Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gleick: Chapters 7-9 and Epilogue

It is much to my amazement how Gleick constantly compares mathematical theories and ones and zero's to the human mind trying to draw parallel's to computers and the thinking mind.  His comparison's in the last chapters of the book that compare human genes to bytes from a computer are vastly provocative comparisons but also somewhat scary.  I tend to believe that Gleick sees computers like McLuhan as an extension of the human self but tends to lean towards finding similarities to mathematical equations to our brain's synapses and mind sets.  We strive continuously to create a computer that is similar in state to the human brain but what Gleick seems to follow along with as he compares theory from Wiener and Turing towards a machine that can almost take over thinking for us.  This, I believe must not happen and we must always be the leaders of machines making sure that some type of human intervention is regulating the machines that we create.  Turing's experiments with mice in a maze that finally guides them down the right path to find their way through the labyrinth's of complexities shows that he has faith in man to take on Godly duties in creating or teaching the same kinds of thought patterns to machines and animals that we have.  His comparison's to McLuhan's theories of technology being an extension of the human being are well taken but it is to this end that we may become the creators of a new Frankenstein monster known as technology that could outrun us if we don't work hard to control it to some end.  Michelangelo's Touch from God painting pictured above almost takes on a new meaning when we consider that one of the hands today might be our own reaching out to the second hand which is not us but technology creating a new code, a new being, a new ruling class that we create in the form of a communication and technological machine that could become a greater sum of what we are today.  When you read between the lines of Gleick, I would like to believe that he offers up some warning signs like McLuhan in keeping step with what we are entering into through the technological and communications revolution of this new millennium.  With all of these new innovations comes warning signs to make sure we do not let the technology rule us and that we keep it all under control.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chapter 7. Cryptographers of Information

Cryptography has always fascinated me ever since I read The Dancing Men in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's the Adventure of Sherlock Holmes. Above I attached the images from the original book. The criminal and our heroine communicated secretively with each through a system of symbolic language using the dancing men in substitute of alphabets. Holmes deciphered it in the same way Edgar Allan Poe explained cryptogram, which is quoted in page 217 in Gleick's book.
Now let's have a look at those messages. Sherlock Holmes realized, in the story, that the most frequent image appearing would be the letter E, and that the name of the heroine Elsie will be int he message somewhere. With that information, he managed to decipher the code.
Message one: Am here, Abe Slaney
Message two: At Elrig Es.
Reply: Never
Message three: Elsie, prepare to meet thy god

 As we can see, language became a medium of information and only those who understand the system: vocabulary, grammar, etc, can use it to convey information and messages. Without the understanding, language is just another cryptography. On the other hand, when we understand the system of the cryptography, it became another set of language with structure and regularity, and can be used as a medium of information...just like what Abe Slaney and Elsie Patrick did in the story of the Dancing Men.
Alan Turing's machine serves to decipher cryptograms, and is the founding father of computer science and artificial intelligence. Gleick illustrated, reiterated and demonstrated through the book about this subject, that is, to use another information system in order to ease up the conveying of the message in adaptation of the medium. The way we program our computers or robots is just like that: we put in the information so that the machine understand the "mechanic language", through the programed system, the output would be understandable to human. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Calculator Creation

After reading Chapter 4 in Gleick's book I couldn't help but keep thinking about how the calculator was created. He went into great detail to actually explain how Babbage went on to create mechanical devices that eventually turned into what we all use today, the digital calculator. As I was reading this chapter I realized how difficult it must have been to develop a project such as Babbage's Wheel-Work. They had nothing back then, now a days I can literally make a virtual calculator by using a step by step tutorial from YouTube. Though I'm not going to lie, living in today's world as a spoiled brat with technology is pretty awesome. I can't dream of a day I don't use a computer or electronic device anymore.

I attached a video that came to mind while I was reading this chapter. It's a short clip from Stan Lee's Superhumans show, that I think got canceled but I loved it. Here's the Human Calculator clip:


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Revolutionizing Technology!

