Saturday, November 02, 2013

Links of Note

* John Wilkins recently had two very good posts on species concepts:
Articles of faith: The theological and philosophical origins of the concept of species

Are species theoretical objects?

* An interesting discussion of student evaluations of teaching at NewAPPS

* "A Clerk of Oxford" discusses King Alfred the Great -- one of those few kings who really did deserve the title "Great".

* Stephen Colbert at the Alfred E Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner

* Reviews are one of those things that are always hit-or-miss, but this review by Alice MacLachlan of E. M. Dadlez's Mirrors to One Another: Emotion and Value in Jane Austen and David Hume is genuinely excellent, and does everything a short scholarly review should do. Anyone doing a review should consider using it as a model.

* Amid all the debacle over the website, it is perhaps worthwhile to note that they are relatively insignificant compared to the IT problems of the British government.

Computers are a weak point for governments in general. Governments tend to be quite good with small IT projects that are already very, very focused, especially if they literally can't be changed for mathematical or physical reasons. On occasions they are even better than corporations, because corporations rarely have the sheer shiploads of money to throw at details and can't usually hold their contractors' feet over fires that are quite as hot if things go wrong. However, governments don't focus well. Political negotiation is not a stable or reliable way to come up with technical specifications. Governments in practice work not by giving people precise specifications but general guidelines and just letting them do whatever to fulfill them as long as they do so in ways that withstand the Byzantine politics of review; the people in charge often don't know how to give a precise specification of a project. Likewise, in politics, everything is in a constant state of adaptation: sticking firmly to the original idea is not usually useful for political negotiation or, if you are civil service, for working with politicians, so governments are tempted to change the project requirements at the drop of a hat. The list of problems could be expanded. Bureaucracies tweak, politicians fiddle; the result for any big project is almost always a mess.

* The Darwins consider how Sense and Sensibility might be modernized.

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