May 2010 Archives

And so, to finally render the Robbie series safe, Calvin cloned Robbie III's brain into Robbie IV, reprogrammed it by inserting the Three Laws, and tested her coding by sending Robbie IV off for a test run in the neighbouring department store. Interrogating him after the ensuing bloodbath — 187 customers murdered, eleven policemen also dead — Calvin appealed, "But what about the First Law?"
"The First Law?"
"'A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.'"
"'Injure'?" cried Robbie IV, slapping his shiny metal forehead. "Good grief! I thought it read 'A robot may not inure a human being'".

I've adapted this, somewhat loosely because I no longer have the original, from an Asimov parody titled Broot Force. It's purportedly by "I-Click As-I-Move", but in fact by John Sladek in his collection of parodies and stories The Steam-Driven Boy: And Other Strangers. Thanks to David Langford's SFX magazine column It's The Law for reminding me of the parody's title, as well as the fact that the robot was actually programmed not with the Three Laws of Robotics but with Sladek's identically worded Three Laws of Robish.

Even if the word "pity" is in a Dalek's vocabulary banks, it may be listed as a synonym for "errorcode 7 (failure to exterminate caused by temporary targeting impairment or neural dysfunction)".

Amongst other interesting essays on Justin's site are PLEISTOCENESE A Language Of 40,000 BC; A Guide To SF CHRONOPHYSICS; and Learn Not To Speak Esperanto. And FUTURESE The American Language in 3000 AD, where Justin speculates on sound-change in English, giving the third row in the table below:

1000 AD: Wé cildra biddaþ þé, éalá láréow, þæt þú taéce ús sprecan rihte, forþám ungelaérede wé sindon, and gewæmmodlíce we sprecaþ...
2000 AD: We children beg you, teacher, that you should teach us to speak correctly, because we are ignorant and we speak corruptly...
3000 AD: Zᴀ kiad w'-exùn ya tijuh, da ya-gᴀr'-eduketan zᴀ da wa-tᴀgan lidla, kaz 'ban iagnaran an wa-tᴀg kurrap...

I read that one company is importing all of Wikipedia into its artificial-intelligence projects. This means when the killer robots come, you.ll have me to thank. At least they.ll have a fine knowledge of Elizabethan poetry.
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.
Quoted in Robert J. Sawyer's second novel about the Web becoming conscious, Watch.


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I went for a run on Wednesday: I often run from Summertown via Headington and the Slade to Cowley, and back via Cowley Road and Banbury Road. This time, I decided to run through the grounds of the NHS and university buildings off Old Road, between the Churchill and the Warneford hospitals. I noticed a smartly dressed Asian gent standing outside one of the buildings, smoking. It was the Richard Doll building.

Here's Don McMillan's hilarious video about How NOT to use Powerpoint. Amongst the fun, it will show you every marketing slide that has ever been. Thanks to John Meyer for telling the Microsoft Excel Developers List EXCEL-L about this.

It's the tax you pay on window size. The first time I used Google this morning, I noticed that its search-result lines had become irritatingly short, so that I must widen my browser window. As this now took up more space, I had to keep shoving it and other windows around so that I could see everything on my screen that I needed to. Here is the new Google, and you can see that the lines are shorter because of a new left-hand column:

Blue Shift

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Hofstadter's Law, invented by Douglas Hofstadter of Metamagical Themas and fluid analogical reasoning fame, states:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

I and a friend were discussing the UK Election, and how the 1992 exit polls underestimated the Conservative vote. Some voters didn't admit to the exit pollsters that they'd voted Tory, because they didn't want to appear selfish. My friend said that pollsters now correct for under-reporting of Tory votes. But we both suspect the Tories will win, and that those who forecast a hung Parliament are still under-correcting. I therefore propose Paine's Law of Conservative Voting:

More people always vote Tory than you expect, even when you take into account Paine's Law.

I once suffered an excruciating half hour after coming across an ancient December 1973 copy of Datamation in the Oxford University Computing Service Library. I didn't want the librarian to realise I was having any more fun than I would be if reading about — say — Fortran COMMON block semantics or C's multifarious compiler flags. But in fact, I was biting my lip and holding my breath, fighting not to laugh out loud at the COME FROM statement: explained by R. Lawrence Clark in We don't know where to GOTO if we don't know where we've COME FROM.

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