The Power of Comparison

moon comparison 1In a wonderful article on deep cave exploration, Burkhard Bilger shows how powerful comparison can be in putting an unfamiliar topic into context. He is describing the arduous work involved in deep cave exploration. He is describing the risks of being far, far inside the cave when a heavy rain on the surface begins to flood the cave. There’s no quick way out, you see:

To climb straight back to the surface, without stopping to rig ropes and phone wire, would take them four days. It took three days to get back from the moon.

That last little detail, about coming back from the moon, is a beautiful piece of writing, and a wonderful way to remind people of how difficult it can sometimes be to travel in unexplored part of our own planet.
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How Bankers Use Other People’s Money

brandeisI came across an interesting quote in the New Yorker recently, reflecting on the US banking system. It reads:

The power and the growth of power of our financial oligarchs comes from wielding the savings and credit capital of others. The fetters which bind the people are forged from the people’s own gold.

Pretty timely thoughts, given what’s happened in the US recently, with a banking system that brought us to the edge of financial ruin, only to have us bail it out. But these words aren’t reflections on the modern American economy. They were penned by Louis Brandeis in 1914, in a book titled “Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It.”
History repeating itself?
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Provocative Words on Robots

Oscar WildeOscar Wilde is one of the most quotable people in history of the English language. He even had ideas about robots, many decades before people had any idea what robots could achieve. And in typical Wildean fashion, he provocatively tied it together with his attitudes on the advantages of slavery:

“Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.”

Or as a Steely Dan might put it: we’d be fools not to have robots do our dirty work, oh yeah!
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A Cool View of Music

leibnizLeibniz once described music as an “occult exercise in mathematics performed by a mind unconscious of the fact that it is counting.”
As someone currently working through some late Beethoven piano masterpieces, this description makes a lot of sense to me. Now if I can only find enough practice time to make my performances more unconscious!
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Winner of the Most Naïve Idea Award: Eric Schmidt, CEO Google

Eric SchmidtSchmidt once said:

“In the future, people will spend less time trying to get technology to work … because it will just be seamless. It will just be there. The Web will be everything, and it will also be nothing. It will be like electricity. … If we get this right, I believe we can fix all the world’s problems.”

Sadly, he is far from alone in this idea. So much brain power heading to Silicon Valley to “solve” the world’s problems through apps.
Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.
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On Education

pamela hieronymi“Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.”

 – Pamela Hieronymi, professor of philosophy at UCLA