Archive for the ‘Science and Philosophy’ Category

Fantasy Selling

photo of earth from NASA

The earth is FLAT! Seriously.

Here is a little mind control technique I just thought of: selling/planting an idea into someone’s head by just telling random stuff. You’d have to make sure to put enough symbolism in it, so it enters the brain of the other person through the power of their own associations. Make sure to bring in scientists, religion, government and media. Those are powerful friends to convince people.

The earth is flat

Goal: sell the idea that the earth is in fact flat.
Script: “Hey, you know the whole thing about the earth being a globe is in fact a hoax? Yeah, I didn’t believe it at first, but apparently it’s true. So when you see that image from space it’s always a circle but there is no shadow, so you know it can’t be round. Also, in the bible nobody says the world is round. In fact, in Daniel 4:10, “he saw a tree of great height at the centre of the earth…reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth’s farthest bound”. If everyone could see the tree, the earth must have been flat. Also, research has shown that people believe anything on television, and the images from space usually don’t show a moving earth: it is still, fixed as the bible says too. The reason you see that same picture of the earth from space again and again is because the media and the government need to sell this idea so bad. That’s why they need to repeat it, otherwise we would quickly fall back to the truth, which is that the earth is flat. “

A physics model of a physics model

One of the hardest topics in school next to computer science is physics. Time and again I see students struggle with the topics, and I have to admit I didn’t find it easy in high school myself. So I started studying physics again using Khan Academy, and gained much insight into the basics. I have admired Sal Khan since he started his site, and as a school teacher I also think I should help him, and my students, wherever possible.

I started drawing a diagram of how all things in physics connected to each other, and while doing that, I realized there should be software to do this better. After a short search I found the wonderful D3 toolkit, based on web standards, just as I like it. D3 can create awesome diagrams, graphs, infographics, you name it.

So now I have for your pleasure and learning aid a physics based overview of common physics quantities. Click the image to see the actual animated model.

Some tips on how to use it:

  1. Click the diagram to automatically redraw it
  2. Drag nodes to change the layout
  3. Mouseover a node to see related info
force diagram physics

force diagram physics

Use in physics assignments

The colors in the diagram denote related quantities:

  • blue – essential axiomatic units m, l, t
  • green – related to movement
  • orange – related to energy
  • red – related to a single unit

To use this diagram in your physics assignment, look at the known variables. Find those in the diagram. Now see if you can combine those to make more variables: follow the arrows. If you can start from two known values you can usually calculate a third. You continue doing this until you have found the desired outcome.

Salman Khan is the smartest man in the world

The world is changing. At some point in the future, says Ray Kurzweil, computers will be more intelligent than humans. He thinks it will happen in the year 2045 to be exact. That’s a scary thought, but he could be right. Many say he is the smartest man in the world.

But today I realized that Salman Khan is ahead of him. Khanacademy is an online tutorial for everything including math, biology, economics, chemistry, physics, history, and more. And Khan made all videos himself.

But not only did he do that, he is expanding at an exponential rate, to offer his courses to classrooms. And that could revolutionize education.

And all of that… for free, because he is filthy rich anyway, and doesn’t care about making more.

World changing: Khanacademy. See for yourself.

Facebook limits you at 5000 friends

enough is enough

enough is enough

Jeffrey Zeldman claims 5000 friends is not enough!

Not Amen! Agree to disagree!

The value in a social network lies in social. So the friends should be people you have met in real life and value in your social circle, which revolves around your life, not your business. A page is a business tool so that is what you should have.

The cap may be nonsense, but unfortunately there is no way for Facebook to validate that you actually know the ‘friend’ personally.

One other side-effect in which Facebook bites it’s own hand is that apps and games (OK and businesses) thrive by the amount of ‘friends’ you have. That is an incentive to make fake friends. I started to play CityVille only to find out that none of my friends did. If I were true to Facebook’s dogma I would quit playing or be an obnoxious friend who would evangelize CityVille to all my friends all the time, until they unfriend me. Now I play it happily with over 30 fake friends whom I’ve never met. I even block them from my wall, as I don’t want them in my real social circle. Once I stop playing CityVille I will quickly unfriend all these people.

Still, I fully agree that Facebook should work on a solution, which in my opinion is definitely not removing the cap but some way to have people in your network for a certain purpose, and have great distinction in how you treat and communicate with them.

All the positive talk about Twitter’s agility: don’t become so vigilent, or should they also remove the 140 character cap!?!?!?

