In Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” the computer Deep Thought famously gives the answer to “The Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything” as 42. Ever since geeks have pondered and wondered about the reasons why Douglas Adams choose 42. Did he just pick an arbitrary number? Or was there really something to ‘get’?

It is my opinion there is something to ‘get’ and it all involves understanding a little bit about C and ASCII. You see, Deep Thought, as a computer, would have to be programmed, and you will know, if you are a programmer, that programs generally have BUGS!

It is my contention Deep Thought had a bug.

To understand why this is, consider the following piece of code:

#include
int main(){
char x = ‘*’;
printf(“The meaning of life is %i”, x);
}

It prints to screen “The meaning of life is 42”. The ASCII representation of an asterisk “*” in the computers memory is the number of 42. In the above code ‘%i’ take an integer as an argument, but since we have declared the variable x as a character type, instead of printing the character ‘*’, the printf statement instead prints the ASCII (integer) representation of “*” which happens to be 42.

“The meaning of life is *”

The asterisk makes sense. An asterisk is a pointer, a marker than stands in for something else. Was it that perhaps Deep Thought was about to return the contents at memory location of The Answer? Maybe, but I haven’t figured out a way to make a C program do this yet. But I think its more likely that there is nothing there and that the asterisk represents something ‘over the horizon’ pointing at the space where after our computation that is life is complete the answer will be stored.

Is it is all a giant metaphor? Is Douglas Adams is saying “fucked if I know”? Or perhaps, ‘see the footnotes’, conveniently missing.

Have you picked up a stick and thrown it for your dog to chase? Turns out you could owe royalties to the holder of a patent on sticks from trees

Let’s face it. The patent system is fucked.

In case you thought that intellectual property could not get more absurd, IBM has patented a procedure for filing patents and enforcing rights to do with patents. Next time you file a patent and want to enforce your rights, just make sure you aren’t accidentally using one of the strategies IBM patented.

Another reason that the legal system needs to be ‘open sourced’.

Generally I hate all of this posting a link on a blog thing with a short blurb at the beginning, it is generally lazy and thoughtless and more-or-less just keyword fodder for commercial blog authors.

But if I may be allowed, there is an article everybody should read.

Tim Berners-Lee, the fellow who designed the first webpage in history, for the physicists at CERN, writes in Scientific American on the 20th anniversary of the www about threats to the web today.

His argument is that the very concept of a web-page only exists because of open protocols and universality, which enabled anyone to dial up to CERN and view the first web-page. It is precisely this principle of universality and openness which facebook is violating. Facebook consists today of 25% of all web-pages viewed in the U.S. While the mere act of creating a web-page seems trivial now, Tim Berners-Lee knows the design principles that lead to the first e

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=long-live-the-web

Super plurals are statements that are true of pluralities of things, but in which the truth cannot be composed of the parts. So “Those folks wear black t-shirts” is not super plural since it is dependent on each of “those folks” wearing black shirts, but “those folks co-operate” truth conditions are dependent on some property of the group that cannot be reduced to its parts.

So why care about superplurals?

How is it that something can be true of many things but not of each of the things in isolation? This is a problem for the idea that we can derive all there is to know about a plurality of things from a complete record of all of the things that are true of its composite parts.

I have not the slightest idea how this could be?

When something is true, it is true of something. “Bob wears a black shirt” is true of bob. If this is the case, what is a superplural true of? If it is true of the group, why can we not derive its truth from the composite parts of the group?

What is going on? I have not the slightest idea!

Hume said metaphysics was “the inevitable source of uncertainty and error”. Metaphysical theories

“arise either from the fruitless efforts of human vanity, which would penetrate into subjects utterly inaccessible to the understanding, or from the craft of popular superstitions, which, being unable to defend themselves on fair ground, raise these entangling branches to cover and protect their weakness” (EHU, 11).

What would Hume say about Zeno’s paradoxes? link1 link2

Zeno’s paradox works on some very modest metaphysical assumptions. Consider the “arrow paradox”.

1. An object (arrow) occupies a space when at rest.
2. An object (arrow) in motion must occupy a space equal to the above at any given moment

These assumptions are a far cry from “entangling branches”. But then, if the above is true, the conclusion follows;

The object (arrow), must therefore be motionless.

Ouch! Thorny entangling branches! Who would ever bother with metaphysics when it stubbornly insists on such ridiculous positions!

The problem above is naive enough and silly enough that it is easy to see the problem. It is practically harmless and transparent.

At the same time it is rather troubling we can get into such thorny positions from such modest premises. How do we know that we are not in such positions in physics? We might start an argument with equally harmless premises such as “Matter is that which has a mass”.