So information turns out to be deep and have connections to other big ideas. Chapter 4 is about formulations that provide framework for coding information. “He made clear, though, that information-representations of number and process-would course through the machinery” (Gleick, 110), numbers served as a formal solution to the game of information. The correct calculations were needed in order for this country to burst with inventions and other scientific opportunities. The chapter delved into number tables which left me puzzled! But the message was clear that the science of calculation become more and more necessary as technology progresses in today’s society.

After Gleick moves through the mathematical phase of information technology he devotes the next chapter to “comparing cables to nerves; the nation, or the whole earth, to the human body” (Gleick, 126). The telegraph changed everything and was a new epidemic in communication. The telegraph brought the world together because it allowed people to connect from far distances. Even though it was new science it too had its problems. A couple drawbacks were that the two stations had to be linked both by sight and by sound; another problem was getting the clocks synchronized. However, the telegraph system set a new standard for speed communication, since the only real competition was a rider on horseback. The telegraph also had its own network which amazes me as well! Today, network holds a different definition and consists of connections between people rather than computers or systems. There was a scheme to encode the letters. Each letter required a number that had to be looked up. Back then they too used abbreviations and numbers for letters. As Nyssa mentioned in her post, it reminded me of text messaging and online chatting. History does indeed repeat itself! The telegraph was the blueprint for the telephone. Mathematicians went to work and solved equations that forever changed our world. After numbers and some more numbers the electrical speaking telephone first appeared in the 1870s. Even after many years, the telephone remains the ground breaking technology. It revolutionized how we communicate today!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fake Mitt Romney Supporter Pranks Fox News On Live TV!

I found this article so interesting because it amazes me how“desperate” Fox News was to air an interview about a young man who has “fallen out of love with Obama”. Max Rice who graduated high school in 2010 faked his way to primetime television! He told the producers he was a recent college graduate who now supports Mitt Romney. I guess the jokes on Fox News! LOL

TOMORROW is International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Arghh Mates!

Tomorrow, 9/19, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Krispy Kreme is getting in on the celebration by giving one FREE Original Krispy Kreme Glazed doughnut to everyone who talks like a pirate. But if you walk in fully dressed like a pirate you'll get a dozen donuts for FREE!

Gleick's Information

    Throughout my entire life, I’ve taken history courses and learned about epic wars and battles that led to them, but somehow through all the history I’ve learned, I never actually read a book about how the English language was born. I honestly wasn’t to intrigued about reading about the African Drums, mainly because it’s common knowledge that everyone needs a way to communicate. They use their drums to express meanings, we use words, others use pulses or dots, such as Morse Code, and etc. It’s all forms of communication, not really something to brag about. I don’t know how John F. Carrington dedicated his life to learning the African Culture and learned to play the drums to communicate, was English not good enough?
       The most intriguing topic I’ve read so far from Gleick’s Information, is the historical knowledge about the forming of the English language. He expressed how difficult it must have been to actually come up with something that had no meaning. As I was reading this book, I started wondering what makes what, what it really is. If that even makes sense. It’s like philosopher Gongson Long described in, “When a White Horse is Not a Horse.” The written word is defined as, a mechanism by which we know what we know. Words changed the way we live our lives by developing a form of communication that can be known universally. I never really thought about how people once argued or collaborated.
      Imagine going back in time and having to create the dictionary from scratch? Reading the third Chapter helped me realize how difficult that must have been. In a way the creation of the dictionary is the creation of all written art forms we watch, hear, and read today. I never thought about it before, but creating a dictionary is the most creative art form in the world. All art forms today are created based on the content written in a dictionary. Though I know if I ever attempted to make a dictionary I would definitely try to develop some of my own words and create meanings to them, such as Ralph Lever made up the word saywhat. Though I would try to make it stick, kind of like tebowing has now become a word.
     All my life I’ve wanted to create my own meaning to words like Wa-lage or Wulage (Wa - lahj or Whoo - lahj) meaning: accomplishing a precise goal with precision, as in accuracy or perfection according to your own intentions. For example, if I scored a goal in a hockey game in the top right corner over the goaltenders glove, I would say, “Walage Baby.” The word can follow almost any noun representing a person. I think it can catch on for all athletes around the world, but it can also be used for completing assignments you’ve worked very hard for. So Walage baby!

