Friday, March 30, 2012


The capitalists want us  to model every social activity as a market.  I think they would even turn our families into markets if we'd let them.  But science has many models, not just one.  I think that a family is  a good model.  Some of what the capitalists would call markets would better be treated like (modeled as) families.  Two theories are better than one. (Scientific pluralism)  Two models are better than one.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Increasing complexity

Looking across the biosphere one finds a distribution of lifeform complexities.  (In the absence of things like mass extinctions) this distribution TENDS to broaden with time.  The extreme tail of such a distribution then also increases with history, i.e., the maximum complexity of organisms TENDS to increase (but DIFFERENT organisms will be at this extreme peak at different moments.) (AGAIN, the biosphere is an open system, we are neglecting such things as mass extinctions here.)  Today humans are up in the tail of this distribution of complexities.  Perhaps when humans become extinct our machines may survive us and occupy such a position.

Complexity will likely not be maximized by the same lifeform that maximizes longevity. Again, "progress" is likely to be measured by vector quantities.


For life taken as a whole it is not the lifespan of a single species that matters. (Even if an artificial life  form controlled by Asa H software would have to use that as a measure of utility. see my 19 Feb. 2011 blog) All species go extinct.  Rather, there is a distribution of lifespans (for all the various lifeforms) which grows increasingly more skewed with time.  That change in the distribution is what constitutes progress for life as a whole.  Indirectly (as the tail of the distribution becomes populated) this leads, in turn, to new genera with enhanced longevity. (Contrast this with what might constitute progress for human society.  see my 18 May 2011 blog)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I use ebooks when I need to reduce volume but I really like the use of marginalia in print books.  Things that don't get into my lab notes do get into my original sources in the form of marginalia. I mark up my books a lot.

I also like numbering every line of BASIC code.  I find it easier to locate bugs and make changes when the lines of code are all numbered.

I can spread out more material on my desk (or lab table or floor) than I can work with on a computer screen.  I really feel the difference between the 3-D and 2-D spaces involved.  2-D feels very constricting.  (With a computer or two running around the room I suppose I'm occasionally using both spaces.)

Signing with a stylus on touch screen devices is really difficult.  The screens are too slippery and held at bad heights and angles.  With age my handwriting has gotten shakey.  I'm fine when I write large, on a blackboard for example.  When I try to write small I am shakey.  On a slippery surface it gets worse.  I don't mind tapping on tablet PC screens but I don't want to draw or write on them.  Could the surface be kept clear but roughened or otherwise made less slick?  Would that help?  Alternatively one could change the stylus.  Writing with something like a sharpened eraser does help some but leaves a residue.

Friday, March 23, 2012

(My) uses for mobile computing

30 years ago I bought a Sharp pocket computer so I could try out programming ideas away from the office or computer lab. (I still do this today.) 20 years ago I still did a lot of library research on site.  I bought several small machines and wrote some software so that I could input/log information in the library stacks as I found it. (I do not do this today. I do not visit libraries or roam the stacks like I used to.) In the last few years I have made more use of electronic documents.  I have several ereaders but prefer larger screens and so also use tablet computers, netbooks, and laptops to read ebooks and pdf documents (publications, theses, etc.). I have occasionally used wireless connections to search the web, access email, and buy books online when away from my desk.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Which operating system to use?

Over the last 20 or so years I have used: several Android distributions (1.6 and 2.2), MAC OS 7, MAC OS X Tiger, Fedora, Ubuntu, OpenWrt, and Xandros Linux, Windows 3.x, 95, NT, XP, and 7,  IBM unix, and openSolaris.  Each has its good and bad points:

Android         pro: optimized for mobile devices
                      con: lacks some applications you would want (for example, a good office suite)

Windows       pro: has many apps available and they run "right out of the box"
                      con: there are some quality/stability issues (solved with Windows 7?)

