Monthly Archives: February 2010


It sounds like one of those implausible movie plots involving computers can be used to spy on their users like two-way telescreens in Orwell’s 1984. But this, apparently, really happened. Student issued laptop webcams were used to spy on them at school and home.

…the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools’ administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

Multiple-state existence found in ordinary plants

Photosynthesis (plants turning light into food) turns out to be evidence of multiple-state existence, according to a recent article in Wired.

From the article:

The analogy I like is if you have three ways of driving home through rush hour traffic. On any given day, you take only one. You don’t know if the other routes would be quicker or slower. But in quantum mechanics, you can take all three of these routes simultaneously. You don’t specify where you are until you arrive, so you always choose the quickest route…

Thought challenge for my friends

Aristotle drew a distinction between ‘essential’ and ‘accidental’ properties. Essential properties are qualities that something must have to be what it is, and accidental properties are attributes that a thing merely happens to have.

One’s rationality, according to Aristotle, is an essential property of being human. One’s hair color, by contrast, is merely accidental. Hair color is how they are; it’s not essential to who they are. A chair is essentially something you can sit on, be it accidentally made of wood, metal, or plastic.

So, my friends, what are essential properties that make you who you are? What are qualities others consider to be essential in you, but you feel are merely accidental?