Category Archives: Science/Technology

Cool stuff from the world of science and tech

Quantum flapdoodle

EyeKen Wilber comes out against quantum flapdoodle:

The central question of this dialogue has to do directly with the relation of modern quantum physics and spirituality. In effect, does physics prove God? Does the Tao find proof in quantum realities?

Answer: “Categorically not. I don’t know more confusion in the last thirty years than has come from quantum physics….”

Heh! Take that, fans of the What the Bleep movie.

There seems to be a very powerful desire among some proponents of spiritual thinking to use the mysterious and baffling nature of quantum physics to validate spiritual phenomena. This is a bad idea which ends up diminishing both quantum physics and spirituality.

Links

Homer SimpsonAny fool can go “d’oh”, but when is it appropriate to say “Your dog’s condition has been upgraded from stable to frisky“, “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!” or even “Yes! ‘Crisitunity!’” ? The AV Club comes to the rescue with this handy guide to Simpsons quotes and their real-life uses.

Dance, monkey. Dance! Isn’t that a Simpsons quote too?

Google sketchup looks cool. Seriously cool. (via Tveskov).

Happy at work at Microsoft

Michael Brundage has written a very interesting piece on what it’s like to work at Microsoft.

The good includes personal freedom, the top leaders, free soft drinks and the fact that Microsoft contrary to popular belief is not evil. For instance:

Microsoft gives software developers a lot of personal freedom over both the work and the work environment. I order my own supplies, customize my office as I see fit, schedule my own trips and meetings, and select my own training courses. I choose when I show up for work and when I leave, and what to wear while I’m there. I can eat on campus or off, reheat something from home in the kitchen or scavenge leftovers from meetings. I can even work remotely from home (within reason).

The bad: mid-level managers, internal “cults” and bad work-life balance.

Compare this with Paul Thurrott’s highly critical analysis of Microsoft’s failure to deliver Windows Vista on time or even with all the feature they promised.

Two and a half years later, Microsoft has yet to ship Windows Vista, and it won’t actually ship this system in volume until 2007… Microsoft’s handling of Windows Vista has been abysmal. Promises have been made and forgotten, again and again. Features have come and gone. Heck, the entire project was literally restarted from scratch after it became obvious that the initial code base was a teetering, technological house of cards. Windows Vista, in other words, has been an utter disaster. And it’s not even out yet. What the heck went wrong?

It almost seems like Microsoft is an example of a company that has a huge, tremendously talented and motivated staff, but still manages to create enormous problems for itself. Does this contradict my claim that a happy organization is also a successful one?

UPDATE: John Dvorak weighs on on the issue.

All of Microsoft’s Internet-era public-relations and legal problems (in some way or another) stem from Internet Explorer. If you were to put together a comprehensive profit-and-loss statement for IE, there would be a zero in the profits column and billions in the losses columnóbillions.

So they’re happy at Microsoft but they make really bad top-level decisions..?

Friday links

No Cilantro (fresh coriander)Here’s an excellent interview with Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning, safe-cracking, bongo-playing physicist. The introduction alone is great: Feynman explains how a scientific world view doesn’t detract from, but adds to, the beauty of a flower.

I hate Cilantro (fresh coriander) too. Finally a worthwhile, global cause I can get behind.

The guy who always wears a name tag and the guy who’s trading a red paperclip for a house are both still at it. That’s life art life-art.

Reboot renaisance?

The time for the 8th Reboot conference is approaching. Thomas Mygdal writes that this year:

The theme for reboot8 is “renaissance?” – as in renaissance-question-mark. As in renaissance = rediscovery and revitalization. Question mark because it’s a big word and a question to explore whether it’s real, but renaissance because it seems as a healthier and more challenging perspective than the current bubble easy-reality buzzwords currently flowing around. So reboot8 is like reboot7 a journey into the interconnectedness of creation, participation, values, openness, decentralization, collaboration, complexity, technology, p2p, humanities, connectedness and many more areas. Applied towards us as individuals, citizens, teachers, culture workers, entrepreneurs, creators and change makers.

