News from July 2000

(These are entries from my blog from 2000 and early 2001. They were originally hosted on a small server at Macquarie University. Most of the links are dead now, but I have kept them as they are here, for nostalgia’s sake.)

Monday, July 31, 2000

4:31 PM ~ The PJ Harvey & Björk rendition of Satisfaction is the most menacing piece of music I've heard for a while. (Why is it that this is the only version of the song which doesn't sound infantile?)
8:54 AM ~ It's rare to find ethics in real estate, but that site seems to have a reasonably comprehensive account of the ethical concerns raised in real estate.

Saturday, July 29, 2000

10:30 PM ~ By the way, my student numbers have grown to 518.
10:29 PM ~ My bank has decided that it wants to provide me with a portal. Why? Why do that with the brand?

Friday, July 28, 2000

5:18 PM ~ The Flying Inkpot has a great Classical Music Review section. (Link found at the delightfully eclectic Apathy.)
10:15 AM ~ Phil's email reminded me too of the Background Briefing program on University quality in Australia. The transcript of that saddening program is now available. There's some provocative stuff in the Higher Ed site at the The Australian. It's a pity that the terrible design of the site makes it well-nigh impossible to link to.

Higher education policy will probably play at least a small part in the upcoming federal election. It ought to, as the higher education sector is in terrible crisis, with pay rises being awarded, unfunded from the Commonwealth. Salaries have gone up roughly 12% in the last 5 years or so, while funding to the universities has remained static. Student numbers have gone through the roof, but staff numbers have shrunk. Hence, class sizes rise, staff-student ratios drop, and everyone's unhappy. A structural crunch is coming.

9:57 AM ~ Some links from me to you via Phil Agre. Phil Agre always posts good stuff on his RRE mailing list.

Thursday, July 27, 2000

3:24 PM ~ This begs a parody.
3:04 PM ~ Well, as of this afternoon, the numbers are 502, so the traditional "after the first lecture where people get to see what's in store" drop-off hasn't happened yet.

The lecture last night was a blast for me. It was good to get back into the saddle and attempt to entertain and educate a large group. Apparently, at least a few enjoyed themselves: I got this email from a student:

Great lecture Greg.........considering I only have to come in for the PHIL lecture on a Thursday...I figured I'd just stay at home...but your acerbic wit will no doubt be tempting enough for me to get into my 20 year old Sigma and drive to uni...heh heh heh keep it up.
Talk about pressure.
1:32 PM ~ Ian Hinckfuss: The Moral Society -- Its Structure and Effects, is now online. Hinck taught me moral philosophy, logic, metaphysics, and many other things besides, while I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Queensland. He was one of the kindest, gentlest and warmest human beings I've had the pleasure to know, and his death was a devastating loss to all of us who were in his orbit. I can still remember his infectious laugh, his outrage at injustice (though, of course, he wouldn't put it that way!) and his sharp intellect. I can only hope that I have half the effect on others that he has had on me, and on the rest of the Australian philosophical community.

So, in his memory, read his passionate, reasoned and sustained defence of amoralism.

11:18 AM ~ So that's what the handwriting recognition guys from the Newton project have been doing with their free time. As far as I can tell, handwriting recognition only catches on with devices in which a keyboard is unavailable. I can't see this catching on as a useful input method for desktop or laptop devices where a keyboard is right there. Now, for a slate, tablet or palmtop it would make sense. Let's see what they have in store for us. (It was touching to see the font Casual, and the little caret insertion point back in action too.)
10:32 AM ~ Here's more thoughtful analysis from Joel on Software: Does Issuing Passports Make Microsoft a Country? I'm not a Microsoft Passport user, and I'm mighty glad that I'm not, after reading this article. You should read this article too, if you browse the web. It's got a very good explanation of how cookies work.

One thing I like about how Mac OS 9 works is the keychain. I keep a local copy of all of my account passwords on my computer, protected with a master password. I can allow my network programs access to the keychain, and I need to know one password to unlock the master keychain. This is great for my personal accounts on other machines, and to get into ftp directories (such as on this university webserver at Macqurie.) However, the web browsers don't use Keychain, so I still need to remember my passwords for all of these web services, like Blogger, Amazon, my web courseware and so on. (Better yet will be when I can access my local machine anywhere on the network, so I don't have to keep two local copies on my two regularly-used machines.) So we're not there yet. Still, this technique of password management seems much better than the kind of centralised repository in the clutches of an organisation who can sell my data.

