Honesty on Google vs Facebook – a footnote from John Lanchester

An essay worth reading in full on Facebook which contains this amusing footnote:

Facebook already had a huge amount of information about people and their social networks and their professed likes and dislikes.​2

2. Note the ‘professed’. As Seth Stephens-Davidowitz points out in his new book Everybody Lies (Bloomsbury, £20), researchers have studied the difference between the language used on Google, where people tend to tell the truth because they are anonymously looking for answers, and the language used on Facebook, where people are projecting an image. On Facebook, the most common terms associated with the phrase ‘my husband is …’ are ‘the best’, ‘my best friend’, ‘amazing’, ‘the greatest’ and ‘so cute’. On Google, the top five are ‘amazing’, ‘a jerk’, ‘annoying’, ‘gay’ and ‘mean’. It would be interesting to know if there’s a husband out there who achieves the full Google set and is an amazing annoying mean gay jerk.

Advertisements

Could a novice beat Magnus Carlsen with a month to prepare? (Spoiler alert: No)

Someone said that headlines formulated as questions almost always have the answer “No.”

I came across this column on Chess.com which is a reaction to this Wall Street Journal article on a recent chess match between Max Deutsch, “a self-diagnosed obsessive learner” and Magnus Carlsen, current World Chess Champion and arguably the greatest chess player of all time..

The original WSJ piece has a certain breathless quality which alternately grates and endears. The piece follows Deutsch’s various one-month learning quests which culminated in his challenge against Carlsen:

Max’s year of monthly challenges had already been more successful than he could have imagined. He’d been contacted by students in a Belgian school who started their own projects after discovering his blog. Max, too, had been inspired by “Month to Master.” He left his job in August, raised money and started a company, Openmind, to guide people through the learning process.

Max hadn’t started thinking about chess at the end of September. He was still learning how to freestyle rap. “I don’t have a plan until the month begins,” he said. It was fairly conventional at first. He played Magni of different ages on the Play Magnus app.

Naturally enough, the Chess.com piece by GM Greg Serper takes a more jaundiced view of the enterprise. He also recounts an entertaining story reminiscent of Stefan Zweig’s The Royal Game:

Let’s rephrase the question: can a non-master amateur beat a world champion in a regular one-on-one game? While I never heard about such an event, let me tell you an unusual story that supposedly happened about 35 years ago.

The city of Kharkiv (the former Soviet Union, now Ukraine) has always had many very strong chess players. Currently the former women’s world champion Anna Ushenina and the super-GM Pavel Eljanov as well as a number of “just very strong” GMs live there. So, one day in the beginning of 1980s an unknown man entered Kharkiv’s chess club and started playing blitz with everyone for money. Despite giving serious time odds, the stranger kept winning. The strangest thing was that the guy had a bag full of cucumbers and he was munching them non-stop during the games!

Eventually the local masters entered the fray, but the mysterious guy was beating everyone! The situation looked more and more like Fischer’s famous visit to the Central Chess Club in Moscow. The young American prodigy demonstrated his amazing blitz skills beating famous Soviet masters! Eventually grandmaster Tigran Petrosian came to the rescue and successfully defended the honor of the Soviet chess.

Back to our story, Kharkiv’s strongest blitz player, Mikhail Gurevich, was called. The stranger recognized Gurevich and said: “If you were just a regular master, I would give you odds of three minutes vs. five minutes, but you are a very strong master so we are going to play five minutes each.”

The man was absolutely correct: in a couple of years Mikhail Gurevich won the Soviet championship, got a GM title and in the June 1990 rating list he was number seven in the world! So they played for several hours but the total score was about even. At the end of the day the bizarre stranger picked up his winnings and the remaining cucumbers and left the speechless crowd.

He was never seen again. The word on the street is that the man was returning home after many years spent in prison where, just like the protagonist of “The Royal Game,” he learned to play chess. Personally, I don’t buy this version since I totally agree with the famous statement by Botvinnik that no amount of analytical work is a good substitute for a tournament play.

