Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Modern Computation: A Love Story

A review of John MacCormick's 9 Algorithms that Changed the Future

   Recently I read a book, by a person who loves what they do, about a few brilliant ideas in computation from which we benefit constantly. Over nine algorithms and a little extra book, a number of critical methods common to modern machines are made much more tangible through the accompanying and judiciously detailed explanations.

   We are delivered a number of deep and critical consequences of usually quite complicated mathematical results, but this work begins where it can be understood by us as a fairly lay audience. If you remember your arithmetic, and perhaps a couple extra functions (like exponentiation), the presentation will take it from there.
   The main structure of the book is to introduce us to mathematical and/or conceptual 'tricks,' the approximately two to four concepts per chapter that, combined, form a simplified but highly explanatory base of the algorithm in question. It's all laid out in a book length summary where the (not too) technical detail is, with care, embedded in analogy that for the most part seems quite strong and a picture of how these technologies are actually applied. The demonstration of how we live with these ideas is thorough; from the way Google now flashes searches so quickly you get results between pausing to write another word, through how your phone is so easily secured against a quite determined remote attack on banking information and to how errors... happen, but at least we don't have the garbage with which Richard Hamming dealt, thanks at least in part to him.
   MacCormick also discusses people and undecidability. This being a popular work as opposed to a textbook, there is more of the freedom and benefit of discussing the lives and work of the people who came up with the theory and practice. This book taught me not only some more things about Claude Shannon's work in compression, but also that he could ride a unicycle and juggle at the same time (and would, at work).
I'm also quite glad undecidability is brought up at the end of the book. Although it's a few steps removed from our immediate sense of computation compared to everything else covered, I'm of the opinion that it's quite a fascinating, important concept to understand when considering the future marvels of computer science and what we want from it. For those of you that are familiar with this, you may or may not share some of my sentiments; for those of you that don't, there's no time for investigation like the present.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Feynman, a graphic novel by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

A review story.

Recently, my dad handed me a graphic novel called Feynman, about Feynman. This 250 page comic-biographical work, here, was not read by someone who knew Feynman personally, or was even alive when he was. While, beforehand, I have to say I can't personally vouch for how representative this is, it definitely meshed with my vague impressions of how Feynman was supposed to be in life. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! is apparently a collection everyone, myself and readership included, should read if they want to get a deeper feeling for this hilarious legend of physical research.

It is alluded to that the writers were going for something that felt like Feynman. Events are not presented in precise order, although the eras of his life do basically come one after the other. It backbone is an artistic reconstruction of pieces of Feynman's life and activities, from his romances to his work in the Manhattan Project. Attention is given to a number of dimensions of his character, of course prominently featuring his eccentricity, but also the deep humanity that was supposed to characterize at least a moment, here and there, of the man's reflection and thought. The science and math he was working on features prominently as a thing that appears often and sometimes explained in more detailed, lay terms, but as is usual the book doesn't contain anything that's absolutely incomprehensible without a grasp of quantum mechanics.

The perspective is a strange kind of long term first person narrative from Feynman, almost all the way through to his death; when the story is still in his childhood, narrating Richard is definitely an adult, but then in his middle age and later it is perhaps not meant to be entirely clear if the perspective is from a Feynman of the near future (relative to where the story is), or if it's basically Feynman as he would have told his story very shortly before his death.

For those of you that happen on this review, commissioned by one who shall remain anonymous, I highly recommend this work. There's no light read quite like the short and elegant construction of a character such as this to put in your head and feature for a day's entertainment.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Writing a Novel in Guess How Many Characters at a Time

So I got a Twitter account of a school project a few months ago. The project was, and still is, to write a novel on Twitter, or at least the start of one, up to the end of the year. The idea was one post a day, I believe. I'm @LordSazz for all those with the kind of necessarily morbid curiosity to pursue it.

So my English teacher is a madwoman. Will prose be broken forever? Will I forever be doomed to write in sentences usually no longer than 100 characters long (shoving two in there is usually desirable)? Is it going to be clean, nicely thought out and well written? I doubt any of these questions are to be answered in the affirmative, for one certainly because I have no hope of breaking all prose forever. Other assignments, Facebook, and very occasionally this holy place allow me to indulge my appetite for hilariously long sentences and their completely unnecessary words, but on the third point... I've written this beginning 140 characters at a time and a couple of times deleted a recent post and rewritten for errors. If it ends up a fine work of literature then that's just crazy.

But our teacher was inspired by this idea, so maybe some of us will make bajillions or something.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Political Ramble I Had at the End of the Original Mashup

Politically I have no idea who to vote for besides Lib, because the Cons don't sound too appealing. Honestly I should do some looking to find out why I should have faith in the Liberals to do anything... nice, as opposed to not as bad as some current Conservative behaviour. The plan I really need to get behind? Electoral reform. More rep by pop, but in some kind of complicated mess of a mixed system. I guess it would be thrown around for a few years before coming to some watered down but existing state. At least it wouldn't be a system in which some fools can win a landslide victory with around 40% of the vote. A certain unevenness would still be fine with me though; if the Maritimes need to be able to outvote me by something like a 2 or even 3:1 ratio so that our completely ridiculous population advantage in larger urban centers doesn't, in essence, eliminate their voices in a balanced-ish confederation, so be it. Not having to cross international borders to keep trade going has its advantages, but perhaps splitting wouldn't be so bad. I really don't know; as long as everyone still kept on intimate terms and traded freely, I could imagine it being ok. But then we might as well be one big happy family and confederate. My political theory is shot, don't listen to me.

May your resolutions not be entirely forgotten this year, happy New Year, and you just lost the game. Goodnight to all those going to bed and stuff, but when I wrote about going to bed January the 19th, it was like 12:30 in the morning. It's a little earlier now, so I guess good evening.


The Belated Epilogue to Scio'11

So where does that leave #scio11? That leaves Science Online 2011 in an awesome place. We went, those among us (the vast majority) of age drank here and there (I was and still am not of age), and then there was unconferencing about meta science.

The focus this year, as many are probably well aware, was books and their authors. This left us with books to take home, and that was so awesome. It also led to a dinner with Scott fucking Rosenberg, who's apparently a pretty decent author. My dad wanted to sit with him, and I look forward to reading his stuff. Food in North Carolina is wonderful, if you know where to go. It's probably just wonderful everywhere. THE FOOD WAS SO GOOD

I, personally, was somehow jetlagged almost the entire time from a short flight inside of our timezone. It was admittedly kind of a haze until maybe later Sunday, when I actually started talking here and there. People, as always, were incredibly nice. I cannot imagine another conference full of... people abounding with so much niceness. People sit around and talk, and there were a couple hundred of us. There was discussion, insight, and I didn't even see one outburst (which kinda sort of happened once last year or the year before; it was still fairly civil).

There was a comedian who was so goddamn funny. His name was Brian Malow, and he was funny (TIME PARTS!?) There were also other wonderful speakers (who unfortunately were not professional comedians, and hence harder for my wonderful attention span to include in name), the organizers Bora and Anton at their best, and segments about blogging. I admit I didn't attend any until the last with Bora because I felt slightly bored with the subject, but still expected something new and interesting from the God-King of the Science Blogosphere. The prodigal children of the prodigal teacher were there too, and they were also fascinating individuals! The main message I received was that it's a brave new world of blogging out there, and the current mess of transformation truly is a significant upheaval; although in the modern age of around now, a time of stability seems to me completely unimaginable (on the scale of, say, five years or so). And I'm friggin under 20 (although almost 18! can almost vote! and drink in Quebec, w00t).

The Belated Prelude to Scio'11

So I guess Bora Zivcovic has linked to this site and has said that I blog here in the present tense. Well, he gave willing and maximally... interactive and representative contact information about people, and so here we are. There has not been a post on my site in about a year, and I didn't even mention anything about Science Online 2010. Science Online 2010 was amazing. I don't think I got as involved as I did in the conference before it, but I suppose we all have our slumps. When the sauce leaks onto the foil wrap from food packaged as such it probably carries enough metal with it to kill an elephant, but there are certainly worse things that could befall a visit to SciO. We might have had to fight across a hurricane of sharks every time a visit to the washroom was necessary or something. The conference was a great place to think more deeply about science online in a relaxed and intellectually stimulating atmosphere, so I guess things went as planned.

