Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Bed of Procrustes

The Bed of Procrustes Publisher: Random House I came across The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in an English language bookshop in Paris called The Red Wheelbarrow. I bought the book out of annoyance, and have read it in the same vein, as I had recently read the Robert Lancellyn Green version of the tale of Theseus in Tales of the Greek Heroes to my eldest daughter and made the connection between categorisation and Procrustes, indeed had suggested it as the name of a data curation system at work.

How annoying then to encounter my idea explored by another. Initially he takes the idea as it relates to our database society but soon wanders off into adolescent aphorisms, some of which make you laugh, but the majority leave a distate for Mr Taleb himself. This distaste starts from his frequent use of horrible American words: loser, nerd and most revolting sucker (also nonsucker). The book is full of name-calling and disparagement. I think Mr Taleb is a bully who was bullied. One imagines that Mr Taleb's primary audience are financiers after the success of his well known The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. His popularity may be explained by the masochistic attraction to self-loathing which such people are rightly drawn to.

The book induced some self-loathing in me due to my similarities with Mr Taleb and his style. I too value the aphorism and I too think in shallow categories and I too am envious of those I despise.

It is difficult having read the book, and not having previously actually done more than briefly talk about my take on Procrustes, to be sure if I can return to my own idea. Mr Taleb's take is that Procrustes is to be read as changing the wrong variable: the person not the bed. I wanted to take this in another direction, that categorisation is necessarily a process of information reduction. Eye colour may not have an infinity of varieties but it has many more than any database or language system is able to enumerate.


An erudite is someone who displays less than he knows; a journalist or consultant, the opposite.
Engineers can compute but not define, mathematicians can define but not compute, economists can neither define nor compute.
My best definition of a nerd: someone who asks you to explain an aphorism.
I regret buying this book, even from the beautiful bookseller in the Marais.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

I shall wear midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight: A Discworld NovelThe third time I have read I Shall Wear Midnight, just long ago for me to have forgotten how the plot works.
The denouement had my eyes watering.
One of Mr P's more scary works I would recommend for the over thirteens.


In the hardback edition
P 138
SheHe really winked
P 229
that this is a very good deal
P 349
of us of us

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Telling the Story of Welsh

Telling the Story of Welsh by Catrin Stevens is an interesting, if deeply partisan, pamphlet on the history of the Welsh language.

Published by Gomer who appear to have a Melati driven website, I bought my copy at the Dolaucothi Gold Mines.

I did notice a new confidence in Mid and West Wales. Wales looks best in sunlight, but towns that I remember as grim seem to be less so.

The number of young families speaking Welsh seemed high, and the RSPB warden, an incomer of twenty years, told me of his children's delight in talking Welsh in front of him, as he can still not understand.

It may be that a nationalist, socialist, elitist, academic and administered intervention has turned things around both for Welsh and Wales.

When I ask myself if this is a good thing I think of how sad I am that the last native speaker of Cornish has died and my sympathy for the Breton struggle with Frankish centralism.

The Welsh have probably got as big a grievance against the English as the Irish, Scottish or even the wider Empire, but respect for their language seems to be going a long way towards soothing ancient hurts.