Moral Sense

Of Moral Sense and its Sensibility

Got this from Vivek.
Harvard University'sMoral Sense Test Team is currently soliciting for people to take this test. The test is quite interesting. It asks only a few questions and takes less than 7 minutes to complete. The setup is interesting, as you will notice.

They are doing this online in addition to traditional methods, which has the potential to reach a lot more people. I always wonder on the validity of tests that generalise to the rest of humanity on basis of a small sample set. Hopefully, this data will be representative enough, thanks to the Internet.

From their site,
"When humans, from the hunter-gathers of the Rift Valley to the billionaire dot-com-ers of the Silicon Valley generate moral intuitions they are like reflexes, something that happens to us without our being aware of how or even why. We call this capacity our moral faculty."
This is something that I totally agree with. Innate human characteristics are independent of time, social status and even culture (to a certain extent). The question is how to exactly measure these? A test like this, however well-designed, cannot account for all sorts of cultural, religious and social customs. The project is quite ambitious. It is trying to come up with some sort of score for a sense that is not tangible, and an extremely abstract quantity. I felt that the questions were extremely well-designed, given the limitations. [To avoid spoilers, see comments sections, after taking test.] Will be interesting to see the data when the results are out. Till then I can speculate about moral sense and its sensibility.


Search Engine Wars

Amazon has unleashed a new search engine A9. Cannot, but applaud their ingenuity. Amazon knows that Google has the best search technology and they didn't want to reinvent the wheel, like some other big-wigs are currently trying to do. All they did was to incorporate the Google search and a couple of their own lame-ass searches to create a new web search. Extending this parasitic idea they simply consolidated some of the best websites- IMDB, their own for books and products. It was nice to avoid the few keystokes to get to and to look for references to movies and books. Then they have a reference tab that pulls results from Another advantage is that you can turn these tabs 'on' or 'off' and see all the different searches on the same screen. Their toolbar seems to be a cheap imitation of the real thing. The interface is a low-budget graphic design job resulting in a rather clunky looking interface. Prefer the sparse 'Less is More' less is more design of Google.

Their biggest USP is that A9 is customizable and you can save and store searches which can be accessed from any computer once you login. I think this a very useful change. I begin any info search for business or pleasure with a 'Google Search'. It has been exasperating to recall the exact search terms to retrieve an old search. Often I find an obscure, interesting website and then cannot get it back again, wishing bitterly that I had stored it. Also you don't want to clutter your Internet Favorites.

The biggest and most important tradeoff is-'speed'. A9 is quite slow. Instantaneous search gratification is what I want and even a millisecond delay would cause me to swear (the VSNL days of dial-up being happily excised from my memory).

So knowing all this would you switch? Not I, because all the power features that I like using such as the metric conversions, the define:[word], site:[sitename], etc. are not supported. There is no tab for Google News or Groups which I rely on. Seeing the feverish activity of projects at Google Labs, Google seems to be way ahead of the game in terms of advanced projects. Google however, cannot sit pretty. If it had decided to get in the game it has to get ready to play hard-ball with the biggies. MSN still is going to unleash its Mother of All Search Engines- MASE and I predict a few changes in Google. Expecting more cool features and tweaks.

Could not find out why they named it A9. The A is for Amazon. But 9?? Anyone?

From Helicon

Blog Updates

The literary blog Hail!Mount Helicon has seen frenetic activity with as many as 4 new posts in as many days.
On the Old Man and the Sea and Ayn Rand by Nikhil. A critical look at Pankaj Mishra's Butter Chicken in Ludhiana by Nakul and an introduction and an interesting invitation for more discussion on the Booker Prize by Ramanand.
My Plug:Also see recently updated post on the iconic - Kurt Vonnegut and his hilarious and sad Slaughterhouse Five.

My blog roll has been updated.

True Stories from the Road

America - Traveller's Tales
It's Labor Day and I am looking at America - True Stories from the Road, a book that took me 3 months to read. It's not one of those books that you simply gulp down. So I have sipped it in a few essays at a time, over the past few months. These essays are by men and women; Americans and non-Americans; white, brown, red and black. Each searching for the 'essence of America'. For all the time I have spent in the 'home of the brave, land of the free', I too have been trying to look for what America really is or what it should be. After the 50 essays or so, the book still gave no definite answer. It was a great read for anyone trying to peer into America, free the cliches. The book calm accepts the vices, and the history of injustice to the Natives and Blacks. It also lauds the virtues of its people, the pioneering enterprising folk who left everything behind to carve a space in the New World.

Here are a few:
Mark McIntyre dissatisfied with his job as a journalist, left the job and decided to trek across America - penniless. Excerpted from the book, is his story of a night spent in a closet at a police station with other bums, trying to escape from the rain.

Memphis is a City of Dead Kings, a window to the American Mind. Andrei Codrescu says, ' (here)..stretches the outlandish spectacle of the American mind, which swings like a yo-yo between frivolity and concern.' He compares the legacies of Presley's Graceland and Martin Luther King's Lorraine Motel, where King was shot dead. One of money, pathos, cruelty, and bad taste and the other of one, who just, ' .. wanted to leave a committed life behind. ', which remains a yet unfinished dream.

Fred Setterberg tries to understand Willa Cather's Nebraska and the joy of the great American Prairie, whose boundlessness made the first Western settlers crazy. Charles Kuralt on the good people of Minnesota. ' Minnesotans fasten their seatbelts. Minnesotans hold the door for you. Minnesotans do not blow their horn at you when the light turns green, they wait for you to notice. Minnesota men who don't leave the toilet seat up.' Janine Jones, 33 gets propositioned by a teenager 'man-child' on a LA bus and talks about surviving modern civilization in L.A.

I was deeply impressed by Phil Caputo capturing, what to me, is the essence of America. This essay was written as he spent 3 days in the wilderness of the Gila Forest in Arizona reflecting over the horror stories printed in a newspaper about gruesome murders and proposal to build a road through ancient Native American petroglyphs. In the one of most beautiful virgin forests he reflects, on the good earth of America and its good people and what America attempted to be and what it has now become.

"One thing that our society holds sacred is growth. Not intellectual or spiritual growth but economic growth, and not stable sustainable economic growth but let-'er rip, boomtown, pave-it-don't-save-it growth.

.... our national religion is a kind of evangelical consumerism. We consume things that aren't really things - we swallow the salt water of information by the gallon while our throats are parched for the spring of wisdom; we consume violence in the computer games and on tabloid TV while we gorge on a home-delivered pizza.

... what we have built in the last half-century is not civilization. It may be development but it's not civilization. It seems, that the more we despoil the land and divorce ourselves from the rhythms, cycles and beauty of the natural world, the less civilized we become."

He ends saying, 'I will hike the remaining four miles to the traihead, get in my truck and return to what is commonly called the real world. But I am not sure what it is.'