Is originality merely the rehashing of old ideas?

This is my second practice attempt at the Analytical Writing Issue task. I finished this one in 45 minutes even (or is that “odd”? 😉 ), but I had to stop halfway through proofreading. Hope all my subjects agree with their verbs, and everything. The first two topics were ones I had decent examples for off the top of my head; I worry I won’t be so lucky on the real thing.

Originality does not mean thinking something that was never thought before; it means putting old ideas together in new ways.

An old dictum states that everything a person thinks has been thought before, that “there is nothing new under the sun.” And in many cases, this is true.

Witness the countless love poems that have been written: we express the same concept with myriad images and metaphors, always seeking new ways to depict a feeling that is common to all people in all times. Surely, in the context of love poems, originality must mean putting an old idea in a new light.

Even the modern personal computer was not a new idea when it was developed as a practical product; the idea of a programmable computing machine goes back at least to Charles Babbage in the nineteenth century. And his idea was arguably a ‘mere’ modification of adding machines that have been used for thousands of years. A long history of computing machines has led up to our current Macbook Pros, iPods, and touchscreen tablet PCs; the originality and innovation in the computer industry involves a great deal of modification to existing technology. We create new technologies by borrowing and improving upon existing ones.

But is all originality merely modification or recombination?

Einstein famously said that imagination is more important than knowledge. And he was a fit judge: a genius physicist, his Theory of Relativity caused a paradigm shift in the physical sciences, rewriting our model of the universe. He showed that Newtonian physics was deeply flawed (albeit useful on the scale of the everyday world), a feat that required no small amount of knowledge. But it required no less of him in originality: at the heart of Einstein’s theory is a redefinition of time itself. No one before him had imagined that time and space might be related, that they might be anything but constant.

It requires originality to express old ideas in novel ways, or to transform the idea of an adding machine into that of a Macbook Pro. But sometimes, someone does think a new thought; that kind of originality can change our world radically, well deserving the name we give it: “genius.”


Picking up Melanie Mitchell’s “Complexity”

This is a good way for a book to start. I’m not familiar with John Holland, though–probably an advisor or something; I wonder whether he’s written anything.

Reductionism is the most natural thing in the world to grasp. It's simply the belief that "a whole can be understood completely if you understand its parts, and the nature of their 'sum.'" No one in her left brain could reject reductionism. --Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach

Hofstadter was Mitchell’s faculty advisor when she was a graduate student at the University of Michigan studying artificial intelligence. I think I’m going to like her.

On (not) reading

So, all of a sudden I’m not reading anything at all. I blame it on Sony. And Zazzle.

It’s true! I got the computer, and I’ve been so busy playing on it that I haven’t got any new books to read for a couple weeks now. And I haven’t finished Passage to India either, which I’ve been slowly working my way through for at least a month. It’s not exactly boring while I’m reading it, but I don’t find myself wanting to pick it back up and keep going.

When I do get around to visiting the library again, though, I want to start on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I heard somewhere that it was good. Oh – it was from the same person’s website who recommended Terry Pratchett. So I’m inclined to think this series will be pretty sweet, because Pratchett is definitely in the running for absolute favorite author. He’s pretty win. And he has a hat.

Addendum to computer configuration

It turns out you don’t actually have to copy the VAIO Care stuff, unless I’m missing something that I don’t even know about. There’s a place on the Sony website where you can download the most updated version (I think it was listed as an ‘update’, but it did install the program without a hitch, so it wasn’t just a patch).

When I got it reinstalled, I noticed that the Assist button wasn’t opening VAIO Care. Then I noticed that the Fn buttons weren’t working, either. It turns out there is one program among all of the unnecessary Sony stuff that you really will want; the VAIO Event Service runs the Fn buttons along with the top Assist, Display Off, and VAIO buttons. When I installed that and restarted, they worked again. So, point of note.

I have not changed any of the settings for the video card, although I’ve read somewhere that it’s underclocked (set slower than the NVIDIA stock settings). It works fine for what I’ve done so far, but that’s nothing more intense than Final Fantasy VIII — try installing that program on your computer, the system requirements are so cute! 😀

It does make me a little nervous to mess with clock speeds; I’ve never overclocked anything and don’t know much about what the settings do. I do know that overclocking when or how you shouldn’t can destroy a perfectly good computer. (It can overheat and melt the hardware. There’s no recovering a system from that.) On top of that, I can’t figure out where people find the stock settings — I’ve seen them posted on user forums, but never on NVIDIA or Sony. How do I know what the settings ‘ought’ to be?

Adventures in configuring a new computer

Good grief a Windows re-install takes a long time!

My shiny new laptop arrived today, while we were in a staff meeting. 🙂 So I burned a couple copies of the recovery discs (Sony was thoughtful and didn’t include the dvds, just a partition on the hard drive), and now I’m trying to do a re-install to prevent the bloatware, only the recovery disks don’t give me any choice in the matter — they install exactly what was on the computer when I first turned it on.

So I am currently waiting for the install to complete, as I have been for an hour and a half or so, after which I’ll be stuck taking the jury-rigging “semi-clean install” route. It’s like a crude hack; you start the install from the recovery media, then when it gets to the part where it installs the crapware, you hit ctrl-alt-del and end the process called “VAIORecv” (or some very similar abbreviation of “VAIO Recovery”). That stops it installing all the crap.

Of course, before you do this, you must have copied the VAIO Care / Recovery Center folder (which contains the tools you need to reinstall any skipped programs that you actually want) to an external drive. After the OS install, you replace the VAIO Care stuff where it was supposed to be and run it; there’ll be a couple useful programs that got skipped, like maybe the DVD player software.

A clean install would probably be the best approach, in that you have complete control over what you install (and, I think, over the drive partitions), but it’s more work and easier to mess up. A true clean install means finding a disc image of just Windows 7 and burning it to a disc, finding and copying all the drivers to a flash drive or cd, and installing each individual item manually, resetting after every step. It’d be relatively easy to miss a driver or to get an outdated version, the latter even if you’re using a guide from somewhere like the Notebook Review forums.

…And…it failed. The ordinary reinstall didn’t work, and it said I need to redo the installation. Well, forget copying the VAIO Recovery Center folder, I’ll just have to look for a download if it’s missing anything. I’m doing the hack install, and re-partitioning my drive while I’m at it. (A 50GB partition for program files, 400ish for data, and the pre-set size for the recovery partition.)

Wish me luck.