Is there anyway to discriminate between those “common sense” metaphysical premises that lead to thorny situations & those that lead to sound conclusions?

It seems to me if we take Hume at his word, even physics is in trouble for its “metaphysics” about things such as “matter is that which has a mass” etc.

But perhaps the problem isn’t physics, it’s syllogistic reasoning.

What was the last “Abbott administration” like? Meet Tony Abbott, 1979 president of the Sydney University Students Representative Council: “It seems an immutable fact of human nature that most people like to exercise power if they can. How often do we hear bureaucrats asserting some or other community ‘need’ and suspect that what really is at issue, is official desire to regulate and command”. So the man said in the pages of Honi Soit, the Sydney Uni student paper. Reading this recently in the Sydney University library, made me think what might seem like gaffs on the election trail, are actually decades old perceptions held by the man. I suspect for Abbott, “…what really is at issue, is official desire to regulate and command”. How we judge others, finally, we judge ourselves.

How did the young Abbott judge himself? He saw himself as a reformer of the SRC, moving to remove compulsory union fees that he felt were being unjustly spent on “groups such as International Socialists, South African terrorists,” – the anti-apartheid movement in south Africa – “ultra militant feminism, homosexual proselytism and environmentalism gone to crazy lengths.” He was seen by others in the SRC as a rightwing radical, bent on defunding the body which gave him his political leg up. Of the SRC, he cried in the pages of Honi Soit, “Why are we tolerating funding such a mad-house”

When a motion of his to implement a referendum on campus regarding VSU was blocked procedurally by the Council, he took the matter to the NSW Supreme Court & fought the Treasurer & General Secretary of the SRC at the time, Paul Brereton, and won. Tony chastised Paul Brereton in the pages of Honi Soit at the time, “With your support money has been given by this S.R.C to the Kimberly Land Council, the Aboriginal Support Group, the active defense of homosexuals and the Labor Club”. When the referendum was put to the student body it was defeated, and Tony did not get his satisfaction until 2006, when, as a minister in the government, Howard successfully passed VSU legislation despite widespread opposition from students nationwide.

How should I describe what the SRC was like in Abbott’s day? In the words of Abbott: “I notice that the front office wall has been decorated with homosexual posters,… (the receptionist) … stares sullenly and uncooperatively especially when I take them down and ask him not to replace them with others of a partisan, socio, sexual bent… I walk down the corridor to my ‘office’. It is finally time, I decide, to remove the condom which has been pinned to my door. It rather clashes with the lesbian posters that have been plastered there. A notice I had placed on the door reads “Tony (confidentially) you, are a fuckwit”.”

Abbott made more enemies than friends in his days as SRC president. Of the many altercations, two that noticeably blew up in the pages of Honi Soit were a dispute with his first employees, the front office staff at the SRC, and a long running grudge against the women’s collective on campus. What did the women do to enrage Tony’s ire? According to Tony they were “grim faced, overall-clad, hard, strident, often lustfully embracing in a counterfeit of love, one is forced to consider the “feminist” misnomer”. This particular perception prompted a response from a member of the women’s collective, Penny Pether; “It is tragic that someone can envisage no form of embrace or physical contact other than the sexual; cannot comprehend that between caring individuals … an embrace can be an expression of fellow feeling… devoid of sexual significance.”Another member, Julie Atkinson, wrote “Tony Abbott’s cliche and stuffed-up views of feminists provide excellent proof that those male misogynist attitudes have not changed in 100 years.”

Of the aforementioned dispute with his front office staff, one student wrote in to Honi Soit, “a visitor to his (Tony’s) office when leaving the SRC said loudly “Don’t much care for your office staff, Tony. Scurvy looking lot. I’s sack ’em all.” Tony’s immediate reaction was to laugh. When approached later Abbott’s (response) was “A fellow had been to seen me. He made a comment about the scruffy, disreputable state of some people in the Front Office and I laughed because it happened to be true…” From what can be deciphered, the dispute centered around the fact that his staff had different political views, and were homosexual, a crime in NSW until 1984.

Among other letters included in the Honi archives include an apology from Mr Abbott for missing an SRC meeting due to sport commitments, and comments about his fashion sense from one reader, “[I]..won’t speculate on how anyone who dresses like Mr Abbott does can seriously set himself up as an arbiter of taste in the manner of dress.” [G. A. Pearce from UNSW wrote into Honi Soit, “May I politely ask: how did the students at Sydney Uni possibly elect such a representative?… (I wonder) just why the ABC interviewed someone with such extreme, inapt views.”] It seems not all that much has changed.