Thursday, 30 October 2014

sequestering carbon, several books at a time XXXIII

A bit of a fiction binge this time.

Well, got to fill those new bookshelves somehow!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

soap opera

The third day in the hotel in Lyon, and the third cake of foil-wrapped soap appears in the bathroom.  It’s not a small cake, either:

toothbrush shown for scale

That’s a lot of soap.  Where does it all go?

And no, I don’t know what’s up with the psychedelic sink surround, either.  It looks like the death throes of some complex reaction-diffusion system.  Is bonkers bathroom design a feature of Lyon hotels?

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

a new tongue twister

The EvoEvo all-hands project meeting has been having some very interesting technical discussions, on bacterial and viral evolution, on computational models of evolution, on novel evolutionary algorithms, and on suitable applications.

During one discussion of fitness functions in algorithms, and how we wanted implicitly- rather than explicitly-defined fitness, one member of the group came up with a name for the property of not having an extrinsic fitness defined:


Monday, 27 October 2014

Lyon night and day

I’m in Lyon for the end of first year meeting on our EU-funded EvoEvo project.  The weather is as deliciously mild as it was at the kickoff meeting this time last year.

Down by the Rhône, the Hôtel-Dieu de Lyon looked wonderful in the evening.

The obligatory view from my hotel window captures the autumnal feel.

From the window, I couldn’t tell whether the building nestling behind the trees was a nuclear bunker or a waste recycling centre.  From ground level I discovered the truth: it is a school.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Saturday, 25 October 2014

a spoonful of sugar

This makes herding cats look simple.


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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

my worlds collide

My day job is (computer) science; for recreation I read science fiction.  These two worlds have now conjoined.  Just over a year ago now, I blogged about an event we ran at the ECAL conference in Taormina.  A bunch of scientists and writers paired off to discuss the future of unconventional computing and artificial life: the scientists providing inspiration to the authors for a variety of short stories.  These stories were to be published, each accompanied by an afterword from the scientist partner explaining the actual science.

A few months after the event, I got to comment on the completed story from “my” author, Adam Marek.  It’s a nifty tale of future bio-engineered skyscrapers gone feral.  Then a month or so ago I got the request for my own afterword, on “growing” and “gardening” artefacts.  That was fun to write.

And now the book itself, Beta-Life, has been published!  I can’t wait to read all the other stories and afterwords, too.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

“You want me to call you Goddess?”

Here is an interesting take on Siri.

I heard him talking to Siri about music, and Siri offered some suggestions. “I don’t like that kind of music,” Gus snapped. Siri replied, “You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.” Siri’s politeness reminded Gus what he owed Siri. “Thank you for that music, though,” Gus said. Siri replied, “You don’t need to thank me.” “Oh, yes,” Gus added emphatically, “I do.”

(Via Danny Yee’s blog)

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Saturday, 18 October 2014

TV review: Warehouse 13, final season 5

And with a mighty bound, they were free.

Okay, maybe the end-of-season 4 cliffhanger wasn’t resolved that quickly, but it certainly felt like it. With only six episodes to resolve the left-overs from the previous season, and to tie up the entire series, giving everyone who has been involved a cameo, things are a little rushed. Props for making the final “clips” episode not clips we had ever seen; absolutely no props for the highly implausible partner resolution, however. A disappointing send-off.

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Friday, 17 October 2014

muddled metaphors

Theresa May and muddled metaphors:
But she added that there was “a necessity in having the material in order to be able to search it in a very targeted way” and it was “hugely important” to have “large amounts” of it. 
“The ability to interrogate that bulk data – to look for that needle in the haystack – is an important part of the processes that people go through in order to keep us safe,” she told the intelligence and security committee.
Actually, when looking for a needle in a haystack, the smaller the haystack, the easier the problem!

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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Google Android Lollipop lolwot?

On my phone this BBC headline came up as Google readies Android Lollipop

I understood the headline instantly.  But the me of 10, 20, 30 years ago?  Gibberish!

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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A Geometrical Derivation of a Family of Quantum Speed Limit Results

New paper on the arXiv:

Benjamin Russell, Susan Stepney.
A Geometrical Derivation of a Family of Quantum Speed Limit Results
arXiv:1410.3209 [quant-ph]

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Monday, 13 October 2014

sequestering carbon, several book shelves at a time

We have a lot of bookshelves to house our book collection.  But even so, they are filling up.

Once every wall is covered with shelves, and all the shelves are full, but more books enter the house, what next?  (Did I hear someone say, “get rid of some books”?  Wash your mouth out!)

What happens next is bookshelves not against the wall.

the U-shaped, double-sided, brick-and-plank shelves start to grow up from the floor
You can see 45m of nearly full shelves against the far wall.  There is another 45m of nearly full shelves on the wall opposite.  And more on the wall opposite the window.

the nearly completed shelves
This increases the shelf capacity of the room by 50%, which should last for a few more years at least.

completed shelves, from the other side, populated with books from the far wall,
which is now less crowded, allowing room for expansion

We haven’t yet needed to resort to more extreme options:

We're gonna need a stronger floor

Saturday, 11 October 2014


Most books that arrive through the post survive the journey.