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

11:35 AM ~ [Concorde in Flames]This shot of the concorde in flames reminds me of the Arthur Boyd painting of Nebuchadnezzar in flames falling/flying over a waterfall.
11:34 AM ~ Dinner last night with Calvin, Debbie, George (their son), their friends David and Christine, and Koji was fantastic. The restaurant was described as a "cheap and cheerful" Italian place. Well, it wasn't too expensive (especially for Bondi), it certainly was cheerful, but the description cannot do justice to the astonishingly good lemon sole. The best fish I've eaten in years.

Less delightful was the sight of the beach volleyball stadium, which takes up altogether too much of the beach.

10:52 AM ~ Apparently, they can rise to 487. After tonight's lecture, we'll see the numbers start to drop.

Tuesday, July 25, 2000

6:02 PM ~ [Mango]More Bruce: From Lord of the Starfields
Lord of the starfields / Ancient of Days / Universe Maker / here's a song in your praise.

Wings of the storm cloud / beginning and end / you make my heart leap / like a banner in the wind.

O Love that fires the sun / keep me burning.

Lord of the starfields / sower of life, / heaven and earth are / full of your light.

Voice of the nova / smile of the dew / all of our yearning / only comes home to you.

O Love that fires the sun / keep me burning.

Worship and the erotic are never far apart, of course, and Bruce's song Mango is his best recent example of the art.
4:32 PM ~ My student numbers are up to 476! How high can they go?
10:57 AM ~ I'm back in the groove at work. Lots of students, lots of energy. I've even got time to do just a little research for a project that's been at the back of my head for a few years. (If anyone has any experience in anaphora, epsilon terms and modal or intensional logic, please contact me. It's esoteric, but that's one of the costs of being a logician.)

These are exciting times. As a result, posts here will be thinner on the ground than before I got back to teaching.

Monday, July 24, 2000

5:49 PM ~ Someone make it stop. I've got 464 students now. Where are they coming from?

Seriously, this is both a good and a bad thing. I like that I have lots of students wanting to learn logic. That's nice. I think every university student ought to do some logic. However, large classes (mine will stabilise down to around 400, I think) are difficult to teach. Yes, there's the delight of the theatricality of having 400 students laughing at your jokes, and obviously wanting to learn. (No, I don't have a starry-eyed view of the university students of our era. I am exceedingly lucky, however, to have students who do my subjects because they want to. Intro Logic is not a required unit for any degree in this university. People are doing this unit because it's fun, and because they've heard about it from friends.)

All that is one thing, however. Teaching 400 has its pains and trials. It's hard to give the 20% of students who really need hands-on attention the attention they deserve. It's hard to give the 20% who thrive on being stretched to do new things the attention they deserve. Attention can only spread so far.

Still, this large enrolment pays for my job. I should be grateful. I am.

10:06 AM ~ I'm a busy boy today. It's the first week of Semester 2, and I have lots of class preparation to do. A cursory check of my 134 enrolments for this year shows that they are at a staggering 429. Hmm. Must get more books printed.

Sunday, July 23, 2000

3:28 PM ~ More from John Perry: his Advice to Undergraduates and Other Lost Souls. My take-home piece of advice?
"My advice to students is to be born in 1943, and get your Ph.D. by 1968," Perry told his listeners. "Because everybody got nice offers in 1968, but by 1969 the bottom dropped out of the job market and it's been out ever since."
Too true.
3:00 PM ~ Via JC: A nice essay on Richard Rorty for Christians.

Saturday, July 22, 2000

4:52 PM ~ Paul Kelly. You need to hear this man.

How many cabs in New York City, how many angels on a pin?
How many notes in a saxophone, how many tears in a bottle of gin?
How many times did you call my name, knock at the door but you couldn't get in?
I know I've been careless
I've been wrapped up in a shell nothing could get through to me
Acted like I didn't know I had friends or family
I saw worry in their eyes, it didn't look like fear to me
I know I've been careless (I took bad care of this)

There's much more at the Paul Kelly site.