So I'm going to Science Online 2011! That's something. I've also half-written another thing, this one about the role of faith in science. My response is in essence yes, if you take a sort of watered down... faith of practice, for application to a few things: the reliability of critical thinking, the (strongly related) integrity of scientific method, and logic itself. I'd additionally only talk about this 'faith' if empirical (in this case historical) evidence for success, as well as the support of logic, were not enough evidence to inspire a non-faithful confidence. I ran into a wall here because the whole logic thing was significantly more complicated than I thought it would be. Basically I hit paraconsistent logic and then intuitionist logic and then some combination of lazy/fear of reality took over and I proceeded to leave that stuff alone.

So now I finished the last part of that sentence and it's a few days later, and I hear that SciO this year is centred very strongly on the literary. I guess we should pack lightly.

Written December 24th or so.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Magnum Nopus

Instead of writing the grand rebuttal I kept planning on doing, I just went on Facebook and debated religion on a person to person basis with even more random strangers. Now, I may have learned something, because I was doing some thinking along the way, it's just that I usually don't remember specific details about what I learned doing almost anything. Regardless, I think I wrote some nice paragraphs :/. I tried my hand at writing a personal counter to Pascal's Wager, completely without citation to all of my sources of thought (although the wiki on the Wager was significant). Amateur, yes. I may post it some other time, when it's more refined; it was built in response to a specific person, and so the writing needs to be generalized more.

I began writing that paragraph at the end of November, stopped, and then resumed now. Not much has changed between now and then, although I should probably make it a very rare occurrence to only write once every four months. Anyway, Science Online '10 is approaching, and although it isn't nearly as amusing to say as Science Online '09, I can hardly wait. If the ethics and management woven into science, and all their wonderful problems, is interesting to you, then it may be worth at least reading about what's been done at the conferences wherever the site is found. Although one can't now get into the coming conference, there's probably going to be another in '11, just in case you would be interested. The current site for information anyway is http://www.scienceonline2010.com/, and Bora Zivcovic's Blog Around the Clock will have information about the conference afterward, for in case I either didn't post this or one doesn't feel like going back and finding out.

Next, the LHC has apparently done not one, but two test sets while I wasn't watching. The latter broke the world record for highest energy collision of particles (yay) and neither of them broke the LHC (yay!). Clearly, I should have been watching at least a month ago.

And now, for the completely random portion of my posts that happens some percentage of the time, I only just found out about Time Cube. This followed from searching the meaning online of the expression 'not even wrong,' where I found there was a Wikipedia entry for it. That article linked both to 'wronger than wrong' and Time Cube. I'm now glad I have both contemplated both various ways in which one can be wrong, and what it means to truly be bat shit fucking crazy. I mean, I try to keep swearing out of here, because I at least pay lip service to civility and careful debate*, not to mention not making huge assumptions and as of yet unfounded statements about anything or anyone. On the other hand, I couldn't bring myself to actually analyze this writing personally, or not use a string of words I've found somewhat hilarious for maybe a week now. If you wish, you may visit timecube.com to see what I've seen (I checked the first sixth of the page, then scrolled to a random portion about 3/5 of the way down).

*First, I now plan on putting significant and larger streams of thought bracket enclosures in footnotes, where I should have :/. Next, I went backspace instead of Ctrl-X, then forgot to use Undo until right about now instead of wishing I hadn't accidentally removed this information from myself. What can I say, I hate retyping things, especially when it wasn't important :D.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hey, you were writing a religious debate thing.

Well, guess what. I found someone worth paying more attention to at www.reasonablefaith.org, and his name is Docta Stiles I mean Dr. William Lane Craig.

Now, this guy seems like much less of a zealot than a lot of other Internet Christians. That doesn't mean he isn't one, to a degree; he made an elaborate site with a mailing list and official organization. Anyway, he's posted (some of?) his debates in a free members section, usually defending the existence of the Christian God or the existence of the accompanying morality. In the debates I learned quite a bit from both those Dr. Craig debated against and Dr. Craig himself about current arguments, and surprisingly, I also found that I disagreed with points from many of these atheists, agnostics, and occasionally softer theists of a sort or another. Primarily, I'll kick the next person who seriously uses the argument from evil against the existence of God, among other things.

For all those who haven't seen this used before, you've probably heard some form of it from an angry atheist anyway who didn't give it a name. Very vaguely:

1. If God exists, he would disallow evil.

2. God is omnipotent and omniscient, such that he is capable of enacting 1.

3. Evil exists.

4. Hence, God does not exist.

And I saw atheists and agnostics using this; professionals. Now, ok, this does not directly contradict their statuses as atheists and agnostics, but we nihilists aren't letting those fools into the tree-house after that one. The use of 'evil' as something that exists in a very real sense seems to imply objective moral values. As a nihilist, I also tend to think that of all of Dr. Craig's arguments for God, I see the very nature of defending OMVs to be among the most futile, up there with God being revealed upon examining nature. I also see Dr. Craig's defense of these two points to be blatant appeals purely to the way we take in the environment and ourselves; asking for us to see the objectivity of God in nature with only our judgment to guide us. What are our minds, though, but subjective in their functions, feeling objective because that's the only information in our personal realms? Important to note, though, is that I can't actually defend an answer of 'nothing else' for the last sentence, I'm just speculating; more to the point is whether or not we can seriously look at nature, using all bodily and mechanical senses available to us, and then infer that 'God did it.'

Other main arguments, in a personally shaded nutshell:

1. Resurrection of Jesus: Lots of eyewitnesses and literature. Lots of liars? Jesus lookalike? Jesus wasn't actually dead? Jesus was actually reanimated? I can't argue against this point seriously, because I have no background in this history. I can say that, though there are many writings of the time, people didn't understand much about the workings of natures; also, the integrity of writings can get a little shaky with mediocre known context and 2000 years between now and then. Still, this is something based on historical records.

2. Kalam Cosmological Argument:

a) Universe can't cause itself.
b) An actual infinite of causes and effects (or anything else) cannot exist.
c) The universe was caused.
d) Quoted:

If the universe has a cause of its existence, then
an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists,
who sans creation is beginningless, changeless,
immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously
powerful and intelligent.

e) And hence, said Creator caused the universe to exist.

The best breakdown of this argument I found from Dr. Craig was here (one must register for free to see this). First, I'm uncertain about a) and b); one person who debated Dr. Craig attempted to prove an actual infinite by way of measurement. Shortly: first, take a distance of any length, a metre as he called it. You may halve this metre, and you'll have two of half the first one's length. One may then halve both of those, and then have four that still sum to the original. This process is not limited. Dr. Craig responded by saying that this was a potential infinite, that though this may be repeated indefinitely, it can't be; he agrees that there may be something that tends to the infinite, but there cannot actually be an infinite. My own response to this is that no matter how much we can't fathom the divisions, that doesn't mean they can't be there.

As for a)... at least, I don't think the observed universe is responsible for causing it, but there's much that hasn't been observed that maybe can be. There may also be that which exists which will forever be outside of our perception. What we see is what we can use as evidence too, but God has been relegated to from explanations before from new discoveries. This area of physics is so uncertain and enigmatic, I won't really solidly affirm any model for now; it's great people are coming up with them, and one day I hope to coherently do one myself, but our predictions here are volatile, at least over the course of decades. I doubt we yet have the truth, we may very well not even have an approximation.

This post is getting rather long... I should add a Part 2 later. I probably will. As for Troy Brooks, author of the former proof that I had set out to examine (critically) at http://www3.telus.net/trbrooks/perfectproof.htm, he's now got Youtube videos and he's written a truly colossal amount of work on his forum. I think this is his job. He asks for no repetition of points made by opponents, a reasonable request in my opinion. All this is quite well and good, but he also bans people from the forum who deny his premises. I'm attacking most of them, so I probably won't get the opportunity to defend my work when it's countered. I'm wondering, now, if this should be abandoned... but no, I'll continue, if slowly. There are better things to do with my time, but oh well.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Talk with Larry Moran: Paraphrased

As one or two other people on the Internet that I don't know may have noticed, Larry Moran invited me to his blog and U of T after reading my interview with Bora Zivcovic (now found at http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2009/07/scienceonline09_-_interview_wi_5.php).

We talked for a couple of hours about various things, part of it over some buns from a Chinese bakery (they were good, except for that one chicken bun that went bad). At first, I asked about the fields of medicine and physics, including careers and schooling, and he enlightened me about various the various career paths and what one can and can't do in each one. Shortly: the divide in between research and care is huge, it's essentially one or the other. He (being a professor in the department of biochemistry at U of T) had speculated that it would be substantially harder to get into research fields in medicine than physics. Of course, Michael Nielsen had earlier given his only really short answer to how hard it would be to get into physics, with a resoundingly to the point yes.

