Added on by Bill.

Tinkering is the most perfect invention of the human experience and in my mind it satisfies two opposing drives: [potentially] being productive and lacking purpose or plan. We should give credit and thanks to Mr. Tinker, who ever that Anglo-Latin fellow was:


verb [ intrans. ] attempt to repair or improve something in a casual or desultory way, often to no useful effect : he spent hours tinkering with the car. • [ trans. ] archaic attempt to mend (something) in such a way.

ORIGIN Middle English (first recorded in Anglo-Latin as a surname): of unknown origin. [Oxford American Dictionary]


I have found many occasions to tinker. The waterfall in my backyard pond offered many hours of pleasure. Repositioning the rocks until the perfect sound was emitted.


Yesterday, another opportunity arose that carried into today. My wife asked me to "defrag" her hard drive as the performance of her machine was degraded. A simple request that should be resolved in a matter of minutes. I turned on her machine and went through the following sequence:

  1. I found that there remained only 760 mb of disk space on her 80 gb drive. Knowing that going above 80% capacity on a disk drive often impacted performance, I decided I would run a program that looked for disk-saving opportunities. This program did offer several suggestions and by following them I reduced the consumption considerably.
  2. I then ran the "defrag" program. It successfully analyzed the disk and reported what was an "all-red" status bar. I interpreted this to mean that the disk was 100% fragmented. This is bad. I ran the defrag program and while it improved the situation, there remained considerable fragmentation after the first pass. Multiple passes seemed not to improve the situation. I'll have to follow up on this (yes, another tinkering opportunity; what could be better)
  3. During this effort, I noticed that the internal (CPU) temperature was going above threshold. I opened the casing on the machine and realize it needed to be cleaned of an accumulation of dust. The heat sink on the CPU was clogged with the fluffy white stuff.
  4. Finding a pipe cleaner I removed the dust accumulation on each blade. I then vacuumed out the case and reassembled it.
  5. I pondered the role of the pipe cleaner for a while. One sees very few pipes these days, or at least hardly enough to support a pipe-cleaner industry, yet they continue to be marketed. Wikipedia made a similar observation [ref]
  6. Realizing that other machines may have come to the same dusty fate, I prepared to inspect them.
  7. But while I was waiting for my daughter's machine to power down, I checked my wife's to confirm she had all the latest updates. I downloaded the updates and installed them, which required me to reboot the machine.
  8. While waiting for the download/install/reboot sequence, I disassembled by daughter's former machine (she recently purchased a notebook), and undertook the same procedure of cleaning the CPU heat sink and fan.
  9. Meanwhile, back at my wife's machine, one of the updates was a new virus checker, offered by our internet service provider. As it was a new installation, I had to activate it. This involved answering a series of questions and then wading through another series of downloads. One of those required a reboot. Hovering in the background was my wife, and while she didn't say anything, I'm sure she was wondering what I was doing.
  10. After the second download sequence had completed, the newly installed and fully current virus checker started doing its job. It did this by initiating a scan. It reported that it had completed a check of the areas mostly likely to be infected and had found nothing. However, there was a little warning icon on the screen, which indicated that there was one item needing my attention.
  11. The item needing my attention was that I needed to do a full scan, which I did. When I told my wife (as she hovered by) that the newly installed virus protection software was doing a full system scan in order to check for evil viruses, I could sense in her the increased comfort that that knowledge brought to her worried mind.
  12. While the scan was underway, I realised the rain was coming down pretty hard. I took a look at the weather report: scattered showers. My afternoon golf game is in jeopardy.
  13. I started the third defrag cycle. Although not yet complete it seems to be greatly improving the situation.

While the tinkering continues along other paths, I shall leave this entry for now.


Banker's Cup 2006

Added on by Bill.

Thursday, I participated in the Banker's Cup Golf Tournament, an annual event hosted by Microsoft and a number of their partners. The participating banks are Bank of Montreal, TD-Canada Trust, Bank of Nova Scotia, Royal Bank and CIBC. This year our team dramatically improved our standings, sky-rocketing into fourth position. As usual, we had fun, dampened only by omission a couple of good friends (RC & MW).

15th Birthday

Added on by Bill.

Posted in the newsgroup alt.hypertext on August 6, 1991 [ref]

The WorldWideWeb (WWW) project aims to allow links to be made to any information anywhere. The address format includes an access method (=namespace), and for most name spaces a hostname and some sort of path.

We have a prototype hypertext editor for the NeXT, and a browser for line mode terminals which runs on almost anything. These can access files either locally, NFS mounted, or via anonymous FTP. They can also go out using a simple protocol (HTTP) to a server which interprets some other data and returns equivalent hypertext files. For example, we have a server running on our mainframe http://cernvm.cern.ch/FIND in WWW syntax) which makes all the CERN computer center documentation available. The HTTP protocol allows for a keyword search on an index, which generates a list of matching documents as annother virtual hypertext document.

If you're interested in using the code, mail me. It's very prototype, but available by anonymous FTP from info.cern.ch. It's copyright CERN but free distribution and use is not normally a problem.

Interesting, but why is this On Line Super Nova's birthday only being reported now?

An inquiry into Stupidity, Part 1

Added on by Bill.

The Lens, a program on the CBC, recently aired a program on stupidity. It prompted me to better understand the nature of stupidity. This journey into understanding comes about because many of those interviewed on the program seemed to have a great deal of difficulty answering the question what is stupidity.

