Archive for November, 2008

Nov 30 2008

Long election “coat tails” wanted!!

Published by under General

Hope springs eternal
This gave me a chuckle on the way home yesterday! Clever entrepreneurs out here in silicon valley.

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Nov 14 2008

The Infinite Book

Published by under Books

“A short guide to the boundless, timeless, and endless”
by John D. Barrow

While written by a Cambridge mathematician, this book is a totally non mathematical overview of the idea of “infinity”. It does start by discussing mathematical concept of infinity but moves onto scientific and philosophical connections to the concept. It was fun, easy to read, and informative.

The first and foremost message in the book is that “infinity” is not just a large number which is probably how most people think of it. Infinity is qualitatively different from any (very large) number or finite collection of numbers. In fact it has odd properties that lead to ‘paradoxes’ that confuse people and led some mathematicians to decide proper math, and the real world, didn’t include infinity. The ‘odd’ properties have many implications that the book tries to identify and elucidate. The author has more than a passing familiarity with mathematical physics as many of his examples and explorations touch infinities in the physical sciences. Infinitely many expanding universes that can be imagined via “string theory”. What would time without out end, an infinite life, be like (all possible things happen an infinite number of time; not much fun?). All sorts of concepts and paradoxes are discussed. Infinities, if they exist in the real world, are weird things.

Fun and easy to read.

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Nov 05 2008

Look to windward

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by Iain M. Banks. (2000)

This is the penultimate books in the culture series but is the last that I’ve read. Good thing it is the end of the series as I’ve tired of it. Banks is an excellent story teller and imaginative plot creator, but I’ve reached the limit of my interest. Like the prior stories, Look to “Windward” includes imaginative beings, environments, and worlds. More than in several other books in the series, this one contains some very imaginative alien species and habitats that one could get engrossed in if the time were available.

A subtext of all the stories was what would life be like in a world partially controlled by hyper intelligent and hyper capable machines. What would people do if there were no resource constraints and correspondingly no need for money or for work? How would people (with evolved and intentionally augmented physiology) interact with the intelligent, sentient, and almost Godlike “minds” that evolved from machines? That idea was what got me interested in the series. Banks version of an answer is sanguine in that people and machines cooperate and people are useful in dealing with non Culture beings in the Galaxy. There are many other beings ‘out there’ in the galaxy. However, the vast majority of Culture’s citizens spend their time becoming expert on something, socializing, or involved in a recreational activity (sometimes including work that could be done by machines) in artificially created “orbitals” that make planets unnecessary, Enough.

Incidentally, Banks once wrote an overview of the “Culture” as he conceived it. I didn’t read it until after finishing the books, but it does provide some explanations of his conception and biases. Might help make some bits of the stories make more sense.

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Nov 04 2008

Election Forecasting

Published by under General

Wired has an interesting article on the first use of a computer to predict the outcome of a national election: Eisenhower vs. Stevenson (of Illinois) in 1952. CBS News didn’t believe the machines ultimately correct prediction.
This was a clear case in which all the machine added was rapid processing of data to get a result in a useful time frame. The analysis was directly specified in advance of the election. Still true or are machines more capable?

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