A few arrive the worse for wear:

Note to sender: a thin plastic envelope provides little structural protection.

Friday, 10 October 2014

day moon

As I was walking from the car park into work this morning, I saw a beautiful (nearly) full moon.

moon over Goodricke: taken at 07:53 BST, in York, UK

As I was looking up at the moon, admiring its beauty in the clear blue, there were a load of resonances bouncing around in my brain: that there had been a total lunar eclipse a few nights ago (not visible from the UK, unfortunately); that although the moon looked full it couldn’t be because (a) the total lunar eclipse was a few days ago, and (b) the sun was also in the sky (see my shadow in the photo); that the moon looked blue because of the blue sky; the blue is from Rayleigh scattering; that people had been to the moon, but a long time ago now; that the moon is far away and actually rather big, but not as big as the solar system; and the solar system is in the galaxy, and we can see the galaxy at night; and...

And then I became consciously aware of the resonances, and revelled in the feeling.  And realised that part of my admiration was due to those resonances.

And then I remembered a piece I had written a few years ago.  Okay, 25 years ago.  It was a rant brought on by some event I now can’t even remember, but the sentiment remains.

Starry Starry Night

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. 
— Walt Whitman

When I see that quotation used to justify ignorance, to justify pride in ignorance, I get angry. Angry because knowledge, including scientific knowledge, does not diminish beauty.

I enjoy music. I listen with great pleasure to a Bach concerto, to a Tchaikovsky symphony. I recognise that they are beautiful. But I am untrained in music, and I know that I am missing something, not appreciating the full beauty. I know this because my more knowledgeable friends have told me so. They have told me that their appreciation of music is enhanced by their deeper knowledge of it; that music is more beautiful to those who know and understand its internal structure, its history, how it builds on and extends previous works. I believe them when they tell me this. They do not hear the music the way I do; they have a richer experience.

So why do many artists feel hostile to scientific beauty? So hostile that they deny its very existence? Why do they insist, untrained in science as many of them are, that their appreciation of the beauty of a starry night, or of a clear blue sky, is better than mine, more real than mine, simply because I know the physics, too? How can ignorance enhance beauty? I would be wrong to claim to appreciate music more than a trained musician. And these people are wrong to pretend they find a starry night more beautiful than I do. Ignorance is not bliss, it is emptiness. I do not see the stars the way they do; I have a richer experience.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

smart phones and urban fantasy

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
So what does this mean for SF?  Charlie Stross has an argument

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Schrödinger’s cake

Inspired by discussion of cats and cakes, Roland Curtis asks: "May I humbly propose Schrödinger’s cake, which one can both have and eat?"
[Feedback, New Scientist, p55, 4 Oct 2014]

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Saturday, 4 October 2014

sequestering carbon, several books at a time XXXI

The latest batch:

The Generative Design and Processing 2 are to feed my recent Processing interest.  The Good and Real and Thinking and Deciding come from recommendations on the Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality site. (I have read all 102 chapters currently available.  I will review it once it is finished, at chapter 130.)

This weekend we are building some more bookshelves…

Friday, 3 October 2014

surprising connections

What's the connection between 63, -7/4, iterated sequences, prime numbers, and the Mandelbrot set?  Dr Holly Krieger explains.

It starts off relatively slowly, then rapidly gets more and more interesting.

(via BoingBoing)

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yet September was a warm month

These two plots show our daily solar power generation in kWh, month by month.  The first plot shows the actual daily values (with some jitter applied to the horizontal position, to prevent points overlapping).  The second shows violin plots (box and whisker plots of median and quartile statistics, overlaying a kernel density plot, which is a smoothed version of the jitter plot).

August was a relatively cool month.  September was a relatively warm month, one of the warmest on record, in fact.  But it’s all relative.  The shorter days really have an effect, reducing the daily average.

You can see how the days are pulling in from the daily plots. The horizontal time axis runs from 3:00am to 9:00pm GMT. There is one line of data per day. Data is gathered every 5 minutes.  Each pixel represents the energy generation at the sample point. The colour indicates the energy generation in the relevant interval: darker colours indicate more energy.  No energy is generated at night!

So, our solar power system can detect the seasons!

You can find a full set of plots here.

if (version.StartsWith("Windows 9")) /* 95 and 98 */ ...

Sort of a reverse Y2K bug?

(found via Danny Yee’s blog)

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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Newnham corridor

Newnham has the second longest continuous indoor corridor in Europe. I walked the length of this corridor many times, many many years ago.  Happy days.

What surprises me from this video is that, although there have been a lot of changes since my time (particularly around the central Clough/Buttery/Library/Sidgwick area [oh, and the ability to make and distribute videos...]), I still recognise a lot of it (including the Fawcett and Strachey fire doors...)

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