We also talked a bit about how people behave on Facebook, and just generally with their identities online. More to the point, how the younger generation (including me) does it, and why we're so loose with damaging information about ourselves and others. I figured our arrogance and stupidity had at least something to do with it, but that answer seemed a bit too simple standing alone, and I don't actually know what leads people to post pictures of themselves naked and drunk online. I also speculated that maybe we don't care about these things as much as people used to, but then there are still stories of people dearly regretting it when it comes to employers and the morning after, when they awake to a parent screaming.

We didn't get into views on religion, or lack thereof; the theory I currently accept as strong, my dad's, is that he didn't want to scare me away from U of T and himself with his very strong ideals. What he didn't know... is that I'm usually up for a good debate. This is why I'm also fine with going to York, and entering the debates it's famous for (or shouting matches... maybe there's something to be learned from listening to those too, hopefully).

Finally, although this was the first thing we talked about, was talking very briefly about Science Online (the conference, one in which I had a blast, is very new and is held yearly in North Carolina; more info here and in the following two posts). He barely made it to '08, and couldn't go to '09, because January's got a ton of work in store for professors that include him, and I went to the opposite one. He figured it wouldn't be likely we'd meet there; or at least, it would take a number of years. To recap: he thought it was good stuff, I reiterated that I thought it was awesome.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Seeing the Internet as the endless pile of stuff that it can look like, and then I'm gone.

When I entered the realm of the Internet some time in the early 2000s, I had my idea for my username, Sazz. I really thought that it was original and that no one else had done it. Around a year ago I decided to go out and see if other people really had used that name, and I've found out that it may have been used since before I was born, by lots of people. I really thought I had had a new idea, too.

On another note, I just searched 'fmp tedzy the bear' again, and found that it has a result from me and a result from some other site that actually had some recognizable Starcraft wording in it. I clicked on the link and found out that my IP range is banned from the site. Even if it's just because I'm on Blogger my priority in the search was higher than yours, fools.

On what seems like the most important note, from the world of ScienceOnline '09, I'm submitting my interview response to Bora Zivcovic at A Blog Around the Clock either tomorrow or today. I can't say enough that I'm eager to go next year, there was a lot of interesting information and speculation to go around at the last conference and an atmosphere I appreciated (many of the people at this conference have said proudly that they don't want to 'grow up', at least in a more traditional sense of the word).

And finally, my family (which has extended to include me, too) will have highly limited access to the Internet over the following month. This means I won't be writing anything for that duration of time (as if I was a consistent and frequent poster anyway). To all my loyal and numerous fans, I'll return to tracking your epic turnouts at the end of summer!

Monday, July 13, 2009

PP: AItCSUP: Chapter 2

In the second chapter of the book, the Pythoning begins. The idea of the book is to give ongoing information about computer programming throughout, but the programming itself begins here.

The chapter started off by explaining, on a broad level, the macro of how a computer works: on the most basic level is the hardware, which materially the machine is. Next, the operating system is that which directly interacts with the hardware; all that is above the OS needs to go through it, or operate using it, to do anything with the hardware. The OS and the various other entities above it that do things are all programs, but the book outlined how the OS is the only one that calls the shots (has direct access to the hardware).

Next, the chapter went into some math. The math here wasn't extremely complicated (BEDMAS, modulo, rounding, integers and floating point numbers), but the information was more about how Python dealt with the numbers than how a person would, presented on a sheet. For instance, Python before 3.0 (apparently the later versions of 2 are still used more) will round down (take the floor value) of integer division. On the other hand, it will divide floating point values as closely as it can (it will also always convert integer values to floating point values when the two are in the same expression; I'm guessing that integer values are only used when it's strictly certain that the rest or the real numbers aren't needed). After that, it went into using variables on top of the math, and then how Python treats variables (again, not quite as one is supposed to use them generally). A short interlude with basic error messages came (there was one before too), and then the book got into functions.

I was pretty interested with this part. It took all of the previous math information, with variables, and then added defining and using functions to it. At this point, one might not right much of a program yet, but they (I) could make a list of variables and functions at this point; I was OK with not knowing how to right an even mildly sophisticated program after the first chapter, but I was glad the learning curve wasn't very wrathful (maybe I want a straightforward learning experience... sue me). The chapter finished with a few paragraphs on style (there are myriad forms, and the books advice was to use some kind of procedure with a few broad tips; however, if people argue that there is one style out there to rule them all, then hound them for actual proof). Finally, there was a summary of the chapter (which I didn't read before writing this-- honestly!), and a section with exercises. The chapter's title was 'Hello, Python!', and in the way of Python's own developers, they made sure to include well known lines from cultures of varying popularity almost wherever there was a code demo with words. More on the book later, which is hopefully sooner; I was supposed to update this daily, but I doubt that's a pattern I'll settle into (maybe my dad meant that I was supposed to at least add to a post daily, which sounds manageable).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Practical Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science Using Python: Introduction: My Blog Entry

A few days ago, my dad said that a programming book about Python he'd ordered for me a few days (weeks?) previously had arrived. He had been saying, before, that the book focused not only on Python itself, but on the nature of being a computer scientist itself. The book is even called, before, and introduction to the science using Python, as opposed to an introduction to Python itself. When he handed me the book at my little brother's graduation ceremony, I was interested. I have Python for Dummies, and I took several stabs at it. Those stabs ultimately failed; I didn't go very far probably through a combination of too short an attention span, and the book having made assumptions that I already knew something about programming. The book even said that outright; it mentioned that a truly basic level of programming knowledge was suggested, but that really ended up being important, or at least I assume it did; there were more assumptions of what we knew than I was happy with.

I've liked the introduction to the book so far. Like the Dummies book, it gave a straightforward introduction to computer science; what is a program (a set of instructions), what purpose do they serve (to amplify humanity's potential dramatically wherever a program can help), an outline of how to think like a strong programmer (if there's something that isn't in account, take it there, and then get creative about your next steps), why Python is awesome (its use is widespread and deep, noobs can pick it up more easily, it's 'free and well-documented' [excellently put by the book], and it's well supported on ancient machines and other tools), etc. I think these were very well laid out in the introduction, and then finally it gave, very broadly, what the book would teach. This was put into a list of 4:

1. Solving real-world problems using programs

2. Using Python in particular

3. How to think and work like a professional programmer (the styles, formats, goals, and very generally the mindsets)

4. And finally, the book gives 'tools', the rest of the sentence going on to essentially say that these tools make 1 and 2 easier, effectively accomplishing 3 (but likely incorporating other materials... but that may also result from 3). I really shouldn't have said there were 4 before I actually reread them; I've liked the book and its approach quite a bit so far, but this 4th point is basically some rewording to give the authors a nice, even number of points greater than 2 (but, once again, this might also be a pile of things like other useful literature and files that would definitely help out).

Well, I've read some of the book beyond this point, and I've found it h4wt, to quote Cory Doctorow (I had... never seen that typed before I read Little Brother, although I thought it was a great book). More on the other chapters later.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Extreme Debating! (not spelled Xtreme on purpose)

Recently, I started reading a bit about formal debate too (well, I read the Wiki on it a bit, and read some transcripts from the religious site Reasonable Faith), and I've found that people always seem to stage debates that would usually last no more than twenty minutes or half an hour. As much as this seems to make sense, given it takes mental endurance to debate coherently and to listen attentively, there's always more to be said afterward (from my limited to moderate experience at school and reading online). At the end of formal debate, both sides shake hands and agree to disagree (more or less). The threads are left hanging, and that's usually fine.

Now, what if there were some sort of formal debating style that involved dramatically extended times? Into the realm of hours? Now, to start, I can come up with myriad reasons why this wouldn't work (as hoped for), but I'll bear with myself for now. The idea in progress:

If there were a six hour debating style, and each side would be composed of a single speaker (the main belligerents), and a bunch of research and support positions. These support positions would be critical; they'd have access to such things as the Internet with various database subscriptions (as required), and non-digital source material. There may even be practical demonstrations to be made, provided they are very thoroughly screened for transparency and relevance. These could be showcased on any time that the side using the demonstration is allowed to speak (overrun would have to be negotiated with the opposition, who would have the right to refuse it). An audience that may comment is also important, as well as a moderator. Preparation in advance would be lengthy and intense: first, each team would be given a month in advance to prepare (if that's when the competitors first even learned of this competition, preparation would likely involve mental and physical conditioning too). Sources are only barred if they aren't legally allowable in the country in which the debate is held (if held in a country with weak human rights, well, let's just hope there wasn't too much crap involved in information gathering...) Any source may then be challenged during the debate. If one party is completely dissatisfied with a certain source and cannot be convinced of otherwise, I'm not sure how that would be resolved.

