Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Does It All MEAN?

(Note: As a textual convention I will write terms I mean in a technical, narrow, non-portable sense in ALL CAPS. It is my intention to provide the entire meaning that I intend those words to have in my text. They don't necessarily have any relationship to the same words used in other contexts, though they might.)

MEANING is the product of CONTENT (facts) and CONTEXT (assumptions). MEANING is what we "get" from words and experiences that we can in turn communicate as words and experiences. MEANING is inherently contextual. It requires some set of assumptions, some axiomatic foundation upon which to rest, 0r, alternatively, to act as a filter for the infinite facts that one can collect about anything.

MEANING, then, is a matter of opinion. It is a matter of agreement on the facts of the case, and of the assumptions used to interpret them. When we attempt to determine what something MEANS, we set the facts in the context that we find self-evidently TRUE. What is TRUTH? TRUTH is simply agreement with some standard, and in the case of CONTEXT, TRUTH is self-evident. Not rational, not logical, not defensible except as being self-evident.

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The Best Use for Java

In theory, I like Java. Strongly object oriented and platform agnostic, I want to like it. Unfortunately, I don't. Almost* every application I have used written in Java is quirky, bloated and has an unpleasant interface. But, there is one use of Java that I have always applauded: web-based applications for scientific visualization.

Visualizing a ripple tank, animated and fully interactive fascination

Java turns out to be a great way to provide simulations on web pages, and there are quite a few very nice ones out there. Recently, a colleague asked me about antenna radiation visualization software and in the process of researching the question I stumbled into a veritable treasure trove of just the kind of Java applet I appreciate.

Paul Falstad in a fit of prolificacy has produced an impressive menu of math and physics visualization applets and put them on the web for all of us to mesmerize ourselves with. They are very well done, and offer interaction and both 2- and 3-dimensional views. Warning: You might want to be sure you don't have anything important to to do for a while before you visit that link.

* Cyberduck, the very nice OS X FTP/SFTP client was written in Java but used the Cocoa API to make it indistinguishable from a native OS X application. Cyberduck lives on here but I don't think it uses Java any more. However it is really spiffy and worth checking out as it has grown many new abilities.

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