So, if the mysterious man never played chess tournaments, he had no chance to beat a strong master like Mikhail Gurevich even in one blitz game. From the other side, the Soviet Union had a very closed chess community since during the years of the iron curtain you couldn’t just go abroad and play chess. Therefore all strong chess players, even candidate masters were well known, and the guy wasn’t one of them!

It is a great pity that the “cucumber guy” was never again seen playing chess.

The Droste Effect (nearly) in the Domhnach Airgid

The Droste Effect is the name given to an image containing a smaller version of that image which contains therefore a smaller version of that image and so on , to theoretically ad infinitum. The name comes from an early 20th Century Dutch brand of cacao:

The Domhnach Airgid is an early Irish book shrine on display in the National Museum of Ireland. It housed a gospel given, supposedly, by St Patrick to St Mac Cartan:

In the lower left panel we see this specific scene:

At first I was hopeful that this could be a Droste Effect, and a pretty early one – with a mini Domhnach Airgid being passed from Saint to Saint, itself incorporating a mini Domhnach Airgid. It may be in intention but is a blank rectangle… but perhaps the Droste Effect concept was at play. Wikipedia (yes I know) gives the earliest Droste image as 1320 : while this shrine dates from the 8th century the panels were remodelled in the 14th so this may not be a precursor.

but anyway , an interesting little aspect of a beautiful work

Eleanor Parker on myths about the Middle Ages

An interesting piece that touches on anti-Catholic myths, historical myths, and science vs. religion myths.

1-DSCF9007

The medieval Church, let’s be clear, had no objection to scientific progress. Throughout the Middle Ages, scientists and scholars – many of them monks and friars – explored their curiosity about the natural world, debating, reasoning, theorising and delighting in learning of all kinds. Medieval scholars studied many varieties of science, including subjects we would now call astronomy, mathematics, engineering, geography, branches of physics (such as optics) and, yes, medicine.

They didn’t define these subjects precisely as we do today, and they didn’t approach them by the same methods or draw the same conclusions. Scientific knowledge and methods change and develop over time. But to suggest that because the various medieval ways of approaching these questions were different from ours they must be an obstacle to “progress”, a sign of “stagnation”, is to impose a kind of intellectual conformity which refuses to see value in any culture but our own. That’s a worrying attitude to teach to schoolchildren.

unnamed

Equally troubling is the sense of cultural superiority implicit in that term “superstition”. What value can there be, for teaching history, in using such a label unless you explain what you mean by it? The term is both inappropriately pejorative and far too broad, since people have different views of what qualifies as superstition.

What most people intend when they talk about medieval superstition is probably a vague reference to the devotional practices of medieval Catholicism – pilgrimage, a belief in miracles and saints’ relics, visits to holy wells, and so on. These practices were not confined to peasants in the Middle Ages, or to the uneducated. Social and intellectual elites engaged in them as enthusiastically as anyone, and for centuries they were an unchallenged aspect of learned as well as popular faith. To understand medieval religion, it is essential to try to explore why such practices held meaning for so many kinds of people – not just to dismiss them as superstitious.

Generally speaking (and bearing in mind the difficulties of generalising about a period of 1,000 years), the worldview which underpinned such practices was of a universe in which every created thing held the potential to be a vessel for God’s grace. There was nothing in the world so trivial that it could not be of importance to God. Everything had its purpose and place, from the planets to the tiniest herb. There were blessings to be said over the fruits of each harvest and the tools of everyday work, prayers for every hour of the day and every possible human need.

Medieval scientists calculated times and calendars, developing intricate theories about the interlocking cycles of the natural year, the movement of the stars and the Church’s calendar; and for ordinary people those cycles were woven into their daily lives, so that every day of the year belonged to a saint whose story might point one to God.

It is this worldview which lies behind the kind of miracle stories some people smile at today, where saints cure sick cattle, find lost property or alter the weather. No human concern was beneath God’s notice, or too small to be the occasion for a miracle. When faced with more serious difficulties, it was not fatalism which led people to seek God’s help in illness; it was faith, which believed God could and did intervene in the world.