The debate itself would be structured, but there would be sections that would be more and less orderly. The first, say, half and hour would be split into specific speaking times; a traditional sectioning of time. Each side would be given only a few minutes per section, as is common. After initial introductions and rebuttals, there would be a short period of free argument; in this part, it would be very important that the two debaters have respect for the others time and words, and the moderator would be permitted to stop someone if they're making too strong an attempt to dominate by interruption or is disallowing their opponent to speak for too long. Following this section, there would be a question period for the audience, and this might last a solid few minutes. After that, the moderator would ask a few questions that are presumably as unbiased as possible, and each debater would have a couple of minutes to respond. Finally, each debater would get a few minutes that are supposed to be focused on clarifications and pointing out concepts that they think their opponents are fundamentally failing to understand about their arguments. Each side would get a rebuttal/reiteration of around the same time. After this round, there would be an intermission of a few minutes to around fifteen for each side to regroup. The whole process would have taken, maybe, an hour to an hour and a half.

For now, I'm thinking that that format would be repeated several times until the end of the debate. Also, what I consider to be a staple of this debate: it's meant for formal debating where both sides actually disagree with each other over something, not a competition where each side must argue what is given to them, unfailingly. The idea is that each side and everyone attending wouldn't only learn new things, but acknowledge them. The central aim would be that the arguments would become sophisticated enough that entirely new thinking may be introduced, and possibly strong concessions on one side or both. Although it's incredibly difficult to overcome the most ingrained views that come out after a few hours of arguing, one hopes that both parties approach the case as objectively as they can, but extended postulating is increasingly fine as the debate drags and (relatively) solid information begins running thin. At any point in the debate, one side may even concede it is wrong, to any degree; this should not be frowned upon at all when done honestly.

Well, that's all I can think of for now. Maybe I'll do some work on this later, maybe I won't. I'm still in the midst of exams, and in two days I'll have two at once. After that, I'll have only one more. Almost there...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Well, I didn't do it. Yet?

So the people out there that read the last post, and decided they wanted more, are probably disappointed, but-- well no, it's completely legitimate. I guess I have two things to say for myself now.

First, I didn't say last time that I wanted to take a really solid, nuanced whack at this, reading all material that seemed relevant. I thought that relevant material would be a couple forum posts and that a nuanced whack would be at most a page, but then it all went to hell when I found that there was more relevant material than that to read, there was a lot to address all the time, everywhere and anywhere in the proof, and so I'd have to write something more detailed to encompass it all.

Next, there were final evaluations at my school. That meant that it was actually the most intense homework period of the year, and I'd largely blown the week before not doing enough work on this... and then all of a sudden I didn't really want to work on a self-assigned project on top of all the other things teachers told me to do. I really could have done this, but I'm also battling my procrastination on work for real marks (now largely over; exams time, and studying is much less of an issue with all my newfound time). Citing personal failing never really stops looking lame when used as an excuse, but the Internet Police are leaving me alone for now.

At least thinking I'm approaching this topic with an open mind, I still can't help but feel a little depressed while in the process. Though I'm thinking right now that subjectivity and passion are one's arch nemesis when having a religious debate, they beat at my mental door harder and harder the longer I remain reading and writing on the topic. Damn emotions. Afterward, I'm left passionately thinking thoughts that at very least feel deep, but subjectively are definitely strange and disturbing. The more people assert things that I think are false, the more I have to, in turn, analyze my own thoughts, and face my own argument on the nature of truth, and the idea that we can't really be certain about the any question, including the big ones, when we just don't have the means to find the answer... oddly enough, I feel relaxed by intense music when working on this though. Helps me concentrate when my brother is playing Nine Inch Nails or System of a Down. Interpol's good stuff too, Modest Mouse... maybe it's just my brother's taste in music that helps me focus. I won't call it mine, because he's the one that gets all of our room's good noise, but I like it enough not to grow my own musical brain, get some headphones, and buy my own stuff.

I have summer school too, but it's less intense. Looks like there's no excuse for not doing this now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Once more into the void...

I'm writing something over the weekend (and a little bit this week). See this link:


I'm going to submit an analysis when it's done. I guess I saw this, then read it, and then didn't agree. Behold; an argument has been born! It isn't just any argument, either... it's an Internet argument. I've read pieces of it, and I intend to respond to the piece in its entirety, which is why this is going to take a while.

Honor guide me in this endeavor... because we do it for Aiur.

Edit: Well, a lot this week. I'm looking at this now... and I'm just a bit annoyed that I didn't do this earlier. I'm sure they guy can wait another few days.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wandering in an Annoyed Manner: Tech Support

Disclaimer: the ending of this saga is anticlimactic.

Recently, I got a new computer. That, in and of itself, is wonderful; I have a new communications box, which is presumably better than the last one... YAY!

Of course, I have to get used to the thing first. Like some sort of domesticated (or any) animal getting used to a new territorial feature, I spent an hour or two poking around the thing. It's Vista, and so far the layout is... different. Performance was generally much smoother, the connection to the Internet was more reliable, and the interface was different; I've found that I don't like changing interfaces and associated aesthetic features with respect to most things I do or experience, but I'll usually adjust after a brief period of annoyance and continue as usual. Overall, I'd give this computer a ?/10, because I don't fancy myself as any sort of tech critic, or a critic of anything for that matter... things are different, but usually it has to make me ice cream or kick me in the groin to provoke me to strong emotions about said 'thing'. In a nutshell, the computer's fine, and it's better than the last one.

There was one issue that I found, though. I installed Warcraft III (paraphrasing almost to the word what a guy at sales said when we were looking for a computer: "Every single computer here could run WC III easily."). The other computer ran it fairly well offline, but the speed wasn't good enough to get through much in multiplayer; it would try desperately to maintain connection for a while, go in between moderately slow performance and nearly complete freezes, and then eventually just give up the ghost and disconnect. Sometimes I could get through a game, but that was the exception. In this respect, I was glad to have a new computer; the other one had run well before, it was only really slowing down with regard to intense, net-related content in recent months, and beginning to lose integrity in programs like word processors. It's still usable, but it had lost a lot of vigour, so after I whined about it for a while my parents had mercy and bought me a new one (I think I was really anal about it, but when I was typing and my computer decided it needed to sit down and take a time-out, I was losing faith after several attempts to clean it up).

Right, back to the new one. I installed WCIII, played it offline, and it worked like a dream. For a few minutes. It would proceed to slow down to a crawl. At first, confused, I minimized and checked the background for anything else, and found nothing. I went back, and all was well again. I continued playing, and it worked wonderfully for a few minutes before... slowing down again. This would continue after restarting, following a few basic tips online, etc.

I played for a little while, dealing with these interruptions (I had found that continued minimizing/maximizing could reliably banish the lag for a bit). Eventually, though, I grew tired of getting n00bed every time I played online because I was, essentially, incapacitated every few minutes *WHINES MUCH*. The ol' nerves, as usual, continued to be frayed by the constant inferences that I was a of homosexual orientation or that my online fellows knew my mo--... anonymous insults aren't too bad when no one knows who you really are, but they get annoying when their number's order of magnitude may be greater than can be counted on one hand, and one has to just take it without having the means to enact your sweet, sweet vengeance in an incredible act of nerdraging. I finally turned to tech support, deciding that poking around the system for things that might be the problem wasn't doing much.

I checked around forums for advice, and within them I found advice that was often enough neglected in posts; there are a lot of really simple problems that could be the causes, and it takes a while to sort them out. While figuring out how to deal with those, I went to Blizzard. They probably assumed that I had taken care of all of these basic suggestions when I submitted my problem, because the solutions seemed more temporary (and weren't the issue). Even if they didn't help, I still want to say that the Blizzard tech support system is actually quite good, and that they actually do send helpful advice when directly contacted. On my second reply from Blizzard, I finally heeded one piece of advice from the forums that I didn't think should have been an issue; updating my drivers. I was thinking my computer's new, it should have up-to-date drivers, especially with respect to a game that's several years older than the computer itself. I still decided that, what the hell, I'll check for an update for my graphics card. I'd looked around my system with advice from forums and gone through other processes, so I wasn't terribly optimistic about this, especially because I figured it would be a basic system fallacy; the game worked well, but it seemed as if the game were starved of power as if idle until refreshed. Well, guess what the driver did. It worked.

