Sunday, September 25, 2005
Feedback and Analysis
Jon Udell recaps some of the events from the Accelerating Change conference. Lots of interesting info on the Singularity theory, as both Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil were in attendance, but what caught my eye was this description of how the eye works with the brain:
The example was a six-layered column in the neocortex connected to a 14x14-pixel patch of the retina. There are, Olshausen said, about 100,000 neurons in that chunk of neocortex. That sounds like a lot of circuitry for a few pixels, and it is, but we actually have no idea how much circuitry it is. ...I found this quite simply amazing. The folks at the conference were interested in this because it means we're that much closer to understanding, and thus being able to artificially reproduce, the brain. However, this has other implications as well.
So the brain gets some input from the eye, but it's sending significantly more information towards the eye than it's receiving. This implies that the brain is doing a lot of processing and extrapolation based on the information it's been given. It seems that the information gathering part of the process, while important, is nowhere near as important as the analysis of that data. Sound familiar? Honestly, I haven't been keeping track of intelligence agencies of late, but the focus on data gathering without a corresponding focus on analysis certainly used to be a problem, and I think this finding is just another piece of evidence that says we need to focus on analysis.
This also applies to the business world. Lots of emphasis is placed on collecting sales data, especially on the internet, but unless you have a large dedicated staff to analyze that data, you won't end up with much in the way of actionable conclusions...
Sunday, September 18, 2005
So I have recently come into the market for an MP3 Player. I know, probably a few years too late, but I figured it's time to take the plunge, as the CD changer in my car decided to stop working and a few hours of listening to the dreck that is referred to as "radio" these days is enough to motivate me to spend tons of money to just make the pain stop.
So the primary goal for this device is going to be an MP3 Player. Naturally, there are all sorts of other features and gadgets that come along with most of the good players on the market, but I consider most of that stuff to be nice to have, but not a necessity. There has to be a way to get the player working in my car (I'm not too picky about that - those FM transmitters should do the trick) and I'll probably be carting the thing around everywhere as well. Rather than run through all the features, I'll run through the candidates and their features. As of now, I'm leaning towards the 20GB iPod Photo.
Spam Fighting Update
A few weeks ago, I installed Movable Type 3.2. One of the supposed big enhancements was improved tools for fighting spam in both comments and trackbacks. At the time, I wasn't sure how well it would work, but after a few weeks, I can say that this system is great! Not a single spam comment or trackback has made it through (several hundred attempts were blocked) - and this is with almost no configuration on my part (much better than MT Blacklist on all fronts). This is mostly due to the inclusion of the SpamLookup plugin in the release. If you run a Movable Type blog, I highly recommend upgrading to 3.2 or at least installing SpamLookup.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Lots of Stuff
A little short on time this week, so here's a bunch of links:
Sunday, September 04, 2005
The Pendulum Swings
I've often commented that human beings don't so much solve problems as they trade one set problems for another (in the hope that the new set of problems are more favorable than the old). Yet that process doesn't always follow a linear trajectory. Initial reactions to a problem often cause problems of their own. Reactions to those problems often take the form of an over-correction. And so it continues, like the swinging of a pendulum, back and forth, until it reaches it's final equilibrium.
This is, of course, nothing new. Hegel's philosophy of argument works in exactly that way. You start with a thesis, some sort of claim that becomes generally accepted. Then comes the antithesis, as people begin to find holes in the original thesis and develop an alternative. For a time, the thesis and antithesis vie to establish dominance, but neither really wins. In the end, a synthesis comprised of the best characteristics of the thesis and antithesis emerges.
Naturally, it's rarely so cut and dry, and the process continues as the synthesis eventually takes on the role of the thesis, with new antitheses arising to challenge it. It works like a pendulum, oscillating back and forth until it reaches a stable position (a new synthesis). There are some interesting characteristics of pendulums that are also worth noting in this context. Steven Den Beste once described the two stable states of the pendulum: one in which the weight hangs directly below the hinge, and one in which the weight is balanced directly above the hinge.
On the left, the weight hangs directly below the hinge. On the right, it's balanced directly above it. Both states are stable. But if you slightly perturb the weight, they don't react the same way. When the left weight is moved off to the side, the force of gravity tries to center it again. In practice, if the hinge has a good bearing, the system then will oscillate around the base state and eventually stop back where it started. But if the right weight is perturbed, then gravity pulls the weight away and the right system will fail and convert to the left one.Not all systems are robust, but it's worth noting that even robust systems are not immune to perturbation. The point isn't that they can't fail, it's that when they do fail, they fail gracefully. Den Beste applies the concept to all sorts of things, including governments and economic systems, and I think the analogy is apt. In the coming months and years, we're going to see a lot of responses to the tragedy of hurricane Katrina. Katrina represents a massive perturbation; it's set the pendulum swinging, and it'll be a while before it reaches it's resting place. There will be many new policies that will result. Some of them will be good, some will be bad, and some will set new cycles into action. Disaster preparedness will become more prevalent as time goes on, and the plans will get better too. But not all at once, because we don't so much solve problems as trade one set of disadvantages for another, in the hopes that we can get that pendulum to rest in it's stable state.
Glenn Reynolds has collected a ton of worthy places to donate for hurricane relief here. It's also worth noting that many employers are matching donations to the Red Cross (mine is), so you might want to go that route if it's available...
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This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in September 2005.
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