A Diatribe from the Remains of Dr. Fred McCabe

by Daniel Rourke

About a month ago in handling the remains of one Dr. Fred McCabe I found rich notes of contemplation on the subject of information theory. It appears that Fred could have written an entire book on the intricacies of hidden data, encoded messages and deceptive methods of transmission. Instead his notes exist in the form of a cryptic assemblage of definitions and examples, arranged into what Dr. McCabe himself labelled a series of ‘moments’.

I offer these moments alongside some of the ten thousand images Dr. McCabe amassed in a separate, but intimately linked, archive. The preface to this abridged compendium is little capable of preparing one for the disarray of material, but by introducing this text with Fred’s own words it is my hope that a sense of the larger project will take root in the reader’s fertile imagination.

The Moment of the Message: A Diatribe

by Dr. Fred McCabe

More than ten thousand books on mathematics and a thousand books on philosophy exist for every one upon information. This is surprising. It must mean something.

I want to give you a message. But first. I have to decide how to deliver the message.

This is that moment.

I can write it down, or perhaps memorise it – reciting it in my head like a mantra, a prayer chanted in the Palace gardens. And later, speaking in your ear, I will repeat it to you. That is, if you want to hear it.

I could send it to you, by post, or telegram. After writing it down I will transmit it to you. Broadcasting on your frequency in the hope that you will be tuned in at the right moment. Speaking your language. Encoded and encrypted, only you will understand it.

I have a message for you and I want you to receive it. But first. I have to decide what the message is.

This is that moment:

This is the moment of the message

From the earliest days of information theory it has been appreciated that information per se is not a good measure of message value. The value of a message appears to reside not in its information (its absolutely unpredictable parts) but rather in what might be called its redundancy—parts predictable only with difficulty, things the receiver could in principle have figured out without being told, but only at considerable cost in money, time, or computation. In other words, the value of a message is the amount of work plausibly done by its originator, which its receiver is saved from having to repeat.

This is the moment my water arrived at room temperature

The term enthalpy comes from the Classical Greek prefix en-, meaning “to put into”, and the verb thalpein, meaning “to heat”.

For a simple system, with a constant number of particles, the difference in enthalpy is the maximum amount of thermal energy derivable from a thermodynamic process in which the pressure is held constant.

This is the moment the wafer became the body of Christ

The Roman Catholic Church got itself into a bit of a mess. Positing God as the victim of the sacrifice introduced a threshold of undecidability between the human and the divine. The simultaneous presence of two natures, which also occurs in transubstantiation, when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, threatens to collapse the divine into the human; the sacred into the profane. The question of whether Christ really is man and God, of whether the wafer really is bread and body, falters between metaphysics and human politics. The Pope, for all his failings, has to decide the undecidable.

This is the moment black lost the game

A ko fight is a tactical and strategic phase that can arise in the game of go.

Some kos offer very little gain for either player. Others control the fate of large portions of the board, sometimes even the whole board, and the outcome of those kos can determine the winner of the game. For this reason, finding and using ko threats well is a very important skill.

This is the moment Robinson Crusoe becomes the first, English language novel

According to Abel Chevalley, a novel is: “a fiction in prose of a certain extent”, defining that “extent” at over 50,000 words. Some critics distinguish the novel from the romance (which has fantastic elements), the allegory (in which characters and events have political, religious or other meanings), and the picaresque (which has a loosely connected sequence of episodes). Some critics have argued that Robinson Crusoe contains elements of all three of these other forms.

This is the moment Sarah Conner takes control

A paper clip is usually a thin wire in a looped shape that takes advantage of the elasticity and strength of the materials of its construction to compress and therefore hold together two or more pieces of paper by means of torsion and friction. Some other kinds of paper clip use a two-piece clamping system.

In fiction, a paper clip often takes the place of a key as means of breaking and entering, or, in Sarah Conner’s case, as means of escape.

This is the moment they found the missing piece of DNA

In northern Spain 49,000 years ago, 11 Neanderthals were murdered. Their tooth enamel shows that each of them had gone through several periods of severe starvation, a condition their assailants probably shared. Cut marks on the bones indicate the people were butchered with stone tools. About 700 feet inside the cave, a research team excavated 1,700 bones from that cannibalistic feast. Much of what is known about Neanderthal genetics comes from those 11 individuals.

This is the moment Bill Clinton lied (to himself)

A microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression shown on the face according to emotions experienced. They usually occur in high-stake situations, where people have something to lose or gain. Unlike regular facial expressions, it is difficult to fake microexpressions. Microexpressions express the seven universal emotions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and contempt. They can occur as fast as 1/25 of a second.

This is the moment I strained my iris

Idiopathic is an adjective used primarily in medicine meaning arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause. From Greek idios (one’s own) and pathos (suffering), it means approximately “a disease of its own kind.”

This is the moment everything changed

In ordinary conversation, everything usually refers only to the totality of things relevant to the subject matter. When there is no expressed limitation, everything may refer to the universe or the world.

Every object and entity is a part of everything, including all physical bodies and in some cases all abstract objects. Everything is generally defined as the opposite of nothing, although an alternative view considers “nothing” a part of everything.

This is the moment of another message

In information theory the value of a message is calculated by the cost it would take to repeat or replace the work the message has done.

One might argue that a message’s usefulness is a better measure of value than its replacement cost. Usefulness is an anthropocentric concept that information theorists find difficult to conceptualise.

by Daniel Rourke