Promises like pie-crust

September 25, 2007

I’ve been listening to Carla Bruni 2003 album, Quelqu’un m’a dit.  Excellent stuff, although I should also declare my natural bias towards simple vocals and the acoustic guitar.  I have my doubts about her English album, No Promises, (I haven’t actually heard it) just because I think French captures a certain wistful tone that English does not.  Nevertheless, I very much like the idea of putting 19th century poetry to music so I’ll go hunt it down for a listen.

In the meantime, here is a poem, which is on No Promises (coincidentally also by one of my favourite poets).  Enjoy!

Promises Like Pie-Crust
by Christina Georgina Rossetti
(1830-1894)

Promise me no promises,
So will I not promise you:
Keep we both our liberties,
Never false and never true:
Let us hold the die uncast,
Free to come as free to go:
For I cannot know your past,
And of mine what can you know?

You, so warm, may once have been
Warmer towards another one:
I, so cold, may once have seen
Sunlight, once have felt the sun:
Who shall show us if it was
Thus indeed in time of old?
Fades the image from the glass,
And the fortune is not told.

If you promised, you might grieve
For lost liberty again:
If I promised, I believe
I should fret to break the chain.
Let us be the friends we were,
Nothing more but nothing less:
Many thrive on frugal fare
Who would perish of excess.

  1. Popular Science / The Desktop Factory
  2. “Roboticist Hod Lipson wants you to stop shopping and use his portable 3-D printer to make your own stuff”

  3. Times Online / Microtrends: Printing in 3D
  4. “3D printing is cool, expensive and heading for the mainstream. It lets you print out anything you can build on your computer screen into a little plastic model.”

  5. The Economist / Fabulous Fabrications
  6. “A way to help inventors in poor countries realise their ideas”

Mad machine memory

September 24, 2007

From an old article in Fast Company

“Machine memory is obviously giving us astonishing abilities, but can we deal with the change it’ll wreak in our lives and work? We might become so reliant on artificial memory that we lose the habit of noticing things. “What is going to happen to us if we bypass something and we ought to have noticed it?” wonders Frank Nack, the lifelogging skeptic. Is it possible to forget how to remember? Perhaps so: Most of us have lost a cell phone only to realize that we can no longer recall the phone numbers of even our closest friends because the machine remembered them for us.”

Ages ago, I meant to write a post about Gordon Bell after the above article. His lifelogging project fascinates me because it gives a sense of how we are all affected by technology.  It’s more than just journaling your thoughts because the technology records random details for you with minimal engagement. What does it mean to have endless records of every website you visited, every conversation you had, every email you sent, every thing you read? How would that affect your behaviour etc? And what about the things that can’t be captured digitally? Taste, touch and smell…

Now I love ephemera. There is something about the transient beauty of a moment that makes me happy. So I always wonder about the devaluation of information. What happens when there is information overload? When random information is in near endless supply, doesn’t the value of it decrease substantially? Isn’t it precisely because my addled brain can barely string together events from a week ago which makes the memories I do remember all the more precious? And the ability to pull back events and overanalyze them must surely be a curse for the slightly neurotic types (like me).  I know I’ve recently had to delete a particularly hurtful email someone sent me because the ability to recollect and obsess about the wrong done was standing in the way of forgiveness. The gift of forgetfulness is not to be underestimated.

I think there is a certain charm about those memories that replay in your mind like movie trailers. They capture a defining moment in time and teeter precariously between history and myth – slightly faded and coloured by the passing of time.

Fabulous fabbing

September 24, 2007

I’ve been reading about desktop manufacturing technologies. Can I say that I think it is hilarious that Windell Oskay got fed up waiting for the prices on the 3D-printers to drop and so he made his own – a machine that builds models out of melted sugar! Genius! And the RepRap prints its own parts – a self-replicating machine! (Hypothetically, any 3D-printer can self-replicate, no? All you need is the original design and the ability the construct a model out of a suitable material?)

