Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Encryption key dazed and confused

This will be making the rounds of the web, and quickly: your u-lock is now worthless. It can be opened with a bic pen(.mov). From the lovely folks at Metafilter.
My roommate and I just spent about twenty minutes or so trying to jam the only bic pen we had in the house over the centre pin, and he finally got it on (heat the end, slide it on, let it cool, voila). A few seconds later with some jiggling and a twist, unlocked! Since bic pen tubes are not standardized to any finessable degree*, yours may easily slip on. Ten seconds for the lucky. Lucky for me I don't ride a bike. Or a pop machine. Or anything else with a cylindrical lock.

*why didn't I write "since they make the tubes in different sizes", or how about "Since the standard tube is actually not very standard in size"? stafd. wtf?

Oh yeah, it must be due to reading Penrose's new, 1000 page book on why the Universe likes math. ouch. If you like, no, scratch that, all the "fun" sentences require a really special mathy font that I don't want to learn right now. I do have some major problems with this book, though. In the past I have come to expect fine writing (if you do click on the link, please note that although P calls himself a realist, he is also a neo-Platonist, believing that Math really exists independent from us thinking about it) from Penrose on matters of math, consciousness, and physics, but this is, well, muddled.
Penrose wants to write about "the complete guide to the Laws of the Universe", and to do so you need to know Math. 16 chapters of Math. 380 pages. I've taken 3rd year University Math, and I am getting bogged down in the middle of it. Oh, hmmm: the part he "wants" (as he clearly did write the book) is for the book to be readable by practically everyone. He describes in the intro 4 layers of reading. For the novice math person, including those who are scared of the math: no need to understand the formulas, you should be able to gloss and get the ideas. This is laughably not demonstrated; the concepts clearly require an understanding that can only be gained by following the math, as well as understanding math-speak. This is where the muddling enters the picture: his attempt to, and failure at, writing the book at this "low" level destroys the normal clarity of his writing. Or, maybe he just needed a courageous editor, as there is way too much, umm, dis-clarity.
The second group include people like me, people who know a bit of higher math, and can actually learn from the book (this is hard, I have to treat it like a text, and it's exhausting, but I did remember, aw screw it, I need the font. err, "e to the pi i, plus one, equals zero" wacked out stuff). There are math problems at the bottom of most pages, rated easy, middling, and hard: I can do most of the easy ones, some of the hard ones; the third group of people should be able to learn and work through most of the hard ones (the answers are online. Hey, cool! there are corrections! good, as I've found a few mathy mistakes). The fourth group know most of the math, and this book is written to show them how Penrose thinks the Universe works. 600 pages of it. and this is the part that everyone should be able to follow, at some degree of ability, and attain deep understanding of modern physics.

The weird thing is that I disagree with his world view, and I know I do for simple (well, maybe not-so) reasons that come prior to the mathy part. Yet I am reading the mathy part, to truly know my opposition. Also, I like reading ideas contrary to mine own. I have a deep desire to be right, not in the sense that I have to make others believe what I believe, but I need what I believe to agree with big-T Truth, that-which-actually-is. I read deeply in all sorts of philomosophical things, I'm highly rational, I strive to not lie to myself, I'm growing my emotions (that hurts, but it comes close to what I think I mean). Yet I am all too aware that, like everyone, I stop my inquiry into Truth when I am content with what I have found. The final arbiter in my delve for rational knowledge is my mammalian emotional core. And if I stop when I am content, maybe I also have abandoned mainstream ideas just as non-rationally. Maybe I have given up on the Big Bang too early, maybe the concept of God does make sense, maybe there is some ethical ground to stand on for meat-eaters, and a host of other things.
This bothers me, but what can I do? I'm only human. I can't always doubt. I have built in comfort parameters that require stability and coherence but not much more (outside of beer and cheese). So occasionally I mix it all up by reading wacky stuff, mainstream stuff I disagree with, problems in the fields I do study, etc. I no longer try to fit all my knowledge into one tidy package, not because I am extremely messy (which I am), not because I don't trust metanarratives (I think they're sexy!), not because I am avoiding God by refusing to look at inconsistency (has anyone ever pulled this on you?), but because I am lazy. LAZY (such a shock to my regular readers!). oh, and fallible, and also: remember all those philosophers I've pretended to have read? they couldn't do it either.

Apparently I'm also too lazy to wrap up my thoughts. Not that they were very wrap-uppable anyways. Wrapping up is soo five minutes ago.


Anonymous said...

Schmutzie says:
Verbose, wordy, circumlocutory, talky, palaverous, magniloquent, gabby, prolix, loquacious. Lovely.

starcat said...

You missed bombastic, fustian, garrulous, long-winded, maundering, periphrastic, pleonastic, prating, and yacky, to name a few.
Which is what Penrose definitely is, and what reading it is doing to me. Which may very well have been my point, at one time, but I babbled far away from it.
But really now, you want me to write, then say I write too much: are you sure you're on teh Wort, or have you been listening to too much punk again?!

schmutzie said...

Oh no, I was not criticizing your long post. Not I. Have you seen how I can go on on a thrice weekly basis?