living computation

living computation :: High order bits :: comments

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Dick 9 Jun 2004, 10:46:27 am

About identity and high order bits

I'm not sure if this is relevant, but every now and then I notice something that makes me think about the order in which we place our "identity attributes" (for lack of a better term). For instance, on Christopher Street here in NYC you can from time to time see black gay men walking in groups. Those who are flamboyantly gay really get my attention and force me to confront my willingness to stereotype black men as virile, macho, and irredeemably heterosexual. But at the same time, I believe (rightly or wrongly) that these stereotypes exist in the black community -- and that gay men who happen to be black must cope with them to a degree that white gay men don't. Which leads me to suspect that sexual preference is the high order bit (perhaps higher than age?) and race is in the column to the right.

Another, more recent example that fascinates me involves the military attorneys who have been given the job of defending whatever Guantanamo Bay detainees are chosen to be tried before the Bush administration's military tribunals. Which is the high order professional bit here -- attorney or military officer? If you've read about these people you know the answer: attorney. They've all been extremely active publicizing their opposition to the very idea of a military tribunal and have argued publicly that they believe such a forum prevents their clients from receiving a fair trial. Again, my stale stereotypes about how career officers identify themselves -- military *has* to be the high order bit here, no? -- were challenged ... and much to my relief. In the bit string of identity consisting of age, gender, race, sexual preference, and profession, is attorney always a higher order professional bit than officer? Can we envision circumstances that would change these attorneys' high order bits so that the military would trump the law? And what about "hacker and painter" Paul Graham? Which is the high order bit: hacker or painter? And does Paul get to choose the high order bit or do those he knows? (He may be in denial about it!) Indeed, is it up to any of us to order the bit string of identity ... or must we admit that the order we prefer isn't necessarily the one everyone else uses when they think about us?

Dave Ackley 9 Jun 2004, 5:41:15 pm

Battle of the boxes

The box determines the high order bit; whoever chooses the box chooses the high order bit. So whoever implicitly or explicitly controls the choice of box, in any given circumstance, has significant power, in proportion to the importance of that circumstance. I think part of the freedom we associate with American individualism is the notion that, within broad limits, we should let the individual choose the box within which we then 'enumerate' them.

Dave Ackley 10 Jun 2004, 10:04:39 am

Unary notation

Also, the existence of any high-order bit at all is kind of a side-effect of using a positional notation for representing numbers, so that this bit is twice as important as the one to its right, four times as important as the one two to its right, and so.

In 'unary' or 'pile of rocks' notation, all marks are the same order---each is worth 1---so xxx (unary) is 3 (decimal) and xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (unary) is 15 (decimal) and so on, and there is no high order bit.

Unary notation is rarely used in practical contexts because it is so inefficient---e.g., taking 15 unary digits ('uit's?) to represent the number 15, where binary only needs 4 bits---but it does embody a much more egalitarian position for thinking about the relative importance of various 'identity attributes'.

(And for another day: A general rant about the evils of computer science focusing on 'peephole efficiency' without counting the larger design costs of doing so. Piles of rocks are underappreciated...)

Dick 11 Jun 2004, 12:41:28 pm

Identity and action

"...we should let the individual choose the box within which we then 'enumerate' them."

I'm not sure I understand this line of argument (I'm not sure what the "box" refers to), but it occurs to me that what really determines identity is action: what you do and what you don't do. The Guantanamo attorneys ordered their identity bits irrevocably by going public on their opposition to the military tribunals. Had they kept quiet, agreed to tribunal procedures and protocol, followed through on defense, and watched their clients get convicted and executed it wouldn't matter how *they* chose to order their identity bits ... a discerning public would set the order for them.

Dave Ackley 11 Jun 2004, 11:21:48 pm

Actions speak boxes

I mostly just meant the category or framework that determines the interpretation of some attributes---duck box vs swan box, that sort of thing. And yes, we generally only grant the individual some latitude to specify their box insofar as it's consistent with their actions, currently excepting the President.

-spam message deleted from- 18 Nov 2004, 7:45:51 am

spam deleted :(

Dave Ackley 27 Nov 2011, 12:03:02 pm

Revised 11/27/2011

Truth in advertising: Redid the 'splitting the audience' markup a little today, to get it to work again -- the 'splits' had ceased being a floater and started running in line.

Didn't change any actual wording..


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