Friday, July 21, 2000

1:03 PM ~ Just one link in the break between administrative meetings: Tau Neutrino Detected. This is great news. It's confirmation of the symmetry in the standard model, or so the physicists suppose. (Go read some Bas van Fraassen on why you'd expect scientific laws to expose such symmetries.)
8:38 AM ~ [Triangle Puzzle!]No weblogging today. It's time to crank up the teaching preparation for next week and I have tutors' meetings and other administration to look after today. To keep your brain ticking over, do take a look at this puzzle. (Thanks to isomorphisms for the pointer. She's right. It's a lot simpler to see and describe the phenomenon when the triangles are placed on a grid.)

Now I'm off the computer, enjoying a coffee, Erasmus' company, and an hour of thesis marking before I catch my lift to work.

Thursday, July 20, 2000

9:51 PM ~ I paid a visit to the dentist this morning. It brought back bad memories of my early teens, with four extractions (badly done) and painful braces getting my teeth in order. My family weren't well off, and I went to the government funded dental hospital in Brisbane. The dentists there seemed extraordinarily brutal, and I have avoided dentists ever since. Well, the visit to the dentist today was good. I needed major work on a tooth, which did involve some pain, but nothing like my traumatic memories of past dental encounters. This time, good sense, yoga practice (breathing is your friend!), curiosity about the kind of pain you feel when that nerve is stimulated, and knowledge that I was not going to die from it, all added up into a much less difficult experience.
10:08 AM ~ [hello!]From a link to the Making the Macintosh archive, with lots of information about the introduction of the Macintosh. It's an amazing history.
8:41 AM ~ And people thought the original macintosh looked like a toaster. This is a toaster. Complete with DVD or CD-ROM popping out vertically, like the toasters you know and love.

Matched with this, it would save lots of room on my desk, even compared with the iMac which is currently there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2000

4:22 PM ~ There are lots of nice things to find at David Pinkerton's Arvo Pärt Information Archive.
10:07 AM ~ It looks like Microsoft is having a really bad run with security issues. Outlook for Windows and Office for Windows look really dodgy. The articles linked are nowhere specific enough for anyone to know how badly they're affected, of course. (Better details can be found here.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2000

10:14 PM ~ I've just added comment facilities to this page. You can add comments or read the comments already added. Be the first!

Thanks to Philip Greenspun for these neat services!

I can code things so there's a box you type in on this page itself. Would you prefer that?

1:27 PM ~ Just got out of a 2.5 hour meeting, the highlight of which is news that the apocalypse will be held in 2002. This is the first year we will turn our undergraduate timetabling over to a massive constraint satisfaction problem solver. I look forward to the outcry from staff and students to the timetabling of their lectures at 5pm on Friday. That's of course conditional upon the changes actually occurring. Given the minimal predictive value of any institutional statement of the form "x will happen in a year's time" I have no doubt that it won't happen as stated. It will, no doubt, be much worse.

(The link isn't meant to slander John Slaney or his delightful program FINDER. It's a link to my favourite constraint satisfaction engine.)

11:00 AM ~ I have a guilty confession: I like P.D.Q. Bach. (His Prelude to "Einstein on the Fritz" (S=emt2) is agonisingly prescient of developments in 20th Century Music.
9:19 AM ~ Hmmm. Microsoft wants our software to do Bayesian reasoning to schedule our meetings and to know when it's worthwhile to interrupt me? Now, I get a moderate amount of email (upward of 50 messages a day?) but I prefer being in control of this myself. Simple rule based filters are a good thing. A computer running a hacked up calculus on its messages is going to be a Bad Thing if it means I have to do lots of work to figure out where that important message went, or why I have a meeting scheduled for 10am tomorrow. No, I have to learn to trust complex agents, and I don't think software agents will garner that trust for quite some time.

(Well there's one bright part of this story: It's people at Microsoft Research doing this, not Microsoft proper, so it's not going to be implemented Any Time Soon.)

Monday, July 17, 2000

6:19 PM ~ RIP: Sir Mark Oliphant
6:11 PM ~ Our philosophy department should seek sponsorship by Routledge, the academic publisher. Look at the books we've written for them! Of course, we don't ignore other publishers. John Sutton has published Philosophy and Memory Traces with CUP in 1998, and Catriona Mackenzie has published Relational Autonomy with OUP in 1999.