It’s probably a reflection of my own self-centeredness but my first thought was all the random, useless, middle-class paraphernalia that machines like these could create. Bizarre forms personal expression enabled by technology. Just think of the amount of worthless printouts you print on your home computer and then make imagine them in 3D!

But more than that the amazing levels of geekery that can be achieved with this, I love the idea that product development can now be taken out of the hands of the dudes with the white lab-coats and into the hands of individuals and small businesses in the developing world who traditionally have no access to such technology. Mad props to MTI on their fablabs. Not quite desktop manufacturing but a similar concept. (I watched a 2005 Pop!Tech video of Neil Gershenfeld this afternoon. Very inspiring.)

As Bruce Sterling put it (in an old Wired article from 2004) –

“Fabbing would be the ultimate industry for the perennially unindustrialized; the consumer cornucopia for the anti-developing world; a mushroom patch of recycled decay that pops up whenever the World Trade Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, or US Patent and Trademark Office turns its back”.

Alert opportunism

September 15, 2007

spence-award1.jpg

This week, I attended a talk by Prof Michael Spence on growth strategies. It was fairly interesting and well-presented, although I suppose that you would expect no less from a Nobel Laureate. He has a certain air of humility about him – confessing that in a dynamic economic environment, economic theory can only bring you so far. There isn’t really a hard and fast prescriptive model in that sense.

He used the phrase “Alert Opportunism”, which I quite like. The idea that you can put in your generic, broad-based policy measures (education, infrastructure etc) but beyond that, all anyone can really do is keep their eyes open and make smart choices.

I guess, it’s a lot like life in general. Those who go from good to great aren’t necessarily the ones with the best talent or natural ability but those who managed to take advantage of the opportunities before them. There is an element of serendipity in the process.

(Of course, there is the question of how to create a national environment of equal opportunity but that is a story for another day.)

Otto Fong

September 13, 2007

I read Mr Otto Fong’s “coming-out open letter” (and the ensuing comments) with some interest.  First up, I will say that I take the same stance as the “official church dogma” on homosexuality.  As a Christian leader, I will do no less.  At the same time, I am “gay-friendly” which makes me a slightly curious (and confused?) creature.   

There is some perception that it is the organised church movement that is driving the anti-gay agenda in Singapore.  I don’t know whether that is true and to some extent, I don’t have many intelligent things to say about homosexuality at the policy-level.   

But this whole thing makes me think about that story in the Gospel of John (chapter 8 ) where a woman was caught in adultery and she was brought to Jesus at the Temple.  The Law of Moses commanded her to be stoned and the Pharisees challenge Jesus on this point.  Jesus simply replied, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”  Of course this is rhetorical question and as the realization sinks in, the crowd gradually disperses.  When finally Jesus is left alone with the woman, He asks her, “Where are your accusers?”  “They are gone”, she says.  And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” 

While Christians are often tempted to pick up at first stone, I pray that we are gripped by the reality that we too have no right.  We too desperately need mercy for there will come a day when we need Grace to protect us from stoning.  Not condoning a lifestyle surely does not extend to attacking and destroying individuals or groups of individuals.   

Whatever it is, I respect Otto for taking a stand for something he believes in, in spite of the personal costs.  There are too many Christians who make bold and dramatic declarations of devotion to God on Sunday only to fail in simple tests of faith on Monday.  There is something to be said about integrity of character and walking the talk.  Christians can learn a lot from him in that respect.

Livin’ on a prayer

September 12, 2007

The acoustic guitar makes me really happy on any given day but imagine what happens when you put it together with the raw vocals of Jon Bon Jovi singing a song inspired by the Regan administration and the effects of trickle-down economics.  Guitars and bizarre application of economic theory are 2 of my favourite things.  It’s soooooo good…

(I’m sorry to say that I think his new stuff is terribly insipid.  I say bring back the good stuff from the 80s!)