I like to tell myself that I might know some of the most basic things about computers, but the fact of the matter is: whenever I have a serious problem, I almost never know how to fix it. Machines designed to be used by lay people, computers are complicated enough, and require so much teamwork across organizations and people to complete, that there are bound to be some mistakes. Even if these mistakes are few, they can occur anywhere, and first editions are almost always buggy. From this knowledge I had, reiterated by this event, my lesson is: I should probably pay more attention to my system, considering on how much I rely on it (or, in a general sense, life has once more shown me how much people have come to take for granted from one and other, because of how many people all of human knowledge has to be spread over). I may have philosophized more about this, but I think the post has become rather long. Still, we have come to build for ourselves a way of life that pretty much requires taking a lot of things for granted; how could we, even if we wanted to, thank all the people that have given us services or products from across the world? Could we possibly know all of the people who live that have contributed to our lives, never mind those who died throughout the history of humanity? It may very well be a life's quest to find the former, and I'm fairly certain the latter is impossible; many among them have been lost to memory or record. Though just a little thing, a mole hill relative to the (pointless?) mountain of which I speak, we may as well take our smaller examples of what happens in our stories when we see them; it might just give us something to think about for a blog post.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

It's perfectly legitimate to ignore this post. Tedzy the Bear.

That was, in fact, completely necessary. I was just thinking: Why is the most amazing Starcraft map every made without its own Google search result? WHY!? I'll tell anyone who's reading why. No one wanted to honor a map made hell-knows-how-long-ago by some person who might not even play the game anymore. Rarely was it seen in the US East and West servers when I was on (afternoon to night here, most days, for around a year and a half). It might be over 8 years old. And yet, the image of a flaming teddy bear head on a map didn't hit my funny bone. It hit my hilarity bone.

I don't have the map anymore, because I had to get rid of my stuff for a while. If I had it... I don't know if I'd stoop so low as to post an image of it or a download for such a result either. On the other hand... I might, because I can. Thank you Blogger search priority! I could just make a Googlewhack with two words that don't show up together for the hell of it in five seconds. Genius.

Edit: It appears I'd have to get a link too it. My plans... ruined!

Edit 2: Hm... it appears that I'm now the #1 result for the search. Wow. 16/02/2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Belated: Science Online '09 Did Two Things

The first thing it did was have a rhyming name. That was hilarity in a can for a few minutes, or hours. Well, come to think of it, I still think it's funny.
Secondly, it blew my mind. Ok, maybe it didn't blow my mind, but I went primarily to discussions related to open source , and then I also went to a discussion on race in science, one on age (about high school people our methods with regard to science), one on the rights of scientists around the world (the point originally being on those of Serbian scientists; they have few), two around anonymity; one centered around that and the other around the impact of one's known online actions, and then finally I watched a few demos (some people showcasing a few online tools).

Now that I'm somewhat removed in time from the conference, I still remember I took notes. I don't still remember where they are. I've still retained a few things though; first, I remember now that there's such a measure in the world of science called the Impact Factor, being a measure of science journals (citations/number of 'citable articles'). I also remember it being instilled in me by the presenter that not only is that metric stupid (if I may be so bold as to use that word), but that even the concept of a simple metric for a journal is flawed. It was also noted that data on this metric has been monopolized by a lucrative organization and that some journals have had sudden surges of IF value after deals with said unnamed company.
As always, though, I try to ask myself what comes after a supposedly poor system is crushed. How is it replaced, if need be? We didn't really come to a conclusive answer, as far as I could tell. It was brought up that journals, collectively, had done well in the last few centuries of semi-organized science without metrics. That was, presumably, before there were as many journals as there are now that are accessible to everyone.

I'm limited by time for this entry (I started somewhat late), but fear not! I might post more on the subject. One can also check all the other entries online, if they haven't done so already.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Im in ur North Carolina, Participatin in ur Discussions

After one day of listening to people talk about science, freedom, and freedom to do science, I've come to a conclusion very quickly and have stuck by it: I should have had more sleep earlier. I haven't slept, or even seemed extremely tired, throughout these, but I would have preferred it if my brain was closer to 100% capacity for function throughout the talks. I have to say, to the world, that I found every single discussion I went to (1/4 of the total, as many as using each time slot permits) was full of interest in the topic from, often, most of the people in the room. I would put in my own two cents, and in return people were glad to share their knowledge on what was being discussed. There was also a healthy dose of general hilarity at a number of the rooms, and at one point it sounded as if a bunch of Vikings had walked into the hallway and started singing loudly, which lasted a few minutes. At the last session, I was given a concise overview of Serbian history, relating to politics, the state of the people, and the state of science as a whole in the country. Though this account may have had some bias because of the person delivering it, my knowledge of the world IQ may have gone up a point or two at the end of an hour.

On a side note, we were walking down the hallway to our room in the hotel when my dad pointed someone else out to me walking towards us:

(Dad): "Hey Sam, it's Michael."

(confused): "Oh. Hi Michael."

(Michael): "Hi guys!"

(still uncertain): "Hi."

(Dad): "It's Michael Nielsen."

(enlightened): "Oh. Oh! *facepalm*"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Going to North Carolina! WOOOOOOOOOOOO

If you're one witty, clever sleuth, then you've probably come to the conclusion by now that I believe I'm headed for North Carolina. If you haven't, you should probably read the title more closely. If you have, then I'll be there the 16th to the 18th.

FAQ time!

1. If you almost never post, then why should we care that you're going for one measly weekend?

Well, all of my blogging up until two summers ago had been for a school project. After that, it had culminated in this trip. I'm now being prodded by my dad to post much less frequently, and thus I am, but it's still fun to do it. I could have just decided to stop blogging (and staying out of Python too, which I mostly have save for the occasional revisit). In that case, I wouldn't have been scheduled for this trip.

2. So you're motivated only by this trip, and you'll stop blogging afterwards.

Lies. Your fiendish deductive ability may have lead you to this conclusion with what seemed like flawless reasoning, but *nay! This trip, contrary to popular belief, actually impedes my school scheduling substantially. I don't want to miss this time, mostly because I'll have to catch up on everything as opposed to getting a nice free pass like the good old days of early primary school, but I'm still interested in going. I like blogging, and will continue to do so afterwards (even if some prodding might be involved).

3. So from once a week, to once a month, you'll now blog once a year.

That isn't even an established trend, but I'll break it anyway. By blogging more often than once a year, not less.


In an entirely related issue, I've been researching 'Screens of Death', and the Wikipedia article is alarmingly vast.


I found the Mac screens of death, and they lack one thing very common to other personal computer operating systems: no technical information. After the sad face series, the developers of Mac are shown to be true diehards when it comes to errors: no ugly lines of code or even old-school fonts with non-artistic screens. There's a black screen, with an artistically faded on/off symbol in the background with the message to turn off the computer given in four languages. That's a classy kernel panic.

I just got this off of Wikipedia, but I don't believe this is the sort of information people would forge just because they felt like it. It doesn't mean it can't possibly happen, but I doubt follow-up research is strictly necessary here.

*For all those of you that saw 'neigh', I have little but this to say: oops. I had to be reminded how to spell that homonym, too. Well... now, hopefully I'll remember.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Giggling Excitedly: A Non-Programmer's Small Trip through Windows

The trip I've just described may not be an epic one. It pretty much lasted for only fifteen minutes. It might have lasted a lot longer had I not felt compelled to blog about it... right now. If you are a programmer, or in fact have any knowledge of how to navigate an operating system without making any unintended and/or irreversible changes, I don't know what sort of emotions there would be reading about my short experience. There may possibly be groaning, and maybe a few amused chuckles. There may also be other emotions and reactions that go beyond the two aforementioned, but I'd bet on them being the most common. If I did a lot of betting.

