with their mailbox, and if they tried to find and respond to all the important messages during just that amount of time, they would be bound to miss some, and build up an unmanageable backlog.
Email changed this dynamic slightly, but it was still a rare opportunity to find an Internet connection and have time to log into one’s mailbox. Cell phones changed it slightly again, but voicemails must be listened to sequentially, and filtering audio is dramatically slower than filtering visually. It wasn’t until BlackBerry brought the two together that things began to change significantly. Suddenly every dull moment - every second in a queue, every minute in a taxi, every break for coffee - became an opportunity to catch up on correspondence. Gradually, the level of celebrity where a full-time assistant becomes an economic necessity has risen from something like “regional sales rep,” “city parks manager,” or “well-known among string theorists” to something like “director of sales,” “deputy mayor,” or “well-known among physicists in general.” But something essential is lost when the minor celebrity gives up an assistant for a smartphone: the assistant can compose polite, well formatted replies, while the smartphone cannot. The end result is that even if the new arrangement makes minor celebrities more rapidly aware of their incoming correspondence, it will often take them as long or longer to write back.
The new proposed standard would let people who would prefer the core content of an answer today rather than politeness and good formatting next Tuesday to make that trade-off voluntarily. By including “VSRE” in the subject line, senders indicate that it is perfectly acceptable for the recipient to dash off an SMS-like reply consisting of one to five (and possibly misspelled) words. This should increase communications efficiency and decrease latency substantially - not just for those corresponding with minor celebrities, but for anyone who wishes to be especially sensitive of their recipient’s time constraints.
According to a Smithsonian blog, the oldest surviving aerial photo was taken in 1860 from a hot-air balloon over Boston. In 1863, it was described as “on the whole a remarkable success; but its greatest interest is in showing what we may hope to see accomplished in the same direction.”
click to enlarge
Using Google Earth and GIMP, I have attempted to visualize what it would look like if you took the same photograph in modern-day Boston.
Update: To easily compare the past and present images, click here.
The Old South Church at left center, easily the most noticeable building in the 1860 image, survives unchanged but is buried amongst larger buildings on all sides. Long Wharf in the top left is now much shorter, and almost completely hidden, though still identifiable. Trinity Church is entirely missing (lost to the Great Fire of 1872). Milk Street and Washington Street are no longer visible in the gaps between buildings, but their existence can still be inferred.
In the formalism of computer science, functions or abstract machines operate on inputs to produce outputs. Said even more explicitly, a computation can be broken down into a sequence of three steps:
- Get all the inputs ready.
- Think hard.
- Produce the outputs.
To make this concrete, Babbage’s difference engine does something like this:
- Set up the difference equation and initial conditions.
- Turn the crankshaft a lot.
- Push out the results tablet and transfer to a printing press for publication.
As another example, a chess-playing computer might perform the following steps:
- Ask the opponent to make all his moves.
- Do logic to them.
- Decide my moves.
Wait, that one doesn’t work so well: the opponent probably won’t tell me his moves until I’ve told him mine.
Chess is a sufficiently formalized interaction that there’s a simple workaround for this: since the entire state of the game is represented on the board, each move can be computed independently, like so:
- Look at the board.
- Analyze the possible moves.
- Make one move.
This is a little bit like hiring a grandmaster to play each move of your game, but wiping his short-term memory Paycheck-style before the next move. If he’s good enough, he’ll still be able to look at the board and play skillfully despite this handicap, but it’s a bit awkward.
For interactions that can’t be made independent, our grandmaster can make like Ben Affleck’s character and leave himself clues as to what he was thinking before the memory wipe. (This strategy is the one taken by almost every Web application.)
- Look at the clues I left last time, and the new information I’ve been given.
- Piece together what to do next.
- Leave some clues about what I’m thinking, do the next action, and prepare to be mind-wiped.
In theory, all interactive problems can be solved with this kind of hack, but it’s an ill-fitting abstraction. Anyone who’s ever learned to write the second-simplest computer program (the one right after “Hello, World”) knows that programs are perfectly capable of performing input after output. It’s also a fundamental feature of human interaction with the world: we’re continuously receiving feedback from our actions, and using that feedback to guide future actions. We should recognize that the Turing machine formalism and the resulting class of computable functions fails to capture the true nature of interactivity, whether human-machine or machine-machine.