19 March 2014

let's just not go there...

Friends, New Yorkers, I have some good news and then I have some bad news.

The good news is that tonight you get a chance to see a bright star turning off in realtime, and then 14 odd seconds later, turning back on as an asteroid passes in front of it - something that apparently hasn't happened for a naked-eye star in all of recorded history - and in my thinking just goes to show how short our recorded history actually is (http://www.theatlanticcities.com/arts-and-lifestyle/2014/03/tonight-star-will-disappear-over-new-york-city/8678/)

The terribly bad news is that my deranged/delusional(?) personal boycott against travel to the USA has been ratcheted up and so I can state for the record that I will not be visiting any of you in the foreseeable future, nor most likely, ever in my lifetime.

Yes, I do realise that to my friends and possibly everyone else who lives there, this is just going to be seen as just more astoundingly good luck. And besides, most of you know that I'm never ever going to break out of a lifetime of habits and priorities that keeps me happily broke, and this 'boycott' therefore, completely theoretical.

But fuck it, I'm calling it a boycott anyway, because apart from temporarily vanishing stars, tonight is also the 11th anniversary of what must surely be up there for the crime of the century - the for-profit invasion and slaughter in Iraq which began tonight in 2003. ... And surely it wouldn't be so crazy to ask those that can, to desist from holidaying there while all this madness goes on, and on, and on, and on.

09 February 2014


"Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road for peace". Article from The Independent about Osama Bin Laden. 1993.

sipped from @HistoryInPics' stream -- https://twitter.com/HistoryInPics


Liked this one from today's feed too:
Fidel Castro and Malcolm X meeting in Harlem, 1960 https://twitter.com/HistoryInPics/status/432340865483542528/photo/1 

03 February 2014

on emergence ...

"We live in an emergent universe, in which the interaction between its parts, be they people or electrons, gives rise to emergent collective behaviors that are different from those of the parts separately and are generally unpredictable from knowledge only of those parts and their interaction. To understand this emergent universe, scientists are replacing the traditional reductionist approach, with its focus on using the individual components as basic building blocks, by an emergent perspective, in which the focus is on characterizing collective emergent behavior and the search for the collective organizing concepts and principles that bring it about"


... and here are some good popular-science podcasts on the subject:


The emergent perspective and change in complex systems:

I like this bit: 
"Emergent strategies for making progress involve trying simultaneously many different partial solutions, inventing new institutions, and experiment, experiment, experiment in pursuing these."

and this:
"Experimenting with new approaches and connecting the results can be accelerated by the using the vastly improved communication tools available through the internet.
Sharing “best practice” on the internet enables local groups seeking change to become aware of the “best practice” developed elsewhere, and help them avoid “reinventing the wheel.”"

25 January 2014

a reminder - mindfulness training and the neuroscience supporting it

The secular practice of mindfulness training or meditation, and mindfulness based cognitive therapy has been gaining momentum in the mainstream for a while now... This google-tech-talk describing mindfulness training is old, but pretty useful, and it presents the (then preliminary) neuroscience supporting the practice nicely.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peA6vy0D5Bg (an hour long google tech-talk by Matthieu Ricard)
Ricard is a buddhist monk who earned his PhD in molecular genetics at the Pasteur Institute before turning his attention to the practice and study of Tibetan Buddhism -- and worth suffering those opening jokes for.

20 November 2013

cinnamon 2.0.12 on ubuntu 13.10

Having in the past few days heard loads of praise of the Cinnamon 2 Linux desktop environment, from both friends and strangers, and now that installing Cinnamon 2 on Ubuntu no longer breaks Unity, I've decided to try it out on my primary Ubuntu desktop.

So, using the method below, I've started testing. A review of some sort should follow...

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install cinnamon

UPDATE (several hours later):

So far, I'm happy enough with Cinnamon-2.0. It seems to run with a smaller footprint, more stability and more functionality and configuration options than you get with the latest Unity and Gnome-Shell.

I did get a few random lock-ups during early reckless tweaking, but I've seen no recurrences since I stopped messing around with extensions, desklets and applets (some of them still only properly tested with earlier versions of Cinnamon).

Now, after several hours of work, the impression I'm left with is all positive.

In terms of workflow, I did find myself missing a few features of Unity's Dash and HUD, but the old desktop metaphors still seem to work better for me overall. And though this might have more to do with my long term familiarity with those, I also think it has something to do with a general lack of maturity in the newer approaches to the desktop environment being worked on.