It feels like we more should think a lot about the emerging new models and how we can help shape them, instead of focusing on how the new models are superior to the current models.
Explore renaissance question mark at http://reboot.dk/wiki/renaissance

I think it’s really cool to open the conference planning and the format to the participants, rather than do all of that behind closed doors. I’ll try to get on the program to present my idea on Open Source Politics.

If you’re asking yourself “What the heck is Reboot all about” you’re in good company. Lots of people love it, few can define it. It’s kind of a tech conference but it’s not really about the tech. There are a lot of geeks there, but few real geek sessions. It’s mostly about the internet and what the internet does (not how it does it). At any rate, it’s great!

Links

I wouldn’t mind seeing my colleagues row past my desk some day.

Nonzero, one of my top 10 books, has a great website with lots of excerpts from the book.

In this great interview, Ward Cunningham, creator of the wiki, says that the power of collaborative development has only just begun to be realized, and open-source software will continue to spur more collaboration and more innovation. I will probably surprise absolutely no one by saying I agree :o)

Making the switch

I’m writing this blogpost on my laptop in the Firefox browser as usual, but this time… IT’S RUNNING ON LINUX. Penguins rejoice!

I’ve been wanting to install linux on my laptop for a while because lately it’s been running slower and slower – a typical syndrome for PC’s running Windows. All the usual windows remedies gave only short term improvements.

So friday I installed Ubuntu Linux (probably the most user friendly and easily installed flavour of Linux), and I’ve spent the weekend trying it out and getting stuff to work. The installation was really easy once I figured out how to install it on my laptop which doesn’t have a CD-rom drive. Importantly, all the major stuff worked right after installation and the Ubuntu installer correctly recognized and configured my hard disk, keyboard, trackpad, wifi, etc… A few things didn’t work or weren’t installed by default, and in each of those cases, I’ve been able to find excellent online resources giving step-by-step instructions.

Some major victories:
* Getting my online bank to work
* Getting my Palm Treo to sync with the Evolution calendar application included
* Migrating all my mails and bookmarks from Windows

Woo-hoo :o)

My overall impression is paradoxical:
Windows XP Professional Edition which I’ve been running so far is made by a huge, succesful corporation and sells for a lot of money. Linux is made by passionate amateurs and professionals around the world, loosely organized in an open source Community. The version I’m using is not only free, they actually go to considerable lengths to give it away, eg. by mailing people free install CD’s.

And yet Ubuntu Linux feels like a more professional, finished and complete product than Windows XP, which has always struck me as half-baked. There are solid practical reasons why I think Linux is preferable to Windows:
* Price/value – Hey, it’s free and just as good (at least)
* Free appplications – Ubuntu comes with the Openoffice.org office suite and many other great applications.
* Speed/performance – Applications run faster than on Windows
* Security – Linux is less vulnerable to viruses, adware and other attacks than Windows
* Stability – Windows is famous for crashing or needing rebooting often. Linux is famous for being stable.

Also, there are two “fluffier” reasons for me to choose Linux:
* Ideology
Ubuntu Linux is committed to an ideology which is Free Software. This is free as in freedom not free as in gratis, meaning:

* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs.
* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others.
* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that everyone benefits.

Microsoft on the other hand is comitted to … Microsoft. Time and again they make business and technology decisions that clearly favour their bottom line rather than their customers. I don’t blaiming them, most businesses (but not all) choose this approach. It’s just not a philosophy I favour or want to support more than I absolutely have to.

Does values and philosophy matter when choosing products? It does to me, and while the Free Software philosophy doesn’t make the product any more useful to me, I believe that these principles will create better IT solutions for all of us.

* Technology base
Linux has a better technological base than Windows – quite simply, it’s built on a better foundation. Again, this may not make much of a difference for me here and now, but in the long run it definitely pays to build on solid ground.

PS.
Mygdal suggested I should switch to Apple, but while the Apple OS is certainly a better product than Windows, Apple falls short on values. Apple is Microsoft with better design.

