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How the internet continues to ruin my life ! March 29, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, ideas, technology.
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This is what happened to me yesterday that not only left me shocked, but also answers a few questions, namely :

  1. How I spend much of weekdays and most of my weekends
  2. What I mean when I say “I am mostly reading stuff online” and what “stuff” means.
  3. “Hey, where did you get that piece of fact/rumor from ?”

 

Stop 1 :

 

I took a break from my reading of the EM algorithm (actually the break came soon after I downloaded the study material and before I even started reading it 😉 ) and started read this article from the NYTimes. It talked about how search engines are making us dumb !

 

Stop 2 :

At some point in the article I came across this word called “satisficing” – a word that suggests that human beings are not perfectionists – that we aren’t looking for perfection most of the time – only for workable, satisfying solutions. This word is coined by Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon from my institution ( Carnegie Mellon University) so I got interested in that – typed satisficing in google – took me to the wikipedia link for satisficing. Read that page.

 

Stop 3 : On the wikipedia link for satisficing, I again came across a link on Herbert Simon and decided to read that. On this page, it said he consulted for RAND corporation – a name I came across several times before but never cared to look it up. I linked to RAND.

 

Stop 4: Linked to main RAND corp. page – read their history – what an amazing institution – its high time India had something like that. I would love to conduct multi-disciplinary work there – the range of things they work on and the impact is not too well known really.

 

Stop 5: On the RAND Corp. page on wikipedia, a number of names that worked for RAND were listed. Two names got me interested – Condi Rice and John Von Neumann.

 

Stop 6: Linked to Condi Rice – about how she overcame segregation – also learnt that the person who inspired her to political science was her professor who happened to Madeline Albright’s father !! Looking at the condition of blacks in the US, I really admire the lady – never mind her politics ( but hey, she is Pro-India – so double wow for her – I back for 2008 🙂 ). Came back and linked next to John Von Neumann.

 

Stop 6: John Von Neumann is one exciting person to read about. I never knew that there was so much about him I didn’t know – all I knew was that he was the inventor of the John Von Neumann architecture and of Game theory ( from a lecture on John Nash, again a Carnegie Mellon alumnus ). Here is a sampling about John Von Neumann –

– Choose the targets for the atomic bombing of Japan. Initially choose Kyoto, but it was rejected by Secretary of War ( got to find out why !! )

 

on Neumann worked out key steps in the nuclear physics involved in thermonuclear reactions and the hydrogen bomb.

He was a profoundly committed hedonist who liked to eat and drink heavily

insistently gaze at the legs of young women

He also favored a preventive nuclear attack on the USSR, believing that doing so could prevent it from obtaining the atomic bomb.

precise altitude at which the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs should be detonated in order that they would produce the most extensive damage possible was calculated by von Neumann himself !!

– He was also the inventor of the MAD theory ! This was just too interesting to resist delving deeper into. Its hard to believe that we lived in times when we were actually preparing our own annihilation – it was one of the ‘acceptable situations’ of day-to-day life ! Here is more on MAD –

“In the event of a Soviet conventional attack on Western Europe, NATO planned to use tactical nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union countered this threat by issuing a statement that any use of nuclear weapons against Soviet forces, tactical or otherwise, was grounds for a full-scale Soviet retaliatory strike. In effect, if the Soviet Union invaded Europe, the United States would stop the offensive with tactical nuclear weapons. Then, the Soviet Union would respond with a full-scale nuclear strike on the United States. The United States would respond with a full scale nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. As such, it was generally assumed that any combat in Europe would end with apocalyptic conclusions.”

Stop 6 : That page linked me to Robert McNamara’s speech where he proposed this strategy. A must read.

 

Stop 7 : One of Neumann’s collaborator in the A-bomb work was a Klaus Fuchs – who turns out to be a Russian Spy !!!

 

Stop 8 : Linked to Klaus Fuchs. Worked on the A-bomb at Los Alamos – a friend of Feynman !

 

This interesting bit about him – “The information Fuchs gave Soviet intelligence in 1948 coincided with Donald Maclean’s ( another spy) reports from Washington. The Soviet Union knew the United States did not have enough nuclear weapons to deal with both the Berlin blockade and the victory of the Communists in China at the same time.” Linked to the other spy Donald Maclean !!

 

Stop 9: Read about his partner in crime Donald Maclean ( a bisexual ) and the story of his escape.

 

This took about 2.5 hours. Insane isn’t it !

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