Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Short Line Lengths?

Paul Graham's essays are formatted to have short lines of around 60-70 characters per line. Jorn Barger has started writting posts using even shorter lines.

In his FAQ, Graham claims that "Text is most legible with at most 60-70 characters per line."

After reading these, I am starting to find longer lines too dense and less comfortable to read.

I'm haven't formed a definite view yet, but it's got me intruigued.

Is it actually better? Is the idea of 'making the most of' the window space something that will give way over time?

Karlgaard and Hagal on Zero-Sum Thinking

John Hagal blogs on a Forbes article by Rich Karlgaard on zero-sum thinking. Karlgaard calls it the world's worst disease, and Hagel agrees, and just adds a few more examples of the problems it causes.

I was interested this because, as I have mentioned earlier, I think that our brains often employ a heuristic of conceptualising things as zero-sums, which also often happens to be problematic.

Karlgaard explains how politicians, economists, journalists, environmentalistis
and others are captives to false zero-sum thinking. Hagal adds that it's a serious problem with business leaders.

Their consideration of zero-sums is limited to cases involving the conceptualisation of power (social, political) and resources.

Sadly, I thought the Forbes article was bit shallow. To me it seemed the talk about zero-sums was used, towards the end of the article, as a cheap way to push the authors beliefs, without providing any adequate justification for them.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Qualia Eg. of Assuming Things are as We Perceive Them

People know for certain that qualia is inexplicable and unexplainable to them.
Thus they feel certain that qualia *is* inexplicable and unexplainable.

But that is not a reasonable conclusion.
We do not know anything about the nature of the phenomenon.
It could be explainable if we had the right concepts for understanding it.

The flawed conclusion arises from a common mistake.
Which is assuming that how things appear to perception is how things actually are.
And assuming that if it appears inexplicable and unexplainable to me, then that must be its nature.

This is a failure to consider that these appearances may just have to do with our own limitations, not the actual nature of the phenomenon.
The phenomenon may be inexplicable only because we don't -- currently, at least -- have the means to understand it.

This is based on an assumption that perception is simply a window, reporting things as they are.

Whereas it is really a construction, seeing the world through a set of concepts that are neither perfect nor complete.

Researchers Achieve a Near-Complete Molecular Analysis of a Simple Organism

EurekAlert reports:

Today researchers in Germany announce they have finished the first complete analysis of the "molecular machines" in one of biology's most important model organisms: S. cerevisiae (baker's yeast).


"If you think of the cell as a factory floor, up to now, we've known some of the components of a fraction of the machines. That has seriously limited what we know about how cells work. This study gives us a nearly complete parts list of all the machines, and it goes beyond that to tell us how they populate the cell and partition tasks among themselves."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Understanding Evolution In Terms of Its Definition vs. its Nature

Yesterday I wrote 'The whole world makes much more sense in light of genuine appreciation of evolution'. What did I mean by a genuine appreciation of evolution?

As someone -- I can't recall exactly who -- said, evolution is something that most people don't understand but think they do. And we can see why. They are confusing an understanding of its definition with and understanding of its nature.

Most people know a definition of evolution, most famously 'survival of the fittest'. Some definitions are more detailed, and make mention of inheritance of varied characteristics, and differential survival based on these characteristics.

The problem with just knowing a definition is, the definition tells you nothing about what evolution does or can do in practice, and our untrained intuitions and reflective imagining are not powerful enough to gain an accurate picture of this.

Those untrained intuitions and reflective imaginings do not appreciate the huge scales that evolution works with, and the huge amounts of gradual work that can be accomplished within them. They don't appreciate the huge numbers of replicating entities dispersed over many environments.

They can't imagine the gradual gradient of adaptations that can lead to some sort of complex and subtle design such as an eye or intelligence.

Understanding the nature of evolution isn't just a matter of appreciating the sorts of things it is capable of building. It's also a matter of appreciating the ways that it builds things, and the sorts of tricks that it can employ to do so. It's also a matter of understanding the sorts of constraints upon the design work it can do.

For example, because there isn't any intelligent agent behind the design work, there can't be any conscious coordination in the design, so game theory applies, and we get the notion of evolutionarily stable strategies.

It takes a lot of training to appreciate how unintelligent forces can do intelligent design.

Paul Graham: How To Do What You Love

Paul Graham writes 'How To Do What You Love'

Another related line you often hear is that not everyone can do work they love-- that someone has to do the unpleasant jobs. Really? How do you make them? In the US the only mechanism for forcing people to do unpleasant jobs is the draft, and that hasn't been invoked for over 30 years. All we can do is encourage people to do unpleasant work, with money and prestige.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Evolution, Art and Aesthetics

To most people, evolution just has to do with biology. It's central role in biology was famously put by the geneticist and evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky, who said that nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett goes further. He considers it the most important idea ever developed, and in his view it's a 'universal acid' that eats through the container of biology into many other subject areas, such as psychology, ethics and cosmology, forcing their traditional concepts to be reconceptualised.

I think Dennett has got it right. The whole world makes much more sense in light of genuine appreciation of evolution.

Here's an example. Could subjectmatters seem more distant from each other than evolution from art and aesthetics? Not so, explains Dennis Dutton, in an article in the Australian titled 'Hardwired to seek beauty'.

TimesOnline: Golden Globe winners spark righteous anger

TimesOnline reports:

Christian groups led a furious campaign against Hollywood yesterday, accusing the Golden Globe Awards of promoting films with gay or “leftist” themes to serve a political agenda.

Monday, January 16, 2006

BBC: Pupils 'must look away to think'

A few days ago, the BBC reported: "Pupils should be encouraged to look away from their teacher when answering a question, scientists have found." Because it's more difficult to concentrate and think when looking at faces.

I know I have to look away from people when I need to think about what I'm going to say.

You have to wonder how much damage has been done by teachers etc demanding that students look at them when they answer a question because it's "not proper" if they don't.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

'Unified Physics Theory Explains Animals' Running, Flying And Swimming'

DukeNews reports

A single unifying physics theory can essentially describe how animals of every ilk, from flying insects to fish, get around, researchers at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering and Pennsylvania State University have found. The team reports that all animals bear the same stamp of physics in their design.

The researchers show that so-called "constructal theory" can explain basic characteristics of locomotion for every creature -- how fast they get from one place to another and how rapidly and forcefully they step, flap or paddle in relation to their mass. Constructal theory is a powerful analytical approach to describing movement, or flows, in nature.

The findings, published in the January 2006 issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology, challenge the notion that fundamental differences between apparently unrelated forms of locomotion exist. The findings also offer an explanation for remarkable universal similarities in animal design that had long puzzled scientists, the researchers said.

Interesting. An illustration of how 'elementary' constraints have more powerful effects on systems than we tend to imagine.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

My New Years Eve Pics

In the city with Scott, Carmen, Cameron, Melissa, Baz, and Caroline


Monday, January 02, 2006

Room For Rent, Explorer Street, Toowong

Large room in furnished
two bedroom unit

Has built-in wardrobe / storage space
and nice views

Can be supplied with a single bed and
desk, if required

Tv, fridge, microwave, stove, utensils /
cooking equipment, espresso machine,
couch, dining table, washing machine

Explorer St, Toowong
10 – 15 mins bus to UQ
10 mins walk to toowong buses, trains,
shopping center, RE

Available 6 Jan. Male or female
Students from abroad welcome
Non-smoker preferred

Share with PhD student in mid 20s

$115 week plus bond and utilities

3371 8052, 0403 939 167
email james.cole at gmail dot com