The goat problem

The first time I heard of the goat problem, a deceptively simple exercise, I flat out refused to believe the solution. A friend and I had been just about to go to a bar, but that plan had to be cancelled in favour of spending 3 hours to prove it to me. See how well you do:

Imagine a TV game show where the winner chooses between 3 doors. Between one door is a car, between each of the other two doors there’s a goat.

The contestant chooses one door, and the host then opens another door behind which there is a goat. This is always possible since there are two goats and one car.

The host will now give the contestant the option of sticking with the door she has already chosen or switching to the one door still unopened. What should the contestant do? There are of course three possible answers:
1: The contestant should stick to the first choice
2: The contestant should switch
3: It doesn’t matter

What do you think? The answer can be found here and it WILL surprise you. I LOVE it when things get counter-intuitive.

A warning though: Bringing this riddle up may cause aggravation. I have seen people flat out refuse to acknowledge the solution and get very frustrated in the process.

UPDATE: Tveskov pointed me to this online version of let’s make a deal, which let’s you try out the game for yourself and keeps track of the stats for you. From the site:

Despite a very clear explanation of this paradox, most students have a difficulty understanding the problem. It is very difficult to conquer the strong intuition which most students have in this case. As a challenge to students who don’t believe the explanation, an instructor may ask the students to actually play the game a number of times by switching and by not switching and to keep track of the relative frequency of wins with each strategy.

The goats have been replaced by donkeys, but don’t let that confuse you.

Dangerous ideas

What is your dangerous idea?

The brilliant minds of The Edge community have been pondering that question and have come up with no less than 117 essays.

Here are a few of my favourites:
Carolyn Porco: The greatest story ever told.

At the heart of every scientific inquiry is a deep spiritual quest – to grasp, to know, to feel connected through an understanding of the secrets of the natural world, to have a sense of one’s part in the greater whole.

And we don’t have one god, we have many of them. We find gods in the nucleus of every atom, in the structure of space/time, in the counter-intuitive mechanisms of electromagneticsm. What richness! What consummate beauty!

These are reasons enough for jubilation … for riotous, unrestrained, exuberant merry-making.

So what are we missing?

Ceremony.

We have no loving ministers, guiding and teaching the flocks in the ways of the ‘gods’. We have no fervent missionaries, no loyal apostles. And we lack the all-inclusive ecumenical embrace, the extended invitation to the unwashed masses. Alienation does not warm the heart; communion does.

But what if? What if we appropriated the craft, the artistry, the methods of formal religion to get the message across? Imagine ‘Einstein’s Witnesses’ going door to door or TV evangelists passionately espousing the beauty of evolution.

Could it work? Could we create institutions that filled the roles of religion but which were based on science rather than faith? That is one hell of a dangerous idea. Not to mention weird and wonderful.

Philip Zimbardo: The banality of evil is matched by the banality of heroism

This view implies that any of us could as easily become heroes as perpetrators of evil depending on how we are impacted by situational forces. We then want to discover how to limit, constrain, and prevent those situational and systemic forces that propel some of us toward social pathology.

It is equally important for our society to foster the heroic imagination in our citizens by conveying the message that anyone is a hero-in-waiting who will be counted upon to do the right thing when the time comes to make the heroic decision to act to help or to act to prevent harm.

This is a wonderful shift in thinking: Rather than thinking of people as potential nazis or executioners (common thinking has it, that under the right circumstances all of us could become either), think of people as potential heroes and foster that potential.

Simon Baron-Cohen: A political system based on empathy

What would it be like if our political chambers were based on the principles of empathizing? It is dangerous because it would mean a revolution in how we choose our politicians, how our political chambers govern, and how our politicians think and behave. We have never given such an alternative political process a chance. Might it be better and safer than what we currently have? Since empathy is about keeping in mind the thoughts and feelings of other people (not just your own), and being sensitive to another person’s thoughts and feelings (not just riding rough-shod over them), it is clearly incompatible with notions of “doing battle with the opposition” and “defeating the opposition” in order to win and hold on to power.

Yes! I think more and more these days on how to create a better way of politics. This is an important insight.

Also check out last year’s question: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”