At first, I wanted to pick back up on trying to learn Python. I've mostly heard that it's an easy and remarkably versatile programming language, tuned well to the beginner. There was also one guy at camp who said it was awkward and strange, but he wasn't sure precisely how someone as inexperienced as I would start, seeking the most effective learning experience. He just said no python. Nonetheless, I had picked up my trusty Python for Dummies book, figuring that each time I gave it a shot, a little more of it stuck after I stopped. Anyway, at the very beginning, when it gives instructions for how to actually open python, the instruction for Windows is to open the Command Prompt and type "python". Originally, I didn't even read that part; I'd already installed python, and I had a nice little shortcut to the folder with the executable in it. This time, however, I decided I'd see what it said for other operating systems. For all of them, it suggested opening a coding equivalent as opposed to doing it the lay way and entering python. I decided that I'd try this method out, just to see if I'd learn something.

I opened Command prompt from Accessories, on the start menu. It started with the location of my user folder, and from there I didn't think I could reach python. Upon some other checking, I didn't actually know what I could access from there. After some digging, I found out exactly where the user folder went. I ended up successfully looking up a .DAT file, but it belonged to a (trusted) site, and I didn't actually know how to open it. Nonetheless, I was wondering how to get it to open from a different location; I didn't know how to change it inside the prompt (though, in retrospect, there's probably a help section for that), so I decided to find out exactly where the file was located. I found it in system32, and then opened it again. This time, it started from an extension there! Now, I had found the target from the properties window, and hadn't bothered to refresh my memory with regards to the weird and exciting things that lie in system32. I started with opening Windows Accessibility from the command line, just to test it out.

It worked, and all of a sudden I had Windows Accessibility open, in the regular window format as opposed to streaming down code I wouldn't have a chance at understanding. I decided to go along with the program to see what I could find, and it first asked me what font size I wanted (incidentally, it was all in small font up until that prompt). I told it to set everything to standard font, and then clicked Next. That's when it appeared to freeze. I waited a bit, but there was no sign of activity. The blue XP bar at the top looked a bit smaller than usual, with a shortened font, but I ignored this when clicking the now mini-x-button. It told me the program was unresponsive, and then I force quit. I went on again, and took a link to magnifying glass.

This is where the giggling began. It's really a funny little program; you get a zoomed window in a section of the screen designated by the user, and at first it was set to follow the mouse. I moused around and was moderately amused by the program. I then decided that the options looked fun, and put up the magnification. This made things very difficult to find in that screen until I made it larger, and then I moused around with that a little. When I looked at 'invert colors', I got really interested. I hit that, lowered the magnification, and then I could move around a negative image of a nuclear explosion seen from the sky (I believe a rendition), and it was negative and magnified to various degrees. This blew my easily amused mind (no pun intended). Some negative hilarity later, I checked and all of the info bars had all actually taken on the shortened qualities mentioned before.

Being in extreme violation of what I consider aesthetically pleasing on a modern computer (it was in between refined in a modern sense and raw-code no-extra-graphics-added style, that when put together just looked outdated to me), I went back to accessibility to change it, without using the command line (we're out of that section of the story). I set it to display in the larger font, and then it froze again. Cursing my learning flat line, I exited and found that not only were the bars the same size as before, but all other fonts associated with the system were now large. I almost tried to find the factory reset for the system, and then remembered my good, simple friend, the properties under right clicking. After setting the font size back to normal in Accessibility (it would merrily do what it was told, while freezing), I went there and checked the display properties. There were none listed that accounted for the short display; however, after reaffirming my preference for the XP style, it went back to that. Believing there would be a cautionary tale in there somewhere, I hurried over to Blogger to post about my exciting journey.

When I arrived here, I started typing and when referring to the Dummies book, I accidentally threw up the source code for the page, forgetting that Blogger has no such underline shortcut (being Ctrl-U, for people without PCs and who don't know). That... is the conclusion to today's dose of inane and minor technical mishaps. Though our family is leaving tomorrow for Ottawa, where presumably there won't likely be much Internet access (a tenet of our trips), I believe I've learned something important having to do with using more time. That would be to make my trips through my computer much more thorough and random next time I do it; That would leave me with more to write about. In separate posts, with their own parts... just like the good old days, when I didn't only have that material, I was compelled to seek it because not finding it meant losing marks. This time, I'll do it for a reason that I love but usually ignore. The reason being because I can.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Michael Nielsen Interview

Recently, I had to do an interview of someone who was on, or had been on, a similar career path to the one we want to pursue (being in grade 10, there's some growing up left to do, but it doesn't feel right to say 'when we grow up'). I've been thinking theoretical physicist as of late (have I mentioned that before?) and I was hoping to interview someone who's... in theoretical physics. At first, it seemed like a hopeless journey; how could I reach someone who's in physics and actually convince them to do an interview? I didn't even know where to start to find a physicist, unless one counts asking my dad. Of course, he said something along the lines of 'Michael Nielsen! He was a physicist and is now writing on the future of science as a whole. He's famous and his career path is extremely relevant.' My curiosity was piqued.


On Tue, 2 Dec 2008, Sam D wrote:

1. I hear various things from time to time about the demographics across scientific disciplines (while watching physics, mostly), and if one really wants to see them, statistics are readily available online. These statistics have a tendency to change though, and therein lies a lack of solid information (considering the future hasn't happened yet, and sociology is far from perfected), but enough speculation to go around. What are your thoughts about demographic change in the next ten or twenty years?

There are many demographic changes going on in physics. Some of the dimensions along which change are occurring includes gender, nationality, and age. (And, of course, there are many others). All of these are fascinating, and have potentially huge implications.

One that I find particularly interesting is the growing internationalization of physics and more generally science. It used to be that do cutting-edge work there was a huge advantage to being in one of the richest countries (e.g., Canada or the US), preferably at a major research University. Although there are still big advantages to that, it's becoming increasingly possible to get involved from anywhere in the world.

For example, projects like MIT's Open Courseware and Rice University's Connexions make high-quality University-level educational materials available for free to anyone in the world with an internet connection. Other initiatives are making it possible for people anywhere to keep up with (and, in some cases, become involved in) the latest research. I don't know what the long-term consequences of this shift will be, but it seems very important, and it seems like this will be a major change over the ten to twenty years that you talk about.

2. Science fiction, being imagination often having no association with actual science, is inherently based on the imaginations of people that, well, write imaginative pieces for money. Through my logic, this inherently leads to very interesting ideas, if still often not founded on reality. How many physicists, roughly, look into the ideas presented by authors? Among those physicists, (if there are any,) how often would they, on average look into these fancies?

I don't know. A lot of my physicist friends read science fiction, but I've never asked any if it's had a direct impact on their science, and so I don't know. I don't recall it ever having a direct impact on my science, but it's certainly had a major impact on what sorts of things I find interesting in science, and more generally. I believe the futurist Peter Schwartz once commented that science fiction writers can actually change the future, because they influence what the next generation of scientists will dream about. That seems about right to me.

3. Besides writing a book in its promotion, adopting it personally, and possibly talking about it to people in general, are there other ways that you plan on marketing, promoting, and otherwise helping along the adoption of Web 2.0? What would you suggest to others to help its proliferation?

On the first part of your question, I'm still trying to figure that out myself. I view the book as part of a much bigger project (not just my project, but one shared among many) of helping scientists really take full advantage of online tools. I have a lot of ideas about how to do that, but I'm still pretty preoccupied finishing off the writing of my book, and so I won't make a concrete decision about what's next until I'm near being done with the book.

Your second question really depends on who is involved: different people can do different things, and so I'd suggest different things to different people. One thing I think everyone interested in science online should be doing, though, is using at least some of the tools that are available (e.g., blogs, or wikis, or twitter, or whatever they like). I know of a few people who write papers about this stuff, but don't actually really use it themselves.

4. I've been told, through fiction and forums, that Occam's Razor weighs strongly when comparing theories that seem pretty much as strong as another, but roughly how seriously is it really used, in your experience?

I don't like the way Occam's Razor is often mentioned. It's very true that simplicity is a good _heuristic_ to use when trying to solve hard problems: if you have a very simple idea that seems to solve a lot of problems that previously puzzled you, it seems to be the case that it's usually (but not always) better than a more complex idea. But that's all it is: a good heuristic.

5. Among the questions generic to the extreme, I find this one still begs to be asked. What are your thoughts of job competition in ten or fifteen years for students wishing to enter theoretical physics?

It's very, very difficult to get a good job as a theoretical physicist, and I don't see that changing much. Many people start training to be theoretical physicsts, but very few end up with full-time work as theoretical physicists.

