In San Diego

I’m in San Diego for a conference. An impending post will address your eager questions about the paper I’ll be giving here.

The hotel is by the Marina. The downside of that is that it’s something of a compound, away from the town. And it’s cloudier and cooler than I believe is normal in San Diego.

But enough of these churlish complaints. I was able to enjoy a swim outdoors this morning.

Outsourcing to Siliconia

“If you really do start entrusting all your ephemeral memory work to external systems, might your wetware start to atrophy?” Merlin Mann ponders. That’s a rather long-winded way of getting to a resolution to remember one’s own phone number, but Merlin’s post does link to an article/post by Clive Thompson.

Clive uses, and Merlin quotes, the metaphor of outsourcing. This made me think of an argument often used in favor of business outsourcing: it frees up resources that would otherwise do routine tasks for more “value-added” stuff. I guess that when it comes to the brain, that would include… blogging. Clive has a similar thought and a niftier way of putting it.

You could argue that by offloading data onto silicon, we free our own gray matter for more germanely “human” tasks like brainstorming and daydreaming.

Clive’s article is well worth reading, in part due to wording like that, and “the cyborg future is here… we’ve outsourced important peripheral brain functions to the silicon around us.”

Clearview on the Highways

This is Clearview, the typeface that is poised to replace Highway Gothic, the standard that has been used on signs across the country for more than a half-century. I just found, rather late and via Reddit, an interesting NYT article about the development of Clearview. Although I like Clearview as a font, Highway Gothic kicks its ampersand when it comes to having a cool name.

Boston to Philadelphia

I left the house in Roslindale at 7 in order to get the 9:30 flight from Logan. I was at the airport in plenty of time for breakfast, which was scrambled egg, ham, and homefries, with coffee, and then a refill of coffee, at Ozone. It was fine, until I got the bill, which showed that I that I’d been charged for the refill, putting my bill for coffee at $4.

I’m flying US Airways. Or rather, I hope to be doing so soon. At 9:40, we were told that our flight would be delayed by one hour. There’s no working free wireless here, and $7.95 seems rather steep for a day pass that I hope I won’t be using for very long. Before I go to the airport tomorrow, I should set up Google Reader for offline access, although it wasn’t too impressive last time I tried it.

I’m finishing off this post in Philly at ~5pm. The plane took off about 75 minutes late. Due to a taxi and to light traffic, I was on time for my first meeting at 1pm.

I’m now at The Latham Hotel, which has excellent wireless internet. Wireless is included in the price of the room. That’s not the same as free, but it’s better than an extra charge.

American National Government

One of the things I find most admirable about the USA is its system of government. Let me pause here, before I’ve really started, to point out that I was born and bred in the UK. I am now resident in the USA, although I am an alien. (In other words, I have a green card.)

I particularly admire the struggles of James Madison and others to design a good system. This presents an interesting contrast with the way that British and other systems of government evolved over the course of many generations. Take it away, Jimmy M.

In framing a government… the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

The frame includes three parts. Let’s turn to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.

Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court have separate and distinct political bases under the Constitution, to foster each branch’s independence and integrity. The ultimate purpose behind this separation… is to prevent a “faction”… from gaining control over the entire government.

The report is now six and a half years old. Let’s go to something more recent: the lead story from today’s Boston Globe.

Just before midnight on Saturday, Congress passed the Protect America Act of 2007, which was largely drafted by the White House and received no committee hearing. The bill carves out a broad exemption from a 1978 law that requires the government to obtain a judge’s permission to monitor calls and e-mails on US soil.

I’ve added emphasis to make clear the following. The executive branch wrote a law, which the legislative branch passed without due deliberation. This law removes power from the judicial branch.

One of the things I like best about the British character is the ability to maintain a rather dark sense of humour even when things seem, well, dark. I’ll illustrate that by telling you a couple of things I find amusing about the CRS report.

  • It was written by a Mr Kaiser.
  • The last sentence in the summary box on the first page reads as follows. “This report… will be updated as developments require.”

Defense Logos

defendeire.jpgThis is a defense ministry logo. So which country is defended by pregnant spear-toting harpers? You can find out at, where you can see another 22 defense ministry logos and vote for your favorite.

This via BoingBoing, where Cory includes Japan’s logo. If I could rank the logos, I’d put Japan’s just behind the one I’ve included here, and a long way ahead of the bronze medalist.

I will resist the urge to search for logos for the various Ministry of Magic departments…

Books and Other Clutter

Uncluttering is the new acquisition, or something like that. Merlin Mann just kicked off a series of posts on uncluttering, sparked by an interview with the author of It’s All Too Much.

Should I buy that book? Probably not, given that my wife considers our place too cluttered by book as it is, and that she has a good point. But the same blog that ran the author interview also has a post on keeping book clutter under control.