Whales are Trees

Would you say this object — I present two views — is animal, vegetable or mineral?

Baleen 1 Baleen 2

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Is Jeff Bezos the New Jack Welch?

I don’t usually read the Harvard Business Review because it is inconvenient to read for free, and expensive to pay for, but I happened to dip into the latest issue and was really impressed with the Jeff Bezos interview. Every generation in business is defined by one or two CEOs who manifest and model the defining qualities of the age. With this interview, I think Bezos is in contention for the 2000s.

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Where is I?

I kicked off my writing on consciousness with a post on my overall framing of the problem. Now, by way of warm-up, let’s explore a problem that is confusing and interesting, but not completely mysterious, which I call the problem of indexical extent. The indexical problem is this: assume somebody explains consciousness satisfactorily, and even the existence of specific conscious points of view. Follow-up question: Why are particular conscious points of view associated with particular conscious beings? In particular, why is this particular conscious point of view associated with me? That’s still too hard, so let’s start with a simpler question: “Where is I?” This is the problem of indexical extent.

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The Dawn of the Century of Food

Everybody who gets up on a soapbox at some point needs to make a ritual declaration by finishing the sentence: “The twenty-first century will be about ________.” We’ve heard pronouncements from various gurus that the blank should be filled with 1) China, 2) Chindia, 3) BRIC nations 4) Global warming, 5) Terror, 6) Right-brained thinking, 7) Wisdom (the logic being “something that tops the age of information”) 8 ) Non-profits, 9) Multinationals 10) The aging global population. They are all wrong, and I know what I am talking about because my middle name is actually Guru. The twenty-first century will be about food. It will be a century of amazing progress. All aspects of humanity’s engagement of food: its culture, ethics, taste, healthfulness and philosophy, will get better. And it will all be in large part due to a revolution being ushered in by that much-maligned technology, television.

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Strategy, Tactics, Operations and Doctrine: A decision-language tutorial

Note: the ideas in this post have been significantly refined and turned into a book. The treatment here is somewhat obsolete as a result, but the spirit of my revised arguments remain the same.

Suppose a job candidate walks into your office and hands you a resume. It proclaims, “strategic, systems thinker.” You wince, and almost throw her out right there, but since other parts of her resume look promising, you decide to give her a chance and proceed with the interview. Now ask yourself, how would you actually probe if there is any substance behind the candidate’s claim to strategic abilities? Here is a very good answer: ask the candidate to tell a story. Not any old story, but a relevant one, like how she views the history of development of her field. Or how she views her own personal trajectory. If you can’t figure out why this is an excellent question, read on.

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Work-Life Balance: Juggling, Spinning or Surfing?

I have encountered three metaphors for what most people call the ‘work-life balance’ issue. These are: juggling, keeping multiple plates spinning on sticks, and surfing. Each has its strengths and flaws. All share in common the problems that arise from calling the whole thing a ‘balance’ problem in the first place, but the ‘balance’ point of view has some merits. Here is a straight-faced analysis. I conclude that ‘surfing’ is the best-of-breed within the whole ‘balance’ category or metaphors. Here is why.
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BBC Documentary Featuring Gregory Chaitin

For those of you following my series on digital physics (the first part, on the reality of the real line, and the second part on the relevance on cellular automata  have been posted), you will like this documentary on the nature of infinity by BBC. It features Gregory Chaitin, whose work I covered in the first part.

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Book-Reading Meme

Nandini tagged me to participate in a meme on books. Not exactly how I’d break down my reading tastes, but I suppose I have to be a sociable blogger. So here goes, the books in my life parsed through a dizzying array of angles:

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August-ish 2007 Roundup

Okay, so I am not clockwork regular in posting roundups, but at least it’s here. August and the first week of September saw a good deal of interesting activity on Ribbonfarm. Two minor milestones: first, I crossed 100 comments for a base of 27 articles, so that’s still nearly 4 comments per article, which makes me happy. Second, I got my first ever traffic spike from a social bookmarking site (StumbleUpon) — the piece on cartograms generated the spike (probably thanks to reader Kapsio posting a link to it at a popular data visualization site — thanks Kaps!). Anyway, here is a summary of the posts since the last update:

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Digital Philosophy II: Are Cellular Automata Important?

The assertion that the universe is a computer (or rather, a computation) might seem like an egregious category error — computers after all are things made from the ‘stuff’ of the universe. To take digital philosophy seriously we need to get past this non-trivial barrier to comprehension. The idea is that computation is not a metaphor for the universe, nor is the physical evolution of the universe analogous to computation. The idea is that the universe can be said to be a gigantic ongoing computation just as it can be said to be a bunch of particles interacting energetically via some laws. In the first part of this series, we looked at the prerequisite idea that the continuum (or real line) might not be so real. In the next part, we’ll get to the latest ideas, from quantum computing scientists like Seth Lloyd. But before we get there, we need to talk about Von Neumann, Stephen Wolfram and Cellular Automata, an approach to digital philosophy (and physics) that I think is wrong, but nevertheless very illuminating.

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