Its still early days, but if nothing major shows up, I could very easily stick with Cinnamon as the desktop option I choose most often at login - at least until the others grow up a bit.

NEXT UPDATE (... in the morning)

I think I'm changing my mind .. The new day has found me missing Unity's simplicity and that task orientated Dash and HUD..  Ah well, I'll decide later, but just now I felt crowded and in my own way - I'm writing this after logging back into Unity ... maybe for a long while...

LATEST UPDATE (... two weeks later)

I've settled in to using and liking them both - with Unity ahead in the number of times it gets chosen at login.

24 June 2013

speaking evolution

I still really like the idea that ..

if I say out loud, my mother's mother's mother's mother's.... and keep going non-stop for about a 1000 years - I'll eventually be speaking about amoebae

at 3 mother's per second

it's a 1000 years to amoebae, and a 100 000 years to bacteria

Btw, if you too are doubting the scale of that 1000 day estimate, its not just an exaggeration. I'm using a conservative estimate of 10^11 (100000000000) generations between me and my amoebae ancestors - based on very small times between generations for the first 400 million years of animal life. A number so mind-bending in size, that it will take 1000 years to count to at 3 times a second

13 June 2013

slow burning fuse (?)

got it here : https://www.facebook.com/TheSlowBurningFuse

those aliens again

So I know most of you don't need to hear this (?) 
but even though alien life, in even just the observable universe alone, is a mathematical certainty, the chances of us sharing the same bit of space-time and therefore being able to meet any aliens, might very well be extremely (maybe even impossibly) low.

Especially if Einstein's cosmic speed limit holds - and there's no indication that it won't.

12 March 2013

anarchy too, must be built

building intelligence

Jeff Hawkins again, this time in a googtechtalk. 1hr.  

Like in his earlier videos and book, he gives the best explanation of the neocortex i've heard so far --the neocortex is a hierarchical temporal memory system, implemented as a sparse distributed representation.

See earlier posts on this:

11 February 2013

property should come with a warning

WARNING: The accumulation of property, wealth, and general luxury, has been known to (frequently) cause severely negative changes in ideology.

03 February 2013

scared into fascism

Is the fear of new threats, that might be introduced by upcoming technological revolutions, being used to argue for this trend to fascism and anti-privacy we're seeing such a drastic increase in? ..

..like the possible large scale threats that single individuals might present in a world with both synthetic biology and a free and open internet ...

if so, how do we argue otherwise?

09 January 2013

and still never meet the neighbours

Recent results from the Kepler space telescope and studies of nearby solar-mass stars, suggest that nearly one in four stars like the sun could have Earth-size planets.

That's anything between 10-100 billion earth-like planets in our Milky Way
The Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years in diameter.

That's big enough, so that even with 100 billion earth-like planets,
and a reasonable percentage of them producing life,
and a percentage of those producing intelligent life,
and a percentage of those surviving for long enough to explore space ...
It's still possible to never, ever, meet the neighbours!

01 December 2012

natural selection at the largest scale


Evolution / Natural Selection at the largest scale we could possibly ever know about - and the idea might of course be forever non-testable.

There's an earlier post on this here - http://jaysenn.blogspot.com/2006/10/natural-selection-of-universes.html

our tools are broken

Regular Reminder: Social networking tools and other information infrastructure that is not owned by us (copylefted) is almost by definition, fundamentally broken - because anything less, severely limits the extent to which we can use, experiment, and grow these into useful universal assets .. esp true in the long term.

the list of our broken tools include facebook, google search, and the operating systems windows, mac-osx, ios, and bits of android. (linux is completely ours)

21 November 2012

fedora 17 .. todo list post install

So, a few days ago, I installed Fedora17, partly because I wanted a straight gnome-shell experience, and partly because I hadn't seriously tried a rpm based distro yet. The short of it is, that I'm really enjoying the standard gnome-shell environment - especially how customisable it is compared to Unity. So much so, that I think I'll be working off this linux partition for a while to come.

That said, Fedora did take significantly longer to get the everything installed than either Ubuntu or Mint does, mainly because it does not come standard with any non GPL'd software in it's default repository - but with a fair amount of googling, all was eventually sorted.