Kiefer Nunez

Electromagnetic Telephone by Antonio Meucci

I want to share this with all of you as I think it is related to the part we are focusing on this past two weeks. Antonio Meucci was an Italian-American inventor was was believed to be the first inventor of telephone even before Graham Bell. His version of telephone used electric wire, applied magnetic fields to transfer sounds through wire.
It's difficult to read on that screen but the content is informative and interesting.

Too Much Information

Where do I even start? I felt overwhelmed! Granted the book would be alot more effective and attention catching if it were broken down much more clearly. I found that the information was quite redundant. I provided a link below where Gleick gives a much better overview of the book. Especially for those us who found it difficult to understand and comprehend initially.  It helped and I was able to understand the book a little bit better.

Thankful To Be Apart Of The Spoiled Generation

Like Raquel, at times reading Gleick's Information definitely felt like trying to concentrate on a whole bunch of meaningless words. But, I would have to say that chapters 4-6 caught my attention more than the previous chapters. I'm definitely thankful to not have been around while all of this was going on. It's very enlightening to know how much hard work and dedication went into making communication easier and faster. We have all these gadgets and whether they be old or new, it's hard to really pay attention to the mechanics and mathematics that actually make them function properly. We just use them and could care less about the specifics (until it malfunctions). Gleick's in-depth description of the telegraph, telephone, computer and the people that dedicated their minds and time to the cause definitely make me thankful!

Also, the small details about the lives of Charles Babbage, Claude Chappe, and Claude Shannon, etc. that Gleick uses definitely makes the chapters more personal and interesting. Through external readings I found out that Charles Babbage's youngest son Henry was able to design six new engines based on plans his father created. Cool!

Lastly, I found the title 'a nervous system for the earth' very clever. At first glance, chapter 5 was definitely the one I wanted to read the most. In that chapter it was noted by Michael Faraday that, "Electricity is the poetry of science". I appreciate the play on words. I've never thought of electricity in that kind of way but when you think about it, it's pretty accurate. As fancy and interesting as the title and some components of the reading were, I still find the telegraph difficult to understand. It seemed useless. It's so hard to believe that at one point it was preferred over the telephone! In my opinion, the whole process is quite complicated and silly. But, in an attempt to learn more about the telegraph, I found this video of a lady demonstrating how to build one (for a science fair, etc.). She offers some interesting background information regarding the dangers that people faced when building telegraphs too.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thomas Edison Electricity Towards Ones and Zero's

There was a time when I read about the power of electricity so profoundly discovered and fine tuned at the Edison Laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey.  It was here that Edison was able to develop so many of the inventions that we use today that were carried out full tilt by Bell Laboratories and AT&T.  We are in their homeland.  Edison was known for showing off his invention of electricity in a most barbaric manner when he electrified and killed a large elephant down the shores of New Jersey close to Atlantic City.  It was a demonstration of enormity that showed off his invention of electricity to the astonishment of onlookers.  Gleick's chapter also discuss a demonstration of electric proportion as he mentions how Monks are aligned in a circle while electricity is passed through their bodies to again demonstrate the effectiveness of this new invention.