Dictionary.com includes the following definition for stupidity:

  1. lacking or marked by lack of intellectual acuity [ant: smart]
  2. in a state of mental numbness especially as resulting from shock; "he had a dazed expression on his face"; "lay semiconscious, stunned (or stupefied) by the blow"; "was stupid from fatigue" [syn: dazed, stunned, stupefied, stupid(p)]
  3. without much intelligence; "a dull job with lazy and unintelligent co-workers" [syn: unintelligent] [ant: intelligent] n : a person who is not very bright; "The economy, stupid!" [syn: stupid person, dullard, dolt, pudding head, pudden-head, poor fish, pillock] [ref]

While helpful in describing the manifestations of stupidity, it does not provide any means to unbiasedly assess stupidity beyond personal judgement. Furthermore, while we may assume in some cases that stupidity is the result of mental limitations of an individual, the definition does not help us understand stupidity that is exhibited by that majority that do not suffer any abnormal mental constraints.

Carlo M. Cipolla describes five laws of stupidity, with the third law stating:

A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses [ref].

This law provides an unbiased means to identify stupidity in terms of the nature of the outcome.

However, it highlights a contradiction. Stupidity is attributed to the person as a whole: do a stupid thing and you are a stupid person. The reality is intelligent people are quite capable of making stupid decisions. Does that mean they are not intelligent? Or is there some threshold to be crossed: if some percentage of ones decisions are stupid, then is the individual stupid only then?

Sternberg's premise is that stupidity and intelligence aren't like cold and heat, where the former is simply the absence of the latter. Stupidity might be a quality in itself, perhaps measurable, and it may exist in dynamic fluxion with intelligence, such that smart people can do really dumb things sometimes and vice versa. [ref]

Cipolla's second law, although still attributing the person, does support this notion of the independence of stupidity and intelligence:

The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

Giancarlo Livraghi adds three corollaries to Cipolla's laws, where the first is:

In each of us there is a factor of stupidity, which is always larger than we suppose [ref]

Thus we can summarize the observations: stupidity is independent from intelligence--meaning one can exhibit both behaviours; it relates to the decisions or actions we take--not the individual; and specifically to those actions which offer no benefit to the person executing the decision and causes some harm to those impacted by the decision or action.

So why would someone make such a decision? Perkins lists eight deadly sins:

impulsiveness (doing something rash), neglect (ignoring something important), procrastination (actively avoiding something important), vacillation (dithering), backsliding (capitulating to habit), indulgence (allowing oneself to fall into excess), overdoing (like indulgence, but with positive things) and walking the edge (tempting fate) [ref].

James F Welles argues:

stupidity is the failure to gather and use information efficiently. Traditionally, self-deception has been considered only in terms of the use or abuse of information present within a cognitive system — that is, a person would have to "Know" something in order to deceive himself about it....However, we must acknowledge it is also self-deceptive (i.e., misleading) and usually stupid for one to refuse to gather new, relevant information about matters of importance [ref].

Why not use the intelligence we have to get all the answers? Why not use it to over come the eight deadly sins Perkin describes?

Welles offers the argument that stupidity is an ability to ignore certain information that in the short term enable us as human beings to enhance social cohesion. Stupidity is a mechanism to rationalize, or more aptly accept, obvious contradictions between reality and the "ideal." It is the means for us to accept an otherwise negative impact that is believed to enhance the cohesion of our organization or some other group that we belong to:

In terms of intellectual development, stupidity may justly be viewed as both adaptive and maladaptive. In the short run, it is adaptive in that it helps an individual adjust to his cultural group's values by permitting him to accept any obvious contradictions between the real and ideal. As a means to short-term adaptation, stupidity is a classic example of the "Neurotic Paradox" in action. The neurotic paradox promotes behavioral patterns which are subject to immediate short-term reinforcement although the long-term results will be clearly negative.

If stupidity is adaptive, in that it helps one fit into his immediate surroundings, it is maladaptive over the long run, as it inhibits innovations and constructive criticism of the social environment. Individuals adjust to the group, but the group loses its capacity to adjust to its surroundings as members sacrifice their individual integrity, insight and ideas and conform for the reward of social acceptance.

Of course, the bottom line, net effect of stupidity is negative, but its universal presence cannot be understood without recognition of its role in helping people adapt to their immediate situation. Thus, it becomes clear how there can be so much stupidity around although it is, in the long run, maladaptive. Survival within the system is promoted if one is so stupid as to accept the system's stupidities. Also, short-term survival of the system (institution, group, whatever) is promoted through enhanced social cohesion and cooperation [ref].

Welles elaborates that social cohesion is maintained by conformance with the social norms, and it is these norms--schemata--that define the benchmark:

Within the formal context of written laws and rules, daily routine of most social life, institutional and otherwise, is regulated by norms — social standards for acceptable behavior, dress, manners, modes of speech, etc. These norms encourage stupidity by providing a systematic pattern of reinforcement conducive to conformity for its own sake. It is the acceptance and approval of members which first induces and then sustains a common schema and its system of values that form individuals into a group [ref].

Thus, as social beings driven to maintain the cohesion of the group in which we belong, we are willing to be compliant with the norms of the group. These norms define what information we accept and thus the data upon which we will use to formulate decisions. When the norms of an organization fail to adapt to the environment, decisions will become increasingly out of sync, potentially impacting the survival of the group.

Arbitrariness notwithstanding, there are basically only two types of stupidity. By far the most common is that of principle — a system too committed to itself to adjust: its reward system becomes so internalized that it ceases to respond effectively to external change. The other type is, as one might expect, the exact opposite: this is the hypersensitive stupidity of overreacting not only to incidentals in the environment but perhaps to fantasies as well. This type usually leads to chaos, with opportunism of the moment substituting for development by a guiding schema. Both types have their places in the dynamic disorder of the human experience [ref].
So in some sense, stupidity is necessary for us as social being to survive. The issue then is finding the right balance such that there is sufficient stupidity to maintain the cohesion of the group, but not to much that it gets out of sync with its environment that it puts its very survival at risk.