20100625

Technology !

I bought a maker-bot. It is awesome, even though it doesn't work reliably at the moment. More pics here.


Update : I am aggregating resources I've had to read to get the thing working here. I've run into some trouble, most notably : running it too hot and melting it, at $60 of my own expense.


20100616

The more things change...

"[T]hus it is, by slow steps of casual increase, that our knowledge physical, metaphysical, physiological, polemical, nautical, mathematical, enigmatical, technical, biographical, romantical, chemical, and obstetrical, with fifty other branches of it, (most of 'em ending as these do, in ical) have for these two centuries and more, gradually been creeping upwards towards that Ἀκμή of their perfections, from which, if we may form a conjecture from the advances of these last seven years, we cannot possibly be far off."
[Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759)]
"When that happens, it is to be hoped, it will put an end to all kind of writings whatsoever;—the want of all kind of writing will put an end to all kind of reading;—and that in time, As war begets poverty; poverty peace,—must, in course, put an end to all kind of knowledge,—and then—we shall have all to begin over again; or, in other words, be exactly where we started."


20100610

Static

I'm 150 years late to this party, but let me say "AM radio is awesome," (and I mean that in the fullest sense of the word). Tonight I tuned in to the AM band, and found a continuous swath of conservative talk radio shows. You can scan between them and not lose any information: the content is homogenous and redundant. I'm sitting in a room of televisions, monitoring every political opponent, and they are all saying the exact same thing, it's a chorus.


I found a strange band that was playing a choral requiem, far away and distorted, mixed with ionospheric static, overlaid with a station in French, and a bit more conservative talk radio. Chanting-foreign-language-political-nonsense. It was an auditory Koyaanisqatsi. I can not find this place again.

Later, there was a distant station relaying a Catholic church service. It was so far away that the voices, already emotionless and robotic in their incantations, had been stripped of their human quality, souls trapped in the electromagnetic spectrum ?

And then, what I think somewhere in the world must sound like a string quartet, but here in Pittsburgh sounds like a creepy and distorted soundtrack from A Clockwork Orange.

This, my friends, is what we have been broadcasting into space, and so, I propose an art exhibit, quite simple to implement :

Fill a space with radios, tuned to AM stations far away, arranged to create surreal juxtapositions of live content streaming through us all the time, all but forgotten in the Internet generations. This polyphony of stations further mix in the gallery space, making each point a unique linear combination of a live streaming and echoing information overload of our radio transmissions.

If you want to get fancy, make the radios resemble a disassembled and decaying jumble of last-century's technology, fading out. And maybe, if they have time, someone should build a steam-punk radio, with a giant, automated, slowly turning gear that sweeps back and forth across the AM bands, to sit solitary in an empty room, listening.

The information age analogue is easy to imagine, its a gallery packed with computer monitors, live streaming in text and static filtered and re-aggregated twitter feeds, weather forecasts, political movements, cultural innovations, and real-time modification to local, state, federal, and international laws. Keegan, I want your wiki update streaming code.


20100604

Summary of an Unproductive Year

My attempts to be useful in computational neuroscience have fallen far short. Perhaps I should have taken to heart some wisdom on the philosophy of modeling before I started dumping a lot of guesswork into a GPU simulation. Here is how I would summarize where I went wrong :

Models with many unknown free parameters should be considered no better than well phrased thought experiments. Without quantitative measurements of all model parameters and verification of the correctness of all model components, the emergent behavior of a complex model can only be a best guess at the qualitative behavior of a system. Such behavior can often be inferred by simple contemplation of the system in question. Therefore, complex modeling should be used when

1 : The model parameters are known with accuracy, and the simulation can be used in leu of in-vivo experiments.

2 : Investigating plausible mechanisms for a specific set of qualitative observations, understanding that multiple mechanisms can generate the same qualitative behavior, with the hope of suggesting experiments to clarify the set of mechanisms involved.

3 : If the model has sufficient mathematical elegance and abstractness to warrant investigation as a theoretical object detached from the biological system under investigation.

A complex model should not be created for the singular purpose of dumping everything you can find in the literature into the computer and watching it go. Specific goals are essential.


Mildly ashamed self-promotion

Why has "shameless self-promotion" become such a long-winded mindlessly ironic cliché?  I'm ashamed of my self-promotion, but I'm doing it anyway.  It's like alcoholism, or something.

So I'm not sure what percentage of this blog's readership cares, but I've started a blog all my own.  Its goal is more to be a blog than to impart any sort of information.  Its aesthetic is more fuzzy than shiny.


20100603

First We Take Manhattan

"I am guided by a signal in the heavens.
I am guided by this birthmark on my skin.
I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

--Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is always a delight, and First We Take Manhattan is one of my favorite songs. It's a song that rewards repeated listening, full of paranoia depths and megalomaniac fantasies. The song was used to great effect in Stross's Glasshouse as the hymn of a psuedo-Christan church.

So what's the point? Consider "We are guided by the beauty of our weapons." Conventionally, choices about technology are made on the basis of economic pragmatism. This system is more efficient than that one, this gives us more power, this one is easier to maintain. I propose that instead, we raise elegance as a criterion for evaluating technologies. Elegance is in the interaction between the artifact and the wider world, well-designed features, and old-fashioned "cool." Detractors to this schema would point out that elegance is subjective, however, all judgement is subjective. Economic calculus involves subjective decisions about what externalities to include. Americans should define technological elegance, through expert opinion, citizen panels, democratic deliberation, and the free market.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have an army to organize in Hoboken.