MAC OS X   pro: quality and stability
                      con: hardware is higher priced

Linux             pro: free and stable
                       con: fragmented, many distributions, each a little different

unix/Solaris   pro: reliable/stable
                      con: hardware specific, lacks some applications

Asa H was built to run on both MACs and PCs.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Science and philosophy

When I was an undergraduate the physicist Gerald Feinberg argued that physics had solved philosophy's "Thales problem." (The Journal of Philosophy, Jan 6, 1966) It is well known that other philosophical questions have been resolved by science. My own philosophical work has been mostly in this tradition, trying to make use of progress in the various fields of science in order to settle (or at least clarify) issues in philosophy (see my 1 January 2012 blog for example, "The big questions"). Conversely, philosophy may suggest areas that science should investigate.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Limits of (human) thought?

In his paper "The Problem of Philosophy" and his book "Problems in Philosophy", Wiley, 1993 Colin McGinn argues that "The human mind conforms to certain principles in forming concepts and beliefs and theories...and these constrain the range of knowledge to which we have access." In some areas of inquiry "the correct theory is inaccessible to the human intellect."
But the whole idea of "learning" is to have access to patterns you have never seen before.  The mind is an open system. Things get added to it from without.  It can also employ external memory storage (notes, books, libraries, etc.) to augment its capability.

Science versus mathematics

Is mathematics one of the sciences?  If not, how do we distinguish one from the other?  I must admit that I usually think of mathematics as a science.  As a trained physicist I find mathematics to be as much like physics as, say, biology is.

But if I were to look for a distinction between science and math then it might be that scientists (or should I say physicists) look for patterns that are present in the world whereas mathematicians look at patterns that may (or may not) occur in the physical world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Social Intelligence?

H. M. Collins has argued the "social nature of human beings and their knowledge." ( Artificial Experts, MIT Press, 1990, page 224) He further claims that "there are no stand alone human beings." (page 221) and "socialization is necessary for learning" (page 12).  At one point he claims that a man working alone in a room does little that counts as intelligent! ("If I lock myself up in a room for a day, so that I have no contact with anyone else, when I come out in the evening my knowledge is not much changed." page 12) I guess he believes that all intelligence is collective intelligence.

If I was alone in that room with a physics experiment I believe my knowledge may have increased a great deal!

Also, it occurs to me that the explosion of everything related to "social media" is a  contribution that computers make to society, a contribution from their "social intelligence."

Collins also states that "it is induction that we can do and that machines cannot." (page 132)  I would think that the various "invention machine" experiments show that this is false. (Including my own published work.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Battery issues with mobile devices

Years ago when I got my first mobile phone I had battery issues.  As soon as I got home or to a destination I had to charge the phone.  Today that's all behind us.  My phone can last several days between  charges.

I have had less luck with mobile computing devices.  I have a small (7 inch screen) tablet computer running Android that I can run off batteries for a prolonged period (likewise with TI-83 and TI-86 calculators running TI-BASIC) but I've had issues with all larger devices.  I have a large (10 inch screen) tablet computer running Windows 7, a netbook running Linux, a netbook running Windows XP, and an ibook running MAC OS X Tiger/unix none of which have adequate battery life.  As a result I typically run all of these plugged into the mains/wall outlet (and this lets me turn up the screen brightness to something closer to what I get from my desktop computers). Fortunately, I seldom go somewhere where I don't have access to a mains electrical supply.  (An inverter works in the car.) It's my impression that the majority of the time people run their laptops off the mains.

The smaller mobile computers have inadequate computing power.  The larger mobile computers have inadequate electrical power.  As a result I currently tend to favor a netbook or small laptop for mobile use. (They also have a reasonable screen size and a real keyboard. see my 8 Feb. 2012 post. They are  lighter to lug around than my physics books.) Perhaps I should/could attach 2 or 3 more batteries in parallel to my Acer Windows XP based netbook.  That might be just about what I'd really want. Perhaps laptops should come with a larger battery option. (Just like they may now come with different storage options.) I know of at least one laptop that offers this but it was only a choice of a 9 cell battery pack versus a 6 cell battery pack.