I have always been appalled at the nomenclature of new applications: Friend and Like come to mind. I call them ‘close-related-marketing-profile’ and ‘increase-marketing-keyword-potential’.

Jeffrey, you don’t get to  5000 friends without making a few enemies :-P

Why I don’t like the Facebook Like button

thumbs up

thumbs up

First of all, I hate the “Like” button. However, I have to be honest, I hated the “fan” button even more. Now I am not just being negative. Let me give you some background on this.

The Fan button

The first time I saw the “become a fan of ….” button on Facebook I didn’t know what to think of it. I started thinking, OK, so what am I a fan of. I soon realized it’s a very short list, that also changes over time: Rubik’s cube, Aikido, House, Monk, Rush, Led Zeppelin, and some others some to mind. But to say I am a fan of e.g. Harry Potter is quite exaggerated. So, reluctantly I clicked the fan button for “House” (the TV show, not just any house). The next thing I knew I found myself drowned in messages about (from?) my temporary favorite TV show. It’s just plain stupid. I do want people to know I like the show, but not get stupid messages all the time from it. So I stopped being a fan of anything else.

The Like button

I was happily surprised when Facebook decided to change the Fan idea to a “Like” idea, thinking they must have heard some voices echoing my thoughts. Unfortunately though, the button still does the exact same thing: squirting out a barrage of nonsense messages. I soon found out though that now it’s quite easy to hide those messages without losing your ‘like’ status.

Google Reader

Another thing I am fan of is Google Reader. Ever since I got a new PC I never felt like installing applications. I realized that even though compiled software is faster, and sometimes has really nice features, using online software just works anywhere, and is good enough for me. Also I have been moving around between computers more, so it becomes quite necessary to synchronize application status. But that’s another story.

Google Reader has had a “like” button perhaps even longer than Facebook (can anyone tell me if that’s true?). And since Google Reader doesn’t followup the click of a “like” with a barrage of nonsense messsages, I was happy to click “like”. After a while though, I found out that on the top of my ‘suggested reading list’ were a hole bunch of really stupid posts. I thought: “there must be something wrong with Google’s algorithm”. And then it hit me: Google uses the “like” button to learn what you want to read. But I had been using it all wrong. I clicked “like” usually when something was really, really funny. And so Google decided I was mostly interested in humor. And that’s pure BS. I like a joke once in a while, but not all the time, when there’s interesting serious news ahead. And it was impossible for Google to tell what I found really hilarious and what I found just plain stupid (a sense of humor is not a computer’s strong point).

So I revised my like-button-decision-making-process and was happily surprised when only weeks later Google had adapted itself back to a more serious note, and I could suffice with reading the top 50 or 100 items, and send the rest of the news to a peaceful death.

Still, I was faced with another issue: once in a while I read interesting news about natural disasters. But I found it morally appalling to mention to Google that I liked the fact that over 200,000 people died in Chili, or that dozens died in a freak accident. But I learned the hard way now it’s wrong to think that way, we have to redefine the “like” button to an “adjust-neural-net-weight”-button, even though that sounds a lot more complicated.

Now what’s next?

I am going to continue clicking ‘like’ for everything that I wish to associate myself with, or wish to receive messages about in the near future. My advice to readers: please realize that there is a commercial incentive to all this ‘liking’: ads will always be tailored to the user, wherever possible. And Facebook nor Google can do this properly when it doesn’t know what you ‘like’.

So far, I like where it’s going, though the wording is wrong in every single way.

Cybernetic Programming

cybernetics

I’d like to make a proposal for a new kind of programming (at least new to me, LOL). When I was studying back in the nineties I became interested in something called ‘sociocratic organization‘. This is a form of organization based on Cybernetics. Cybernetics is the study of systems with feedback loops. When you think of a thermostat in the room, it has a feedback loop. When it gets too hot, it cools, when it gets too cool, it warms up, and that way it keeps the system in balance. In computer programming we don’t deploy such features normally. We pray that all goes well, and that we didn’t forget anything, and if it does go wrong, the whole system usually crumbles apart. In web programming that’s usually a minor glitch, since just one page of our whole system breaks. In desktop computing it’s much worse. And in embedded programming it’s disastrous. Now instead of writing numerous unit tests, or mathematically proving our program, perhaps it would be possible to use this idea of a feedback loop in many aspects of our programming.

