Government transparency gets real
Our fair government, global champion of the public domain, returns to its roots of maverick transparency : with public ‘dashboards’ showing exactly where our $70B of annual IT spending is going, what projects are on or behind schedule, which officials are in charge of each division and which contractors are responsible for each project.
I love it — and I want it for every organization I care about. Mad props to Vivek Kundra – whose quote about “having up to 30 days” to get used to the new system is priceless.
On disambiguation and The Atomization of Meaning
Disambiguate has been a somewhat obscure term for ‘specify’ for ages. And the noun form, disambiguation, has been used even more sparingly. At some point in the last century, perhaps in the 1950s, it became a popular term in computational linguistics. And before that it was basically only used by one person, writing about logic and semantics in the early 19th century. All of this sprang to my mind because of the tremendous popularity of the word in and through Wikipedia. In the encyclopedia, it is the canonical way to describe the clarification of an ambiguous term, the indication of type used to specify the context of an article title.
Google n-grams and other public domain searches suggest disambiguation was not popular at all before the 50s. It is used in quotes in a 1954 federal court case, expressly referencing the earlier work of the one philosopher and author who consciously used it for a specific purpose: Jeremy Bentham. But who introduced it into the jargon of linguistics? And to the original point, who introduced it to Wikipedia?
The word’s recent history touches on Rush, Nirvana, Invictus, Larry, and Magnus… and started with a policy page on Naming conventions/Disambiguating.
weddings and nostalgia
I was at the wedding of my dear friend Erik Cohen-Levy two weeks ago, in Texas – quite a lovely and relaxing celebration. And was bitten by something unpleasant which over time made me quite ill. It took a while and some divergent opinions to get a blood test… I should know more Monday about what it is. But it’s nice in a way to know I don’t have the flu.
So I’ve been exercising, hydrating like I had a concert every night, and feeling inexplicably nostalgic. And as I’ve been too tired to move around much, I had time to get to a piece of sleuthing I’ve been meaning to do for a while : to track down who popularized the term ‘disambiguation‘, which Wikipedia has now made a household word ! The nostalgia wiki was helpful, and I’ve turned up some interesting leads, which I will share in another post. But if you have information on the topic, please share.
The weekend, synchrony, and collaboration
Let me amplify a bit the aside in my last post, because it is important. To pull back from the week[end] for a moment, there are many universal elements to modern human culture which we take for granted, and even sometimes rail against, but rarely appreciate as one-time innovations. Roughly in order of adoption:
apprenticeship, language, engineering, drawing, storytelling, astronomy, religion, music & art, holidays, government, law, agriculture, geometry, biology, architecture, education, currency, written language, geography, calendars, numerals, abstract mathematics, books, history, universities.
Many of these innovations have given rise to entire fields of study, so much so that I can more readily name the field than its founding innovation. The ordering is just a guess in many cases, and of course the timeline varies by culture even after distinct societies meet. I included some very specific innovations which seem so natural today that it is easy to forget how recently they were adopted by our civilization.
Privately, holidays and later calendars help to organize regular reflection and pause. They improve the mindfulness of individual life, amplifying the impact of new discoveries and the capacity to change individual habits. But the distributed effect of sharing this practice with others are more profound.
I’ve started helping out with wikizine again, and am working to make OLPC updates come out on a weekly basis as well. The invention of the week was a great human innovation, and we would all do well to honor it more.
(Aside: Honoring the Sabbath is something much more deeply meaningful than simple adherence to faith; it was an early step in global collaboration and division of labor, an arena in which we still have a few magnitudes of synchrony and productivity to eke out.)
Give wikizine a whirl, add your own news if you have any, browse the archives (soon to be on Meta as well), and help with translations if you can, particularly into/out of Spanish.