We have evolved, one would hope and consider, the fact that as we've learned about the evolution of the telegraph and telephone in Gleick's chapters, we are composed of basic ones and zero's numerology that consists at the core of basic math for both of these inventions.  Though I had trouble keeping up with all the arithmetic that is mentioned, I was fascinated on how these great number men were able to find computer basics through numerology.  We've evolved a great deal from electrocuting elephants and monks to a point where a memory chip can carry information to millions first from a telegraph line and then to a voice through the phone.  Both inventions play off of each other well and the telephone evolves from the earlier telegraph but somehow we must take this all back to the days of Edison and his use of electricity to understand what is now called BANDWIDTH, the basic carrier of information all composed out of 1's and 0's.  We are heading towards a more technological day when the telephone and now the internet might just bring us into a world of three dimensional images allowing us to expand our ability to communicate.  I'm not that good at the numbers but 1's and 0's have taken on a whole new dimension thanks to these pioneers of Bell Laboratories and AT&T...."Is that you Mr. Watson, I need you"

"The Journey of the History of Information and Communication" Chapters 1-3

Gleick takes us through an intellectual journey of the history of information and communication. He talks about a subject that we are all interested in. But with a topic so complex one must have an understanding of its background. From the drums in Africa to the telegraph, even the alphabet. He goes into much detail, maybe too much detail about the evolution of information of technology. I was very amazed from learning how much information drums conveyed. This messaging system was the best out there. It was much faster than the “fastest horses on good roads”. Later an idea of magnetic needles was considered to transmit information to far distances. But it was centuries later that people would actually communicate fast enough. The next big thing was the F.B. Morse code, where pulses were sent along the telegraph wire. But just like any other technology, the telegraph had its difficulties. Every word that was sent through the wire was assigned a number in which the person on the other end would look them up in a special dictionary. This limited how much information was sent and how often. Even though the Morse code was trial and error, many technologies today derived from it. Just like the drums, the Morse code morphed into innovative technologies that we use today.

It’s quite impressive how much of an impact the drums and the telegraph have made. These new mediums altered the way people communicated. After these inventions the world changed. It seemed that information flowed like water. Of course, it wasn’t expected that these mediums would reach the heights it did. The drums and telegraph were so effective it served as new means of communication and actually substituted for spoken language.

Yes, language existed long before writing but it wasn’t until it was NECESSARY to count ones property or land, that the writing system was developed.  Writing is a timeless technology. It has the power to record and retain information for the generations yet to come. “But the new channel does more than extend the previous channel” (Gleick, p 32). Rather than extends, written history expands the knowledge of the current culture. Back then it was paper trails that people left behind. Now, people have traces of text messages, e-mails and blogs as my classmate previously mentioned. Written text has become a thing in the past, unfortunately. Your traditional love letters or note passing in class is extinct. Now it’s the famous staring down at your crotch in class movement. Today’s generation is obsessed with their smart technology. Writing had reshaped the human consciousness but now cyber texting reshaped it yet again. The channels of communication are becoming narrow and constrained by these new technologies.  Our dependence on these platforms of information brings not only new power but new fears as Gleick went on to explain in chapters 1-3.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The not so dull "Information" a decent read so far

"The information" is oozing information (pun intended). after reading the first few chapters I felt like I was just reading words and it was hard for me to really get into. Soon after that I started paying more attention to what I was actually reading and I became very interested. This book is loaded People I had no prior knowledge about who shaped america and the world really tremendously. 

I wanted to know more about Shannon who is known as the father of the "information age" so I began to do a little research on him. I found one YouTube video which was pretty interesting to watch so I wanted to share.

Gleick, Drum Beats, Persistence of a Word

I must say that I am third in-line to agree with the comments from my fellow classmates that Gleick takes too long to get to his point.  Nonetheless, the information provided in the first three chapters is very interesting.  It is of no surprise that the Europeans would never give the Africans their due credit.  As expressed in the book, the Africans were described as "primitive" and "animistic" however they had something that more advanced cultures did not yet have.  A means to communicate.
This is of no surprise as we still see this to date.  Most countries whom consider themselves developed would never want a sub-developed country to have one extra thing.

It was also very interesting to see how the beat of the drums was compared to the way numbers and letters are used by airline pilots and air traffic controllers.  This was a great learning experience for me as being a veteran, I had to use the phonetic alphabet many times without ever really asking why it was done that way.  I know see why the drum beats travel so much further and really accomplished their task of relaying a message.