That's a lot of publishing.

10:47 AM ~ Oh dear. More confusion about the nature of time. Julian Barbour's stuff is interesting, when it comes to showing that our uninformed conception of time and its passing is confused and in conflict with the findings of modern science. But to say that as a result, time doesn't exist? I suppose it gets you more headlines than saying "not everything we thought about time is correct." This kind of naïve popularisation gives theoretical physics a bad name.

Saturday, July 15, 2000

6:49 PM ~ Tonight, dinner at the Kulture Kafe, farewelling Ross Poole from our Department. It will be a happy/sad occassion. We'll miss Ross terribly as a department (who will throw the good parties in the department now?), and I'll miss him as an individual (he has excellent knowledge of our institution, and how to be a decent human being inside an institution like a modern university). He's taught me more than he realises, and I'll miss him more than I know. Still, our loss is New York's gain, and now, I'll have another port of call in another Big City.
6:38 PM ~ More strange referer log finds: My page comes up first in a Google search for crimes committed in the casino at australia. Not that I have anything to say about the matter at all.

Of course, having used the phrase "crimes committed in the casino at australia" twice on the one page makes it even more likely that people searching for that topic will find me. Oh well.

2:38 PM ~ Squash with Brian this morning. Good squash, good conversation. That's how a day should be. Except, of course, for the toothache.

Friday, July 14, 2000

7:32 PM ~ This is a reasonably convincing debunking of the Darwin Awards Rocket-strapped-to-car story. It's a pity. I collapse with laughter every time I try to retell that story.
9:17 AM ~ [Truth Decay]The amazon debacle of a few weeks ago has ended well. My order shipped against my wishes -- the galling thing was that the two CDs I had on one click ordering were shipped separately desipite both being in stock at the time of order. I had selected them with one-click ordering, then the shop closed for an hour, and after I got back on I tried to cancel my order. They couldn't be cancelled. I sent off an irate email, and I got a suprisingly nice reply. Yes, they agreed, they'd stuffed up. One CD was already on its way, but they'd try to stop the other before it left US shores. For the CD on its way, they'd airmail a return pack to me, and ask me to return the CD when I got it, then they'd credit my card. (Which, needless to say, had already been debited for both CDs.) Now, knowing my own capacity for self-control, I knew I wouldn't resist when faced with a small cardboard box between me and a Keith Jarrett CD which was, legally, mine. So, I wasn't happy with this solution. No, I said: my main problem was the shipping charges. Why not charge me for only one shipment? (That gets the total charge just a tad under the AUS$30 per CD we pay in shops.) I then get both CDs without having to ship one back and then order it again, hoping that they don't stuff it up a second time. It suprised me when they said yes that would do nicely, and they cancelled both shipping charges. I'm enjoying the T-Bone Burnett now.

[Keith Jarrett Paris Concert]The moral of the story seems to be this: it was obvious that I was dealing with a human being throughout the email discussion. It was the same person who read and replied to both my emails, and she was flexible enough, and empowered enough, to evaluate and act on my requests. In doing this, Amazon at least begins to approximate a real live store with real live people I can have real live conversations with.

Imagine what would happen if you were browsing in a physical shop, with a few selections in a basket, and the shop suddenly announced that it was closed and they were immediately charging you for what you had on hand? What possible responses could you make? To whom? If you know you're dealing with a person who has some degree of understanding of the situation, then you're much more likely to get a reasonable outcome. If you deal with the corporation as a whole, you never know that your whole story has been listened to. Your pleas get sucked into a void, and it's not clear that anyone has the whole picture. I know which kind of corporation I prefer dealing with.

Unfortunately, I have no assurance that the economic conditions encourage this kind of personal attention from individuals inside corporations. I do know that the dynamic of increased staff-student ratios inside universities make it increasingly harder for me to treat my students individually. I don't see that this pressure is going to abate in either my academic environment, or the corporate world.

9:01 AM ~ I seem to be punky. Thanks Graham.

Thursday, July 13, 2000

10:59 AM ~ This is a computer. Seriously stylish industrial design.
10:11 AM ~ Keeping the Newton flame alive: the Newton FAQ.