Pilgrimage can provide genuine health benefits (if not quite in the way medieval Christians would have explained it), as well as being an opportunity to travel, meet new people and have profound spiritual experiences in places hallowed by centuries of devotion.

Appreciating nature in the 6th Century: From “The Consolation of Philosophy”, Boethius

It is sometimes argued that an argument often made that appreciation of nature is a phenomenon of industrial societies. It is implied that nature is something that intellectuals and city folk appreciate – not people living in times where survival is more of a struggle.

51rpo-U0EGL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

One contra example is the nature poetry of the Irish monks which Flann O’Brien wrote about for his MA Thesis. Another seems to be this passage from Boethius (obviously an elite source, but nevertheless a contra example to the idea that appreciation of nature is a phenomenon of industrial society alone:

Perhaps, again, you find pleasure in the beauty of the countryside. Creation is indeed very beautiful, and the countryside a beautiful part of creation. In the same way we are sometimes delighted by the appearance of the sea when it’s very calm and look up with wonder at the sky, the stars, the moon and the sun.

(trans. Victor Watts

The passage in the context of The Consolation of Philosophy implies that these are common sentiments of the time. It goes on to somewhat throw cold water on consolation from the natural world:

However, not one of these has anything to do with you, and you daren’t take credit for the splendour of any of them. The fact that flowers blossom in spring confers no distinction on you, and the swelling fullness of the autumn harvest is no work of yours. You are, in fact, enraptured with empty joys, embracing blessings that are alien to you as if they were your own. I ask you, why? For Fortune can never make yours what Nature has made alien to you. Of course the fruits of the land are appointed as food for living beings; but if you wish only to satisfy your needs – and that is all Nature requires – there is no need to seek an excess from Fortune. Nature is content with few and little: if you try to press superfluous additions upon what is sufficient for Nature, your bounty will become sickening if not harmful.

Of course, quite aprat from responding to this passage int he context of the book and of the philosophy fo the time, one could ask whether “nature is content with few and little” is in fact a reasonable reason to give for deriving consolation from it.

boethius
Via Philosophers.co.uk

Stained glass from St Mary’s Church, Killenaule 

Stained glass from St Mary’s Church, Killenaule 

St Mary’s Church is one of the most striking Tipperary Churches I have come across. Designed by a student of Pugin (reportedly) it is an impressive structure set onto a hillside which accentuates the drama:

Some of the stained glass inside is among the most striking I have come across. Some of the windows are from the studio of Harry Clarke, and share the distinctive style of Clarke:

This saint reminded me of the less than saintly Klaus Kinski:

Here is the window in some context within the church :

This Visitation  (I think) was especially moving:

The window behind the altar is, according to the Killenaule.net site, said to be the largest in the country. Unfortunately I found my photos did not do it justice. Perhaps I will be more successful on further visits:

There is more “traditional” glass work here also, equally dramatic:

Here is Our Lady appearing to Bernadette, with a particularly ruminating expression. on her face : 

Here is an unfortunately out of focus image of the window above the entrance of the Assumption 

There’s a St Michael The Archangel battling a particularly red dragon: 

Here are windows of St Patrick and St Brigid – I liked the name plates below :

Why people still buy luxury watches – From “Timekeepers”, Simon Garfield 

“But there is another reason for the proliferation of the wristwatch beyond our innate desire to preen. Telling the time has, since sometime in the fifteenth century, been the way we display our mechanical and technological mastery. A watch may be something to show off to a colleague at work, but may also represent something grander, something astronomical: we have achieved this magnificent feat of engineering, and in so doing we have aligned our stars and gone some way to mastering the very nature of time itself. What began as a pendulum and evolved into an escapement has now become a tiny, light and elegant contraption to regulate a frantic world. The world we have made, accelerating almost beyond our control, was created in large part by the clock and the watch – the ability to take our destinies inside, away from the universal cues of the heavens. A watch of precision may still suggest that we are nominally in charge. But does a more expensive, rarer, thicker, thinner and more complicated watch suggest we are more in charge than others, or more in charge than before? The advertisers would have it that way.”
 (from “Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time” by Simon Garfield)