6. Ok, let's imagine that the open science approach has come around in about 15 or 20 years, if it takes that long (or is realized that quickly). Do you have any idea what the distant future will hold? What the step after the next might involve? Would you change your answer if this scenario were to take place in 50 years? If so, how might you change it?

Part of the beauty of open science is that it should accelerate the rate of discovery across all fields. This has an interesting consequence, though: it makes prediction harder. I do think that the possibility of developing a general-purpose artificial intelligence (which open science may help) is a pretty amazing one, albeit also somewhat scary.

Hope those answers are of help to you,


Michael Nielsen

Home: http://michaelnielsen.org/
Blog: http://michaelnielsen.org/blog
del.icio.us: http://del.icio.us/nielsen


On Tue, 2 Dec 2008, Sam D wrote:

Following q1: Does knowledge of various languages (for me, English, French and Spanish) affect entry into and the practice of physics? Also, considering the development of services that allow people to use the Internet to have meetings with people in other places, how often are scientists still travelling for them, and do you expect this to change?

At present, knowledge of English is very common among scientists the world over, and more or less seems to serve as a de facto language. It seems likely that in the future other languages will grow in importance - if India or China were to become the dominant scientific country, for example.

Following q5: Do you see any other shifts happening in employment for other physical fields, or do they all seem to be as the theoretical branch is: extremely competitive if one is pursuing exactly what they were taught?

I expect that most scientific fields will remain extremely competitive if you want to get a full-time job doing basic research, or as an academic in those areas.

Thanks again for answering these questions so quickly. Also, in forums I'd seen Occam's Razor used from time to time by people who considered it a very important scientific tool, and I wasn't sure how seriously they were to be taken, if at all. Once more, it's a huge help to me that I got these today, and I'm grateful.

On Occam's razor, please don't take my word for it. I'm just one person, and other people may have different ideas. The question you have to make up your own mind about is how sensible you think Occam's razor is, in each of its different forms - people tend to wield it in slightly different ways.

Let me give you an example, though, of why I don't personally think it's such a good idea to accept Occam's Razor in its strongest forms. In the 1940s Richard Feynman developed his own formulation of quantum mechanics, the so-called path integral formulation. It was in some sense "equivalent" to the standard formulation, but appears quite different. In many ways, it's actually much more complex than the standard formulation. Should we therefore reject it, on the basis of Occam's Razor? Well, several decades later, 't Hooft and Veltman proved a major result about certain quantum field theories using the path integral approach to quantum mechanics, a result that other people hadn't been able to obtain using the standard approach. They later won the Nobel Prize, in part for this work. Obviously, it's a good thing that 't Hooft and Veltman had this tool in their arsenal of ways to attack the problem, even if it's in many ways more complex than the standard tools.

Hope that's all of help.



Saturday, November 22, 2008

Today, I add some long-awaited images from even my remotest of fans. The old promise for the ecosystem project from grade 7 is finally being fulfilled... behold! The fruits of my labour!

For all those that don't remember, the project's intent was to have snails and a plant that sustained them. Things... did not go as planned. The algae was also once green, but when I moved it from beside the window to on an outside table, it went brown in a hurry. Right now, it's frozen solid. I'll be out soon for a picture to compare this to, and then I'll take it back inside and see if something's survived after the horrors the life in here' s gone through.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Not much on my mind, and the LHC is still broken.

The title may very well say it all. My checks for how the LHC is doing right now have been cursory, but what seems to be very obvious is that there isn't much to say right now. The LHC is broken, and it will be fixed eventually. What exciting and detailed news. Basically, there won't be much to discuss and argue about for a little while, so I really have to come up with something new, if I want to keep my blogging hat on.

Two things I can think of, that are of note, right now: I've been following several nerd webcomics. I don't know if there's such thing as a non-nerd webcomic, or at least one that's successful. Second, CotFSM hate mail. I feel so bad drawing amusement from reading it, and yet... I can't say I don't want to go back and read just a bit more... For anyone who doesn't know what that is yet, check out http://www.venganza.org/ and have fun.

Ok... while writing that paragraph, I went back and read more hate mail. There is a decent amount of concerned criticism, depending on how you view it. In fact, if you're a huge fan of the word 'fuck' and think it can solve all of life's problems, then most of the section probably sounds perfectly valid. I doubt the immortal god-creator of xkcd would usually be right in this comic, because it probably needs the user to become enlightened pretty much as it's read. Or maybe having something read back to one does truly open their mind to what comes out of it and into the net. I love those 'what ifs' brought up in xkcd, because I'm interested in almost every single one. Anyway, here's the link to the one I'm talking about: http://xkcd.com/481/

That is all for now... or is it?

That's what She said!

Monday, October 13, 2008

LHC being broken, need new subject.

This blog has had very little to do with greater areas of physics and more... just the LHC. Now that it's down for a while, I've been forced to search for something else to write about, but I eventually came up with something. Not that it took me this long, that was just me being lazy. I've heard of alternate projects that take aim at more or less the same questions as the LHC, but they approach things differently and with a lot less money and resources. If any of them turn out more interesting results, well, I've already mentioned several times that the LHC has all kinds of dignity and respect to lose for CERN, but we're still trying to observe things very closely we only guess at in theory. Once more, even if we find the most mundane possible results (defined differently among different people anyway), it will still be at least minimally enlightening.

Here are a few project pages I've found so far:



And a gargantuan pdf that probably has a lot of useful information:


Admittedly, these are from Google. Still, for now that's the method I'm using to find these other experiments; I have to dig up the names of ones I heard about without searching, and I might have them next post. If I can find them.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Defrosting Pizza

This actually does have something to do with the LHC, as has everything I've posted in the last while. Check http://www.sciam.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=how-long-would-it-take-the-lhc-to-d-2008-09-10 for more information on the approximate time the LHC could take to defrost a pizza. Of course, not only would the energy not spread across the pizza, but if it did it would happen so quickly that the pizza would form a superheated outer shell of something definitely not edible any more. The inside would still be frozen, and maybe there would be a microscopically thin layer that got just little enough heat to not be altered on a molecular level (at least), but enough not to be frozen any more. Any way one looks at it, it's pretty epic.

In more serious LHC news, part of the cooling system broke. According to another article in SA, it was probably due to some faulty wiring that overheated. I don't think any of the workers for the LHC are going to raise their hands when they ask who was working on that part.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I need to check the external links more.



I went further down in the LHC's defence, and found that Dr. Roessler hadn't only been addressed, but directly attacked. Several times. From what I can draw, he's using only a small part of general relativity that, though isn't disproven here, doesn't make sense or govern the universe on its own. Are people taking pot shots at CERN just because they feel like it?

On another note, I have a science project from grade 7 that has made an interesting development recently. It's an ecosystem in a jar, but the planned model (snails and a plant) failed immediately and was entirely destroyed a year and a half ago (it's about two and a half years old). Still, algae persisted where the plant had died, and a few months ago I saw a small swarm of very small, swimming... things. I haven't seen them since, but recently I left the jar in the full sun (it stays indoors, by a window, taking some light from the sun). It was a hot day, and it started to turn brownish. Has the surface life been killed? I don't want to closely examine (or even open) the environment, because it's had all that isolation from the world since it was made (it actually seems to have dropped a hundred millilitres or so over the years). I'll have a picture soon, maybe some different shots, angles and lighting for anyone who wants a look.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It goes on, and on, and on, and ooooon!

http://www.wissensnavigator.com/documents/spiritualottoeroessler.pdf vs. http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/LHC/Safety-en.html

Currently, the former is more specific. Independent scientists deserve credit as well, and Roessler sounds more specific than CERN right now. I'm not entirely satisfied if CERN goes ahead and turns something on when a rebellious yet experienced scientist shows concern expressed not only without lavish use of capital letters, but eloquently. Of course, they've parried sane-sounding arguments before, but now they have more coming. I now implore CERN not to ignore arguments that are more advanced than its own; I await a counter as eagerly as an attack, and if you're really just wrong, well I advise-- er...

Well, that would take at least a big slice of the cake for most expensive mistakes of all time. CERN would pretty much be discredited, wrecked and dissolve with a lot of fuss.

I'm not known to be a smooth talker.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vacation ending, LHC being interesting

I got back from camp a few days ago. That meant many things, among them being able to edit the blog once more. Since the beginning of the summer I've been inordinately interested in the LHC, especially because the aim is to at very least make a groundbreaking discovery in physics. I don't know about the feelings of the scientists themselves and how much they want to know at a bare minimum for their investment, but pretty much any conceivable result would weigh heavily on or entirely change the way we forge into this unknown. The LHC is built, and is likely to go into operation this year.

