Thursday, 17 March 2011

Information in two surprising places

In two successive podcasts from the RSA, I was very struck to hear mention of information systems where I didn't expect them.

First, Martin Simon talked of money as an information system, in that the exchange of money for particular purposes carries with it certain messages. Some of these are current: when I purchase one brand of breakfast cereal instead of another, I am sending a message both to the cereal maker and the supermarket as to my preferences. Some of them are historic: the money I possess and the way it is saved carries messages both about my values and the value society places upon my work. But Martin Simon's work on 'timebanking' also encourages us to view the way we use our time as an information system, in many ways like money but behaving somewhat differently.

Second, Tim Flannery talked of DNA as an information system. It's quite a familiar idea that viewing genetics in terms of DNA is to frame biology as information. But the additional idea for me here is the idea that DNA not just holds information but also processes it.

In work on information with David Chapman, we have often made the point that in today's society (and academia), many phenomena are now framed in informational terms which previously were seen in physical terms. These examples emphasis this trend, but also the importance of the system within which the information sits and is processed.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Life with Android 1

I was telling my colleague John Naughton, who has a keen sense of what matters in technology, of my having bought an Android phone. He sensibly suggested I keep a diary. Not sure if I should be doing it on this or a more work-related blog, but here goes…

I've not had a new-style smartphone before (i.e. an iPhone style). I previously had a Symbian phone with keypad - good Internet access but a small screen + an OS that felt a bit long in the tooth. I've had two kinds of touchscreen PDA though - beloved Psions with great keyboard & software, and a Palm with good screen (and WiFi) but a bit dated. Enough history, on to the present.

So I have an Orange San Francisco - big bright screen with great resolution, small + light, and cheap. Lots of Orange bloatware, but I can ignore that and in time delete it.
Experience so far is positive. All the PDA stuff (calendar + contacts) easy to shift from old phone via Gmail + Google Calendar. Texting + calls fine. Music player also seems to do all you might expect.

Internet access is smooth + easy, with a neat little browser. WiFi is fast at home, though it was a nasty shock to discover that it can't handle proxy servers, so thus far can only use 3G at work.

And the apps are a delight. So far I've installed: Facebook + Twitter (natch), DropBox for updating files on phone & home/office PCs, Adobe Reader, neat Barcode Scanner, and Blogger (yes I wrote this post on it).

Not a lot to dislike, though I find the touchscreen interface a bit unintuitive at times. Still to work out the best way to move around long text boxes when composing and editing text. And the resolution is so good that selecting text links can be a bit tough. Oh, and very little onboard help. But I hope to get over these in time.

More on my Android experiences as time goes on.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The miracle of daily life

Mars Hill Bible Church (in Grand Rapids, Michigan) is a rare thing, a liberal mega-church. It's also a source of wonderful sermons, which they make available as podcasts. They've just finished exploring the book of Ecclesiastes ("vanity, vanity, all is vanity" - except that as every sermon they give emphasises, the Hebrew word translated as "vanity", or "meaningless" in modern texts, is better translated as "vapour", temporary and passing rather than unimportant).

Last night I listened to a sermon from a few weeks ago, given by Shane Hipps. It was full of wisdom, but especially talked about living life to the full. Here are some extracts from near the end, starting about minute 38 (I've not noted omissions):

"There is one miracle that is as important as the Resurrection and in fact it is so important that if this other miracle didn't happen, the Resurrection is impossible. The Resurrection is irrelevant if this other miracle didn't happen first. Do you know what that miracle is? You were born. If you were never born, if you never lived this life, there is no resurrection for you. This is the miracle. It's unfolding right now before your very eyes, this is the miracle. If we cannot appreciate the first miracle of our existence, what makes us think we will appreciate the second one of resurrection? If we can't actually see how extraordinary this gift of life is right now, do you really think you're going to appreciate it when you get it again? We must learn to enjoy every moment of this passing life."

Brilliant stuff. And it goes along with something posted by a friend to Facebook, about the quality of life to be found in a baby who has the degenerative disease Tay-Sachs, but right now is full of life and doesn't know anything other than the present moment. It's a heart-wrenching but life-affirming read.

As another Mars Hill sermon on Ecclesiastes said, the past is gone; the future is yet to be. The only reality is the present moment, and our greatest joy can be found in celebrating that moment.