The second chapter has some very interesting lessons for the new generations who would also like to leave their mark.  As the chapter states, The persistence of a word, is something that we don't think about because we are not into writing books.  Technology has distanced us from leaving a mark like our ancestors did, however by writing in Blogs, sending emails or even posting on walls, we too are leaving a mark that someday may be looked at as history by someone centuries to come.

Rabbit Equation and Poetic Science

I firmly believe that information technology, the currently central nervous system of communication combine poetry and science, just like how it was first brought into the awareness of early visionaries such as Charles Babbage. Considered the father of modern computer, he was once seen as insane and impractical, yet who knew back then that his analytical engine will one day become the most practical element in human society?
What I learned from Chapter four set my mind afloat because I now can understand the poetic character of maths and why the mathematician can think of such renovation, and why Ada Byron understand his concept perfectly.
The story of Ada Lovelace and Babbage reminded me of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, which I think was inspired by the events and biographical truths in Ada's and Charles' life. The story of Arcadia involves a "mad scientist" in an age where people are still only thinking about the significance of landscape, an age where Lord Byron was an international celebrity with his scandalous affairs with different aristocratic ladies and expeditions in Europe; a young prodigy who marvels her tutors with her seemingly strange and innovative mathematical discoveries: Thomasina Coverly, a young girl who scribbles algorithms on her drawing papers using the data she was given, finding the "rabbit equation" as she was playing with the numbers. Of course when she's thinking about such an equation, the significance of it never occurred to her . However, in the play we also was shown the 21st century, where Valentine Coverly, Thomasina's descendant uses the same equations Thomasina playfully discovered, in the most delicate analysis in biology. Thomasina, like Ada, fell for her tutor and died a young age.
Now of course now you can say, finally, the discovery made centuries ago was found USEFUL.
No wonder Charles Babbage said he'd give all he's left of time to live if only just 3 days, five centuries in the future.
Those who were considered insane once, were merely just thinking about what's practical in the future. Their ideas were linked to the needs of people, sometimes 10 centuries forward of the era they were living in. I found similarities between the style of thinking between mathematician, scientist like Babbage and poets like Byron.are similar, for both of them find beauty in the abstract, and both of them use data (for one they're numbers, for the other they're words) to make sense of something grandiose. From details of the world, they find something inconceivable to most of people.
It was mentioned in the text that Babbage had a variety of obsession and extensive knowledge over a variety of subjects. I can understand that all of those things contributed to his innovation and his way of thinking: collaborating what he know to create something completely new.
Today, all the subjects, volumes of information are at our fingertips with the accessibility of Internet. Something essential never changes, as today we still use what we have at hands to create something that is useful to the next generation, although the interval of generations might get shorter. When Facebook was first created, it was merely a plaything, but then we discover it's stand in human society and his power in upgrading people's communication to a completely new level: all of the interactive advertisement and marketing analysis came from a simple networking engine
The creator of Facebook might not even have thought of it.
which leads us to the other essential elements in information, science and communication: we borrow others' knowledge and inventions, develop them and adapt them to the present.
I believe that's what information is all about.
The main theme and recurring topic, I believe, is the idea of expressing a piece of information using another set of language, whether it's with words or numbers. The cryptography functions that way too, as discussed in chapter 6. I remember reading in an article that during cold war, spies use an ancient language lost to most of the civilization to communicate so that they won't be deciphered.  I believe that information is never NOT able to be deciphered, but sometimes we just can't find the algorithm that links two pieces of messages together. Telegraph links the alphabets to dots and dashes, coding machines, alphabets to's just like the switch between binary and decimal system of numbers. I believe that modern communication, as pointed out in this part of the textbook, is explained clearly by mathematics: using a certain "algorithm" to translate information so that they can travel through wires across the universe. Simple as that.
That is quite poetic and dazzling to me.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Thoughts and Reflections on James Gleick’s, The Information: A History, A Theory, a Flood. Chapters 4-6

     Chapter 4 starts off being about numbers.  Most of this goes right over my head, as numbers and I are not friends.  I think I see the authors point.  Numbers have become like words, conveying information.  A number in a table could tell you the weight of a thing just as if someone had written in out in a sentence.  A table made it faster to find the information than reading through a paragraph to find the relevant sentence.  I will admit that I skimmed most of this chapter and even skipped a few parts. The mathematics were over my head, and I felt like I was missing the point of all this mathematical history.  