Of course, I had to see what the opposition was saying. http://www.lhcdefense.org/lhc_risks.php is among the primary opponents to the LHC's operation due to theorized danger to our existence. I went back on, and found the arguments were very effective. A year ago. CERN's current position at http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/LHC/Safety-en.html has rebukes that are all at least fairly effective against the criticisms, provided they aren't exaggerating or lying outright. I'll be checking other sites later, as there is bound to be someone on the internet who has more reasonable-sounding counters that are up to date. It is actually a matter of personal opinion to anyone without serious scientific knowledge, but it very strongly appears as if Wagner stopped paying attention to CERN's arguments a while ago, or is simply satisfied with what looks like an argument that has been stripped bare when going back to the opponent's words. I have yet to review more of what the experts he checked are saying, but in that part he takes CERN's 2003 position on safety. The one that was superceded by the LSAG report of this year.

Surely this just sounds like just another doomsday argument to people outside physics circles (and even inside a few), but considering this could change what's taught throughout high school science, I'm surprised pretty much no one knows about it at mine. I guess I don't know just how much nerdiness radiates from every orifice in my body.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Back, and then leaving.

I think I'll make another post. Me and my family are then leaving, going to a cottage in Quebec with no Internet access. I want to give everyone who may have read this blog at some point an apology for not continuing much, though I do have some thoughts for content. My previous post, having and essay I'd previously written about the similarities and differences in between the universe of Cat's Cradle and CERN with the LHC, drew comments. This is a rare and exciting event for me. I received fully two thirds of all comments that I have from that post. I now have... three comments. That aside, I've known what I would do next for a while, which is now to elaborate on the previous post.

Two main points were made clear in the last comments: one, I had no idea what I was talking about, and two, the LHC would doom us all. The former was, and still is, mostly correct, while the latter is still debated (as the commentators so thoughtfully did). I thought I would resume where I left off by checking the CERN site again, to refresh my memory. What I got was a revised defence. When I had last checked, around a month ago, the site had an incomplete defence to merely two of the warnings of critics. They now display a revised defence to all of the attacks I've seen from a cursory glance around the Internet. See http://public.web.cern.ch/Public/en/LHC/Safety-en.html for the aforementioned revised defence. The main area that I like about this is the MBH counter, the most vocal attack (from what I can tell). Instead of relying entirely on Hawking radiation, as critics would expect, they called upon the enormous gravitational force of neutron stars and white dwarves as being strong enough to theoretically stop black holes of a dangerously charged nature from passing through them at relativistic speeds, and yet they still exist. Though I don't know if the calculations are actually sound (even if this sounds like crunching numbers in a realm we already understand), I like the elegance with which they countered the critics. When I return from our wonderful little rented place in idyllic rural Quebec, I'll get a post ready about the glaringly neglected offence that has almost certainly found its way around CERN's current rebuttals.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

General science for now (with an english twist!)

In this blog, for now, I think I'll just write about some things I find in the general scientific community (I'm not concerned right now; Phoenix is still fairly fresh and the LHC is around the corner). For now, I've got a presentation here that I wrote for my English class exam presentation. I never got around to editing it thoroughly, I did most of that on the stand. However, I was pleased with this speech not necessarily for its quality but for the topic. I had to relate a symbol from Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle to something in the real world, and it took me a while to find something suitable and that I thought was original enough. It turned out that most people did dictators, land disputes, or feminism (I don't have anything against these topics and find them important to cover thoroughly, but in a class of around 25 people each of these got around 5-7 people). The moment it fully hit me that no one did something that was remotely related to science, I had to stifle a laugh (lest I lose gratuitous amounts of marks for interrupting and seemingly making fun of someone). The science in this only has a few sources behind it, and the science itself is deeply theoretical, but I'm silently begging my teacher to shower me with marks not for thinking outside the box, but stepping outside, getting miserably lost, and then running in random directions for a while before making camp somewhere no one's ever heard of a polygon with four equal sides and 90 degree angles.


Ice-Nine and the General Forge and Foundry Company
Related to Strange Matter and CERN

Samuel Dupuis

Hello, for all those here who don't know my name it's Samuel Dupuis, and I'll be exploring a spontaneous connection between the ice-nine of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle and strange matter that could be produced at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). I'll also go into differences between the organization CERN and the fictional General Forge and Foundry from the novel. First, however, I'll give a brief overview of what I've found about CERN, the LHC and strange matter.
CERN is an international organization for the pure research of fundamental physics comprised mainly of European countries, with some other countries and organizations having privileges as observers of all activities. The aim of CERN is only that of plumbing the mysteries of fundamental physics. CERN was established in 1954 as a revival of European science post-WWII. Two Nobel prizes have been won by employees of CERN with inventions in observation at such small scales, and explaining the weak interaction, responsible for radioactive decay. Their current project, hoped to break such new ground in our understanding of the universe, is the LHC. Thousands of scientists representing numerous other nations, universities, and other organizations have worked on the various LHC detector components and the LHC itself.
Today, there are people who think that the experiments at the LHC are capable of destroying the Earth. There are two of these speculated kinds of disasters: micro black holes and strangelets, or strange matter. Micro black holes aren’t as relevant here, but have also been dismissed by CERN as not being a threat (the black hole would disintegrate). Strange matter, however, bears eerie resemblance in its potential to ice-nine. Strange matter, for this presentation, is another type of basic matter. It's thought that once it’s produced it will remain stable enough to interact with regular matter and introduce strange stability. Strangeness would propagate throughout all nearby regular matter, i.e. the Earth. This is somewhat less forgiving than the total water freeze of Vonnegut's imagination, because it would turn absolutely everything into strange matter without two notable elements: a storm, and survivors.
This ideology isn't home to many members, at least on the Internet. The scientist’s counter looks at a few other points. First, strange matter is still theoretical, and the circumstances could be missed anyway. Next, strange matter would be charged as regular matter: Positively, making them repel. Finally, strange matter would be very unstable in small amounts. While busy getting repelled by normal matter, it would just decay back into energy and regular matter. They're also fairly sure cosmic rays have satisfied these conditions countless times, and thus creating the matter if it does exist. Considering the universe is still here, they're sure strange matter won't be problematic.
Ice-nine was known to be dangerous by Felix Hoenikker, and no one ever denied its potential. Strange matter diverges here in that it's thought by most scientists that the situation is safe. Nobody ever asked for the creation of strangelets either; they may just show up in the pursuit of knowledge. If they wind up ending life on Earth and its previous state of existence, it would be the fault of the scientific masses and not of a few individuals. CERN as a whole is aware of the project, representing tons of awareness, whereas the General Forge and Foundry didn't really know about ice-nine, mostly because it was hidden from everyone.
CERN and General Forge and Foundry aren't very similar overall, but their goals are still the same: knowledge of the universe, and not with the coercion of business. They're both large groups of scientists racking their brains in the search for scientific truth. They also both seem to garner mixed reviews from the public. GFF’s scientific values are attacked by Vonnegut himself, but in that universe the people who work for the scientists seem to like them. CERN has drawn fire for the danger some people are convinced exists, but has been honored with prizes and widespread interest on an international level, as many non-member states may still take part. They diverge when CERN becomes larger, has many resources with it, and needs them to achieve results. GFF is based in a single country and is home to a scientist who could break new ground in physics with things you would find at a dollar store. Neither is very thoroughly understood by much of the public, and many people wouldn’t know of them at all, letting them usually carry on without strong media harassment.
It’s by chance that this connection, from fiction to fact, occurred, making it a greater observation and not something forged by either side. If Kurt Vonnegut had written this in the time they had some basic ideas for the LHC going around, he might have made some changes. The important difference here is that strange matter destruction may be continuing on unfounded fear, where as ice-nine didn't get the respect it deserved when it was proven to be dangerous. At the end of these experiments we may just look back upon ice-nine, laugh, and remember that history and the universe aren’t understood vaguely with slight analysis; without a good look, they just aren’t understood at all. This may mean that we shouldn’t get stuck old fears, and that science won’t bite for looking. It could also lead to the ‘weapon potential’ scenario from The Physicists itself, by Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt. It’s the word of most physicists versus a smaller group and some of the concerned public, and both have been right in history. I’ve still come to think that the LHC is still based on sounder science, and that maybe it’s time to let go of some of our older fear, and forge ahead with our mistakes always in mind.