Now, only after all of the searching and tweaking, and more searching and installing was done, have I come across a good, comprehensive how-to that would have saved me loads of time if I had only stumbled on to it earlier.

Smashing Web's Fedora 17 Post Installation guide covers just about everything you would want to add to a fresh Fedora install. Here's a list (not complete) of the packages I've used from there:

Appearance and customisation:
yum install faenza-icon-theme
yum install gnome-tweak-toolyum install dconf-editor

installed some of the gnome-extensions listed there (will list these later.. possibly)

a better software installer:
yum install yumex

to enable the RPM Fusion repository just install (this allows you to get at some of the packages below)
yum localinstall --nogpgcheck http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-stable.noarch.rpm http://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-stable.noarch.rpm

add the adobe repository for downloading Acrobat Reader, by running this at the terminal
## Adobe Repository 32-bit x86 ## rpm -ivh http://linuxdownload.adobe.com/adobe-release/adobe-release-i386-1.0-1.noarch.rpm rpm --import /etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-adobe-linux ## Adobe Repository 64-bit x86_64 ## rpm -ivh http://linuxdownload.adobe.com/adobe-release/adobe-release-x86_64-1.0-1.noarch.rpm rpm --import /etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-adobe-linux

yum install flash-plugin nspluginwrapper alsa-plugins-pulseaudio libcurl

to play various Video formats:
yum install gstreamer gstreamer-plugins-good gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-ugly
yum install ffmpeg ffmpeg-libs

dvd playback / ripping / players

yum install libdvdread libdvdnav lsdvd
rpm -Uvh http://rpm.livna.org/livna-release.rpm
yum install libdvdcss
yum install vlc
yum install mplayer mplayer-gui smplayer gnome-mplayer

and my music player of choice:
yum install clementine

BitTorrent client and IM client:
yum install transmission
yum install pidgin

yum install nautilus-open-terminal
yum install p7zip p7zip-plugins
yum install filezilla

yum install netbeans (no longer in repo - see below)
yum install eclipse
yum install spe
yum install geany
yum install cssed
yum install anjuta

To run yum you need to be in a terminal with root privileges.
just type:
su -
at a terminal, then enter your root password, and then paste in the yum install commands and wait for the installs to finish.

I found two commands that would not work from the howto. One was "yum install netbeans" - its been removed from the repo because it is no longer GPL compliant. Instead follow the instructions to install it here: http://www.matthewhughes.co.uk/netbeans-on-fedora-17/
The other was "yum install gnochm" - instead use:
yum install chmsee

20 November 2012

explaining epigenetics .. adding more nurture to the nature-nurture mix

A log-worthy RadioLab episode - Inheritance - Which includes a lovely explanation of epigenetics, explained through some beautifully told stories, as usual.
Listen, to find out how, for instance, mom's licking turns on a behaviour, via protein, via turned-on-gene ..

From the site: http://www.radiolab.org/2012/nov/19/:
"Once a kid is born, their genetic fate is pretty much sealed. Or is it? This hour, we put nature and nurture on a collision course and discover how outside forces can find a way inside us, shaping not just our hearts and minds, but the basic biological blueprint that we pass on to future generations."
the file is here ...

and streamed here

Another brilliant RadioLab's episode. Check out their podcast - it's some of the best produced radio, ever! .. methinks

07 October 2012

sugars, glucose, fructose, etc. etc.

possibly worthwhile 38 min audio doccie in this science and the city podcast
the mp3 for the episode is here http://ne.edgecastcdn.net/000210/podcasts/AThoughtForFood_SugarInTheMorning.mp3

Don't get too annoyed when you hear the (possibly) pro corn-syrup scientists talking their science in this interview - it still comes out that even though fructose and sucrose are roughly the same in organic chemistry, we've evolved to getting the majority of our sugars via glucose/carbohydrates. So we hear how the ratio fructose:glucose is significant, that we drink and eat way too much fructose via corn-syrup's extreme place in our intake, and how that's not a good idea.

The following gets affirmed and boosted too. the carb/sugar content in a can of soda is about equivalent to a full meal, so unless you replace a meal with that soda, or do enough exercise to burn off an extra meal, drinking cokes and such are going to be pretty bad as a long term behaviour.

That being said, one of the points being made is that the science is contested - despite the smoking guns, we don't yet have a complete mapping of the complex pathways involved.