     Chapter 5 was better, no more numbers. The history of the telegraph is interesting. I especially liked when he explained how the word “network” started.  I never realized that it dated back that far.  Of course, it didn’t mean quite the same thing as today, since they were referring to how the wires above their heads resembled a net.  It is interesting to think that a word that was born from visual appearance now refers to the invisible connection of devices.  A network is no longer something you can physically see but one can conjure up a mental image of, say, a computer network.

     I also found it very interesting that in order to use the telegraph more efficiently people were encouraged to shorten their sentences, and even abbreviate words.  This is just like what has been happening with text messages and instant messaging.  Back then, laugh out loud would also have been lol!  They were also encouraged to substitute numbers for letters which reminds me of leet speak which I brought up in my previous post.

     Then chapter 6 goes back to math and now paradoxes, and my head explodes. Luckily, that was not what the whole chapter was about; the next part was about the telephone.  My roommate also started to clean our apartment, so I didn’t have to clean up my own exploded head. That was nice. 

     I found it interesting when the author said that the telegraph dealt in numbers and facts, and the telephone dealt in emotions.  Our cellphones today deal in both. How many times have you taken a text message out of context because you don’t know the emotion behind the sender? I myself have done it quite often. Sometimes I will read a tone of voice in a message that the sender did not intend. Perhaps I was just transferring my own feelings and emotions onto that message.  When I use my phone to make a call instead of text, then I can actually hear what emotion is being conveyed without having to guess.  We now have both options in one small device, which is pretty impressive.

     There was more math and physics and scientific/mathematical theory after the interesting bits about the telephone. I could really do without those parts, but I’m sure there are other readers who enjoy it more than I. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Drum Talking, Powerless Words, & New Information

I found the first three chapters of Gleick's 'The Information' very interesting and informative. Nyssa mentioned in class that he took quite a while to get his point across. I tried my hardest to read with as little bias as possible, but in the end I would have to agree. However, I do understand that the depth of his content is to give the reader a clear understanding of the history of communication and words. So I guess more information is better than less.

Like I stated in class, I'm Cameroonian and I was totally unaware of this practice. In the first chapter a Cameroonian pilot sort of introduced the concept of 'drums that talk'. I was born in America, but I asked my mom and she says she is not aware of this custom at all either. From my reading and understanding, the drums are not a signal, they actually translate into phrases. My mother said, "When you hear a certain drum you may know that a chief is in town but it doesn't translate into an actual phrase." You definitely learn something new everyday!

In chapter 2, I was very intrigued about the emphasis on Chinese writing. I had no clue that a symbol in Chinese writing stood for multiple words and/or phrases that collectively made up another word. It's kind of weird but I feel like this might be why China is so advanced. English and many other languages don't need to be deciphered and/or broken down. It kind of is what it is! Chinese on the other hand is somewhat different and I find that cool. I couldn't  imagine learning it though, it seems really difficult.

Overall, I enjoyed the information that I got from the first three chapters. It's so wonderful to see how our vocabulary comes from nothing...basically. As people, we give power to words and then everybody just goes along with the flow and the words become permanent. Sometimes, it's hard to understand because we weren't even around when the first set of words were created. But, as a reference, I think of the term 'bling-bling' and how it was created only a few years ago by Lil Wayne, simply because he felt like this term was necessary to describe his extravagant jewelry and style. Now it's in dictionaries all over the world.

Good read.

