17 December 2006

ShowMeDo - demonstrative video

good resource -basically, people sharing what they know via screencasts- nice for slower, lazier learning.
its also pretty easy to submit screencasts, so if you've got some knowledge (that others could use ;-) -share!

checkout http://showmedo.com/videos/python and http://showmedo.com/videos/screencasting

17 October 2006

natural selection of universes !

Why is the universe the way it is - why are the fundamental properties of elementary particles and forces just such that complexity can arise? Shift the values of these fundamental properties around just a bit and things dont work out so well.. a universe with even slightly varying properties either doesnt survive very long or ends up very empty with no ability for complexity of any sort to arise.

The answer i've most liked so far is that we just happen to be in one universe (of an infinite set within a theoretical multiverse) that does allow for complexity, and that the other sorts of universes that form without the right properties dont exist for long and wont have anybody within them to ask any of these questions anyway..

but Lee Smolin's "natural selection of universes" idea is simply more beautiful and 'complete'. He starts of with the general postulate that some self organising cosmic scale phenomenon could underly the selection of fundamental quantum
properties, but where it gets really beautiful i think is his suggestion that that phenomenon is evolutionary - that universes have evolved fundamental properties that make their reproduction more likely.

As Martin Rees comments: "He's saying that in some sense the universes that allow complexity and evolution reproduce themselves more efficiently than other universes. The ensemble itself is thus evolving in some complicated way. Smolin speculates - as others, like Alan Guth, have also done - that inside a black hole it's possible for a small region to, as it were, sprout into a new universe. We don't see it, but it inflates into some new dimension"

To continue the metaphor he uses - universes as animals, fundamental physical properties as genes, and black-holes as reproduction events.

Read the Whole article here - it is a bit old and (in places) dated, but the underlying idea of natural selection for universes, seems to me -at least tonight- to be very exciting.

One question i do have with the article (and some of the comments) concerns the assumption he uses to conclude that the idea is testable - that any tweaking of fundamental properties should produce less or equal number of blackholes, but NOT more. According to Smolin, this should be the case because universes would have evolved to optimize their properties so as to have the maximum chances for reproduction.

But does our understanding of evolution bear this out? Evolution doesnt necessarily achieve perfection - it doesnt even strive for it - its just a self organizing phenomenon that allows things that can persist to persist. What i mean is that there is no guarantee that our current universes 'gene-set' is necessarily the most optimized..

If i'm right, this means that the testability of his theory is open to question - that if anyone finds a shift in fundamental values that allows for more blackholes, the whole theory is not necessarily proven wrong. Thats more sad than it sounds, because without testability, its just another beautiful idea.

(UPDATE: in the comments to this blog, someone pointed out that Smolin addresses this in his book, 'The Life of the Cosmos')

Something else that might be worth considering is the possibility of other 'reproduction events' that werent thought of when he wrote this - like maybe the "Brane collisions" that possibly create universes in some of the newer forms of the superstring/m-theory/membrane theories

14 October 2006

python diaries

michael palin's diaries - this weeks bbc4 book of the week. features extracts from michael palin's diaries of 'the python years', read by palin himself - definately worth listening to, enjoyable, but probably online for the next week only.. so thats about until the 20th of october. Until then, the links are:
part1; part2; part3; part4; part5;

bbc radio online needs realplayer -which can be downloaded here. just remember to turn Off realplayers irritating messagecenter [Tools->Preferences->Automatic Services->configure message center -> uncheck 'Check for new messages' and 'Show Message Center icon in system tray'] . thats after cancelling the irritating registration process.

a different sort of python diary entry is the release of python 2.5. highlights include the new 'with' operator, some changes to the Generator mechanism and some speedups.

06 October 2006

listening to the material world

been listening to The Material World on bbc4 again. Its a science radio show, and theres some interesting, er, material spread amongst the online archive of all previous shows. definately useful. Well.. worth listening to at least.

and while i'm here, i might as well mention that i'm still playing with ubuntu - its been about 3 weeks (i think) and within the last couple days, i've been brave/foolish enough to add it (as dual boot with xp) to the laptop as well. Testing the 686 kernel for the laptop's core-duo cpu now, and a lot of other stumbling around in the exciting unfamiliarity of linux. Ubuntu linux definately needs its own proper writeup here. . it will come, maybe, but that will have to be later.

20 September 2006

linux with the ubuntu philosophy

I spent the last week playing with ubuntu 6.06 and i think i might have gotten myself seriously hooked. it might finally be time for me to stick with linux. The install seemed much easier than the last ubuntu distro i tried, the latest gnome runs much smoother, it took just a bit of poking around to get my nvidia drivers working at full resolution (the forums enjoy excellent support),

25 July 2006

US-Israeli terrorism

In Lebanon and Gaza, they've been bombing the shit out of cities and residential areas, taking out all remaining services and infrustructure, using white phosphorous and clusterbombs -maximising the terror inflicted on the civilian population; with seeming unwaivering confidence that even the most obvious warcrimes will go unpunished - Seriously fucked-up.
As for the language the US and Isreal are using - its as sick as ever.

i needed to vent, but read A farewell to Beirut -a particularly moving article from Robert Fisk in Beirut

also check out U.S. Arming of Israel: How U.S. Weapons Manufacturers Profit From Middle East Conflict

and if you're in or around pretoria, there's a demonstration planned at the Israeli Embassy this Friday at 2.30pm.

14 June 2006

happiness is ... er ....

well, listen to what some scientists have to say on the subject. The audio below is taken from a recent podcast on the science of happiness, from the canadian science radio show Quirks and Quarks. pretty useful.

Listen to or download the mp3 audio file or Ogg audio file . (what's ogg?)