Wednesday, July 12, 2000

7:21 PM ~ [Only Since You Came Home: Exploding Dog]I have a Nice New Printer. Simple, postscript, inexpensive and quick. I like it. I like Erasmus playing with the cardboard box even more.
11:33 AM ~ Sometimes a gouging can be exquisite. Gory, but exquisite. Double gory if the gougee is a colleague.

Mitchell has more to do to make his line on hooliganism at all convincing or even defensible. He should be flattered that he's got the attention. Now he'd better do something creative with it.

Thanks to Graham @ Virulent Memes for the link.

10:53 AM ~ Hmmm. Something tells me that this is not the future of powered flight.
10:20 AM ~ There's sign that we can expect a Wallace and Gromit movie sometime in the next few years. (If you have a broadband connection to the net, do visit the first seven minutes of Chicken Run, and count the distinct prisoner of war movie tropes.)
10:15 AM ~ This is more than anyone needs to know about Tom Baker's scarves.
12:57 AM ~ I wrote this recently. I like it. I hope you do too.

Tuesday, July 11, 2000

8:41 AM ~ Reminder to self: Return to the Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography for a probable upcoming project. (Thanks to Dru @ misnomer for the link.)
8:24 AM ~ Last night I popped a 128MB memory card in my computer. Now it works like it's meant to.

Monday, July 10, 2000

4:27 PM ~ Well there you go: Ridley Scott thinks that Deckard is a replicant. Now the BBC are reporting this as meaning that Deckard is a replicant, but I don't see that this follows.

A director can say whatever he/she likes about significance of a film. It doesn't follow that this is what the film means. If Scott makes the film ambiguous, so that it can be legitimately interpreted in a couple of ways (as Blade Runner manifestly can), then not even his own say-so renders one of those interpretations as the only appropriate one. If he wanted us to take Deckard to be a replicant, he should have made the film say so. I like the fact that the film is ambiguous.

[Disclaimer: I note that I might be taken to be a relativist there's-no-absolute-truth philosopher here because I'm denying the primacy of authorial intent in interpretation. But that would also be inappropriate to deduce. I'm saying this out of respect for what the film says (and for what it doesn't say), not because I think that everything can be legitimately interpreted in every-which-way.]

12:58 PM ~ This is just too spooky.
9:01 AM ~ Did I mention that last Monday night's apology from John Howard was extremely moving?
8:19 AM ~ [Bruce Cockburn in Action]Today's lyric:
Don't the hours grow shorter as the days go by
you never get to stop and open your eyes
one day you're waiting for the sky to fall
the next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all
when you're lovers in a dangerous time
lovers in a dangerous time

These fragile bodies of touch and taste
this vibrant skin -- this hair like lace
spirits open to the thrust of grace
never a breath you can afford to waste
when you're lovers in a dangerous time
lovers in a dangerous time

When you're lovers in a dangerous time
sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime --
but nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight --
got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
when you're lovers in a dangerous time
lovers in a dangerous time
and we're lovers in a dangerous time
lovers in a dangerous time

Bruce Cockburn, Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Toronto September 1983.

(Actually, it was last night's song, which struck me again when driving at 8:30pm last night. The joys of rediscovery, facilitated by those rarely listened-to cassettes in the car.)

Saturday, July 08, 2000

4:12 PM ~ I'm back in Sydney. And completely conferenced out. And not going to write anything more here until I'm unpacked, and I have some of my life (and my email, which piles up) sorted out. You'll hear from me tomorrow. Or Monday, maybe.

Wednesday, July 05, 2000

6:56 PM ~ Whoo! My book is popular in Argentina, at least according to
8:34 AM ~ More genomics. This time, from the journal Nature.

Tuesday, July 04, 2000

8:22 AM ~ Yesterday's word: anodyne.
8:18 AM ~ Rushing, rushing, rushing. There's lots happening. Almost none of which involves me sitting in front of my computer. This is a good thing as a change. The first conference was great, and the second is going well too. I always relax after giving my own talk, and given that this was scheduled on Monday morning, the rest of my time should be relaxing and enjoyable. (Except for missing Christine, who I just took to the airport so she could fly back to Sydney.)


I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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