Consider you have to write a program that is to determine the best results for a search, similar to Google (but not as vast, so let’s say a small web site). We need to display what’s relevant to the user, but we don’t know what is relevant. So you just do a simple text search to find a record within a table. Now you check which of the results is clicked for this particular search result, and then you log the search term, and with it the clicked result.

Then a new user shows up and does the same search, and clicks the same result. You increment the counter for this result on this search in the log. After a while we should see our statistics in the table represent what people were searching for, and which records were ‘successful’ to them (at least they clicked it). Depending on these results you can now decide to alter the order of the search results, where the highest scoring record is put on top of the search results page.

Pretty nifty. I Googled it and found that Microsoft Research has written a paper on something similar. So expect this to Bing us soon.

The Real Sixth Sense – digital meets real life

While Microsoft is playing with their $10,000 surface table, MIT creates a $300 alternative that does more. It’s a wearable device aptly named Sixth Sense that lets you interact with the digital world, in awesome ways. Just watch…

5 breakthrough technologies that will go mainstream in 5 years

This is my list of 5 technologies that you probably don’t know about yet, and that will go mainstream in less than 5 years. I’d like to check back here in 5 years to see just how right (or wrong) I am.

1. Online rendered games

OTOY delivers server based live rendering. That is a cool thing that can enable live playing of console games that you don’t own. Of course it can also be used more professionally by e.g. architects and film makers.

video

2. Peer to peer hosting

Opera recently announced Opera Unite, their server-less website technology. Although it may not be Opera itself that brings this mainstream, it will certainly change the world. Currently websites are all hosted and delivered by servers not owned by ourselves. The middleman known as ISP will always be in between, charging for services, blocking stuff at will, and basically controlling our behavior on the internet. We (that is everyone) don’t like this, and it needs to change. P2P (peer-to-peer) technology like BitTorrent is key to this, but only supports file sharing. What is needed is web-sharing. Opera Unite is still very beta and techie, but once a “publish button” is available, that could well change. You don’t need Flickr to share pictures with friends, really. But we do need powerful technology like PHP, Java, .NET to be integrated. Javascript alone doesn’t make for the most interesting sites.

3. Augmented reality

It will take a bit longer than just software, but the world is advancing fast to a point where we can start using this. Simply glasses with small screens on the inside will work. GPS in your phone and netbook help to render relevant scenes laid over the exact location you are at. “Assisted reality” may be the first step: point your phone to a product and see it’s specifications, price comparison etc directly on your phone’s screen.

Wikipedia article

4. Flexible displays

This is another one that I envision to arrive on the market soon (a couple of years). You just roll up your e-reader, or roll it out of your netbook. It’s already for sale.

5. Online software development

Sites like topcoder, guru, but especially oDesk will become the trend. But the people you hire will not be unknown to you. Through social networking, virtual presence and web cams they will be much more part of the company then just outsiders. This will require a change in culture though. Currently people are quite ‘scared’ of showing their face to someone on the other side of the Ocean. But just like social networking it will grow quickly.

Things that will go unnoticed

  • social networks – ok, they’ve already made it, but they will not change drastically, and you notice a fatigue starting in everyone who has had the facebook rush for a while. The close circle of friends will continue, but 900 friends? C’mon. Facebook/twitter will end up in Google’s or Microsofts hands anyway.
  • Google wave – It’s the marriage of IM, picture album, bulletin board and email. I believe it actually will take over as the next version of GMail, but it will not be much more than that.
  • Wolfram Alpha – one of the latest hypes. Ultimately just one of the places people may go to to find answers. Will probably be bought by Google anyway.

I had no place for it on the list, and it may take more then 5 years, but solar power will also make it, eventually (within 10 years).

Automating science itself

Finding laws of nature is not really a creative process.. It’s merely extracting the rules that are embedded in nature. It’s no surprise that now somebody came up with a way to automate finding the laws of nature…

check it out:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2009/apr/02/eureka-machine-artificial-intelligence

State of the World

If you want to know more about the state of the world, pay a visit to gapminder.org. Yes, that term comes from the London underground (‘mind the gap’). I remember almost tripping over that gap between the subway train and the platform, trying to understand what the voice on the intercom was saying…

On this website Hans Rosling explains the history of the world by using animated statistical charts. Perhaps you’ve seen these charts as part of Google analytics. In fact, Google bought the Trendalyzer technology for these charts from them.

What stops population growth

What stops population growth

 

 

What stops population growth? from Gapminder Foundation on Vimeo.

See also: 

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