(i'm off to try and stimulate my left prefrontal cortex ;-)

12 June 2006

Mind Hacks: Suicide itself now an act of war

saw the following post ridiculing the US (and media) response to Guantanamo Bay suicides on the MindHacks blog -a blog focused on neuroscience, but that is quite generally interesting.
A motivation not yet mentioned in the extensive scientific literature on suicide was offered by the US Government for why three inmates killed themselves in Guantanamo Bay - apparently, it was a well-planned 'act of asymmetric warfare'."

Perhaps, someone could email the organisors of the US Department of Defense 2006 Military Suicide Prevention Conference and let them know that their opening talk on the Theoretical Considerations of Suicide by Dr. David Jobes (powerpoint slides here) obviously missed out this important explanation in an otherwise comprehensive coverage of the medical literature?

UPDATE: Six hours after the first story, the suicides are now being explained as a 'PR move'. Doesn't science move fast.

27 May 2006

Autonomous Politics and its Problems

ZNet |Vision & Strategy | Autonomous Politics and its Problems
from the site:
his "aim in this article is to present some hypotheses on issues of strategy for anti-capitalist emancipatory movements. The idea is to rethink the conditions for an effective politics, with the capacity to radically change the society we live in"

23 May 2006

tagged code snippets

Code Snippets : a code snippet repository, with del.icio.us type tagging. The service is still growing, and it still needs multi-tag searching capability, but i think its a winning combination.

oh yeah, they might also be suffering a bit from slashdot induced server strain.

22 May 2006

Performancing for Firefox

i'm trying this tidy firefox extension called Performancing to write this blog. Its a full featured blog editor that sits right within Firefox, and has Trackback, Technorati and Del.icio.us support. Its also been approved by the mozilla addons team, so you can lift it directly from the addons site.

UPDATE: After using it for a few posts, i think the blogger bookmarklet is all i need. its out.

20 May 2006

back ...

after my ISP apparently took a week to swapout a network card in
my local switching station. this does not bode well for the next 12 months.

ah well, its never that serious

04 May 2006

my stumbleupon blog

my stumbleupon reviews, where you'll find links/reviews . some of them to things as pretty as this.. even.

i'm currently posting more there, anyway.

18 February 2006

who wants to play?

a good opensource first person shooter nexuiz. anyone interested in joining me for a quick online game, can download the game from that site (its also available in the ubuntu repositories) and drop me a line in the comments.

13 February 2006

blogmark sa

i've happenned onto yet another interesting and funny (very, very) blog at the south african blogmark, Andreas' blog - scary clever.

here's one of his good ideas i just couldnt help pasting here - in case i cant tempt anyone to jump thru the link - hope he doesnt mind.

Okay, university fees, right? Here's my idea: We make a student’s university tuition fee equal to like double whatever his or her school fees were. Awesome, huh? Check, it’s like if you went to a really good school where the fees were say 15k...then, uh, your ‘varsity fees would be 30k. Now our varsity fees are only about 7.5k, but if they were 30 grand, we could subsidise, um, 3 other kids who went to shitty township schools that only cost like 500 bucks a year and where they probably got a kak education and now they still have to work part-time and shit just to afford to be at university – I mean, Christ, that puts them at such a disadvantage right away, dudes. How the fuck are they meant to compete with middle-class mother fuckers like us who had all these opportunities...And the best part is that those fucken pricks who went to those ultra-expensive elitist asshole schools like St. Wanker’s College or wherever would have to pay like 200 grand for ‘varsity instead of just the same 7.5k as the poor kids do now. So they’d subsidise like 20 other dudes who really need it and their robber-baron fathers would just have to compensate by buying the little wankers BMWs instead of Porsches to date-rape chicks in. I mean, fuck it, they’d still be rich Ralph-Lauren wearing cunts, but they’d at least have to contribute to a slightly more egalitarian society...I went to a good school...I got no problem paying more for my tertiary education, man...it’s frikkin’ bullshit that some people have to pay like 10 times what their schooling cost and others only have to pay like a tenth...I reckon that’d work, man….fuck those date-raping elitist asshole preppy motherfuckin’ spawn of apartheid robber barons and gold-digging-trophy-whores...

* dissolve into helpless laughter*

Independent World Television

if ever there was a desperately needed initiative!
Check out Naomi Klein's clip

er. sorry DS for the blatant lift.

06 February 2006

"if you removed all vertebrates from the Earth (including humans), the ecosystems would continue to work flawlessly.

Remove insects or even just a few of their important groups and life on Earth would collapse."

01 February 2006

Gene Pool

very funky - i've been fantasizing about a SimLife type game like this for the longest time.

From the page: "Gene Pool is an artificial life simulation in which populations of physics-based organisms evolve swimming capabilities over time. These organisms are called "swimbots". You can set mate preference criteria and thus influence what the swimbots consider as attractive qualities in potential mates. The most attractive swimbots get chosen most often and so their genetic building blocks propogate to future generations. Eventually, swimbots get better at pursuing each other, competing for food, and becoming babes to other swimbots. Local gene pools emerge which compete for sex and food (for energy to have more sex). Eventually a dominant sub-population takes over.

And sometimes, everyone just dies (but you can help keep them alive, by moving food bits and swimbots around, and constraining the migration of competing populations by using the "Great Wall")

Gene Pool is best appreciated as a virtual Darwinian aquarium in which you initiate a primordial soup, and then occasionally check up on what Virtual Mother Nature is up to - about every fifteen minutes (or every few days, if you are interested in long-term evolutionary experiments!)

The strange and unexpected strategies for swimming (and being sexually attractive) that emerge can sometimes be amusing, and a bit reminiscent of that brand of creativity known as Darwinian Evolution."

[tagged with evolution]