Monday, September 3, 2012

My Thoughts and Reflections on James Gleick’s, The Information: A History, A Theory, a Flood. Prologue, and Chapters 1-3.

*Note: All quotes are taken from the book referenced in the title. I am using a digital copy of the book so the page numbers may differ slightly based on the device the reader is using to view the book.

     The prologue was rather interesting. I never realized how much New Jersey has been a part of history. It was where the transistor was named, and Morristown was where it was decided how often each letter of the alphabet is used. That was discussed in Chapter 1, when informing the reader of how Morse code came about. I thought it very clever of Morse and his protégé, Vail, to go to a newspaper and count how many they had of each letter. Even more impressive is that came within 15% of optimal arrangement of their code.

     I also found it interesting when the author wrote about AT&T and how their research team was allowed to branch off and work on anything they found interesting. It didn’t have to immediately tie back to the company. Wouldn’t it be nice if companies today were still like that? It seems in today’s age, society is all about instant gratification and what can turn a profit. I would love to see what kind of inventions and technologies could come out of research when scientists are allowed to take detours again.

     The prologue also brought up that money is information, and that all its forms are “just short-lived technologies for tokenizing information about who owns what” (p. 150*). When I started to switch over to internet banking many years ago I had started to wonder about that lifespan of our dollar myself. Now that money is being thought of more as information, and with the popularization of online banking, could we someday see coins and bills disappear? More technology would need to be developed, and there are inherent problems with the idea. Hackers are always a threat when it comes to information on the internet. Also, the treasury department would still need to control how much monetary bits are being released out so that the value doesn't drop. It does make you wonder if someday the country will no longer rely on metal coins and printed bills.

     Besides NJ being mentioned a second time in Chapter 1, I was also struck by the African drums. For most of the chapter I did not understand them. I was having a hard time trying to understand why they conveyed long strings a poetry and descriptive words and phrases. Finally, the author explained about how the African languages are very tonal and how one word can have many different meanings based on how the word is spoken. Then when you consider all the different types of drums and materialist would be difficult to express tone on the drums. So, the long descriptions make sense, because the people need to clarify which word they are referring to. I wish they author could have explained this a little earlier in the chapter, so that I didn’t have to wait so long to have my ah-ha moment.

     Part of chapter 2 just left me confused and annoyed, and only because of one small part. It aggravated me so much that I had to share it with my roommate. It confused her too. The author included three excerpts from a Chinese philosopher about a white horse not being a horse. Here are the three parts,

Can it be that a white horse is not a horse? It can. How? "Horse" is that by means of which one names the shape. "White" is that by means of which one names the color. What names the color is not what names the shape. Hence, I say that a white horse is not a horse. (p. 705)
You think that horses that are colored are not horses. In the world, it is not the case that there are horses with no color. Can it be that there are no horses in the world? (p. 705)
Horses certainly have color. Hence, there are white horses. If it were the case that horses had no color, there would simply be horses, and then how could one select a white horse? A white horse is a horse and white. A horse and a white horse are different. Hence, I say that a white horse is not a horse. (p. 732)
     This drove me crazy. I couldn’t figure this out for the life of me, and then all Gleick ended up saying is that people have been debating it for millennia. Well thank you. I had to take a break before continuing with the reading because my mind kept going back to this riddle. I finally looked it up on my own and discovered two things. First, this is not the whole translation; it is random parts of it. Second, he doesn’t separate out the two voices, the advocate and objector, or Master Kung-sun and the disputant. It is a lot easier to understand if you find the whole riddle, with the parts clearly defined. I still can’t tell you exactly what it means, but I am less frustrated now.

     Between the horse riddle and then all the information on math, all these terrible memories of high school physics came to mind. My physics teacher loved awful philosophical questions like, how do you know your house is really there if you aren’t there to see it? Maybe it disappears when you are not there? Then combine that with confusing word problems where you need to determine what equation to use and then solve it; I was having awful flashbacks. I will say that it was neat to learn some more about the history of writing. I did enjoy anthropology in high school.

     I loved that chapter three answered a question for me that I had been wondering about for a long time. I had noticed that in older English, words were often spelled in different ways. Not just different from how we spell them today, but different during that time period. I also love that the answer was so simple! There were no clearly defined rules for spelling. Each literate person just spelled the word however he felt was correct. It is amazing how our minds can find the right word as long as the context is there. I have seen a few examples of this float about on Facebook. Like the one where the words are jumbled or just the first and last letters are correct. Maybe spelling isn’t as important as we once thought?

     I just asked my roommate if they still teach spelling in public school. She said that they do until up until the end of fifth grade. At the start of sixth grade it is assumed, hopefully, that the student has a strong enough base in the English language that he or she can figure out how to spell a word, or will use the dictionary. She also mentioned, she has found that while the students are learning to spell word, they aren’t really learning how to use them. Using them once in a sentence really isn’t helping them add the word to their vocabulary. Now add in the truncated language of new media through emails, texting, and leet speak. (Here is a website to try your hand at 1337 speak: ).

     What started as internet slang, such as LOL and OMG, have become more and more common in verbal conversations. LOL, OMG, and <3 have even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary! (

     I suppose where I am going with this is, perhaps spelling doesn’t have the same importance as it once did? Are we entering a new stage in our language development, where instead of becoming more complex, we are starting to simplify our conversational speech? It will be interesting to watch what happens to our speech and spelling as our technology continues to develop.

     Overall, the prologue and first three chapters had some very interesting points, though tended to be a bit tedious. We will see what the next set of chapters has in store for us…

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Never-ending Drum Beats

        Attached is an example of how people of Yoruba talks with drums.  
        The Kele talking people of Zaire (today Congo) used their two tone system to encode the message they want to deliver from one to another, this primal and ancient method might seem outdated, yet even today, we still use them although through far fancier devices. From those drumbeats vaguely heard deep through the jungle, or from the other side of the hills, to the dim sparkles of candle lights, or a torch from a beacon, to the humming of a telegram machine, to today's 1s and 0s in our computer system. The beauty of the universe lies in the simplest construct: switch on, and off, and on, and off. What draws my attention is how the drum sounds use context to specify the message. This remind me of the Chinese language, in which different characters can have the same pronunciation, sometimes even the same tones. It was the context of the sentences, and the neighbouring characters that specify the meaning of each words. Similar situation can be found in interpretative dancing, where, for example, you might raise four fingers to indicate a "4" where you need to put an conjunction word like "for".
        After Claude Shannon introduced "bit" to our vocabulary of information, modern society moved quickly into an age where communication can be quantified. We are never seeing the world with same eyes, as we now can say: we understand how information transfigures through different receptors and processing devices. It's interesting how we can break down the basic element that makes up a message in order to communicate. A computer encoding the message it receives, break it into two digits, with which the operators can create endless variation of programs. Similarly, neuron-transmitters in our brains break down the visual/auditory/sensual information we receive so we "see", "hear", "feel", and "remember".  
        The concern of information explosion was raised up in the chapters, as the information expanded our imaginary universe to a scale beyond imagination, yet apply the basic solution to it like we did with everything else throughout the history, I'm hopeful that the solution might just well be within our arms' reach.
        Think about before written language was invented, we store our information using those elaborated "drumbeats". The method of loci, which most people like to call "memory palace" might be the most figurative and tangible example to demonstrate how we make connection between information. We add information so construct a message so it's easier to make connections between each of the pivotal pieces. It was mentioned in the chapter that Homer's epic poems were carried our orally, and all the extra "fluff" were added in aid of story tellers to memorize the facts. Expand the same notion to any other fields of human society or science, we can see how the communication of information follows the same basics through different devices. 
        Those connections are the never-ending "drum beats" we humans have been using to label, identify and retrieve each piece of information. In the age of new media, we just need to search for a corresponding media to build up that memory palace again.