Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 15 April 2002

The success of a scientific theory is judged by its ability to make useful predictions. For instance, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity predicted that light would be bent by gravity and observation confirmed the prediction. Scientists aren't just given to making predictions based on theory. They just can't seem to resist getting into prognostication and they are just as good (or bad) at that enterprise as the astrologers. I have written before about John Horgan's counsel of despair, that we have reached the end of science. This article in The Atlantic from 100 years ago says: 

"The progress of discovery during the past century has been so rapid, and, compared to the previous ages of the world, so epoch-making, that not a few recognized thinkers in different lines of scientific research have expressed the opinion that the age of really great discoveries has passed; that what remains to be done is the perfection of the sciences rather than the laying of foundations for future development along new lines. These critics appear to consider the temple of human knowledge essentially complete in its general aspect, with perhaps a pillar to be placed here and a pediment to be completed there, but with no great wings or new outlines yet to be disclosed to coming ages."

However, the article goes on to say: 

"When science has attained a definite state of development, it frequently is not possible to assert in what direction a new advance will take place; even the most penetrating and discerning minds will often view a subject from different standpoints. But as regards general progress in some direction, I am not aware of any philosophic authority who regards the natural sciences as either finished or nearing completion, even in the matter of principles, still less in the matter of applications, and of verifications relative to the infinitely varied phenomena so abundantly diffused throughout nature. Rash as it may appear to some, I, for one, believe that all the physical sciences are still in their infancy, and that a considerable number of the generalizations now provisionally accepted are destined to be cast aside when more light is shed upon the true phenomena of the physical world. Such has been uniformly the result of past experiences, and a similar outcome is strongly indicated by fresh discoveries in many lines. There is indeed nothing in recent progress to indicate that the resources of the human mind have been exhausted."

One of the reasons for the counsels of despair is that one of the fundamentals of classical science has fallen off its perch. Hitherto, we believed that given sufficient information about a system, we could model its behaviour. In the words of Jack Cohen:

"There are many theoretical assumptions made by those physicists who are committed to Theory-of-Everything models of the universe. They are committed, firstly, to that reductionist rhetoric which claims that explanations converge, so that "deep" cosmology and "deep" atomic-structure-chemistry are both explained by quantum physics equations. The ultimate convergence they dream of is one final equation which lies at the root of the Universe, the Thought in the Creator's Mind. So these theoretical physicists always have more fundamental levels to test their theories against.

Stewart and I have allegiance to the opposite view, which is that explanations diverge; real reductionist explanations of each property of the cell must require many chemical experts, then many physicists to explain each chemical property. We called this the Reductionist Nightmare. We agree that, working upwards from quantum theory, it is (just) possible to predict/explain/justify a few of the many chemical properties, but we believe that the properties to be explained multiply upwards too. Because of the emergence of many properties at the chemical "level", and because of the fungibility of much of the substructure, the Theory of Everything cannot actually explain anything. It is as useless as an explanatory device at the bottom as is the concept of God at the top (often used by the same physicists...). It certainly cannot serve, in our view, as the ultimate touchstone (for Popperian disproofs)."

Part of the problem appears to be the proliferation of data/information -- how do we make sense of the ocean of it all? Computers store the huge amounts of data we collect, but navigation and evaluation seem at this time to be insurmountable problems. The answer, I suspect, lies in new and creative uses for the computers we currently use to store the data. Five hundred years ago, we were just beginning to explore the planet we live on and its place in the Universe, creating maps as we went along. These days, we are creating the oceans we explore and the obvious thing to do is create maps as we go. The maps are complex, so just as we built boats to navigate the oceans of planet Earth, we will build machines to navigate this metaphorical ocean.

David Wojick writes:

"This is the information age, but what is information? Several years ago, while working on an information system design problem, I realized that there is no scientific definition of "information content", as that term is ordinarily used. Traditional information theory does not provide one; because information theory does not take into account that information has content. It accepts random strings of letters as information.

So I set out to do what in mathematical logic is called a "rational reconstruction". This means to develop a formal definition of an ordinary language concept. In fact, I have found not one, but 3 definitions of information content, nested one within another. These 3 definitions turn out to be quite powerful. They provide the basis for a new model of information content and structure, one that is applicable to any information design activity. In fact, the model supports several new design methods, including actually measuring and optimizing content in various interesting ways.

In my vision people cruise through the structure of their information as one would fly a starship. They visit strange and beautiful worlds, worlds that are in a sense already real. We just can't see them yet."

You can download the complete Rich Text Format Document here and a sample Adobe PDF map here.

Thought for the day:

A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Current Listening

Yes -- Tales from Topographical Oceans


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Tuesday 16 April 2002

Howard L Davidson has some thoughts about interfacing human brains and computers in a future information retrieval system.

Thought for the day:

Reason can answer questions, but imagination has to ask them.

Ralph Gerard

Current Listening

Chick Corea -- Music Magic


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Wednesday 17 April 2002

Music of the spheres?

I was looking at the historical isotopic temperature record from the Vostok ice core when it struck me.

Many years ago, when electronic music was in its infancy, synthesisers used to mix the output of a number of analogue oscillators to create complex waveforms akin to this. I imagined a person mixing the output of several oscillators to duplicate the waveform of the Vostok ice core, then looking for correspondences with Dave Wojick's Natural Oscillators. It wouldn't even matter if there were some oscillators set to unknown natural rhythms -- they would be like the hidden variables in some of the Quantum Theories.

If a satisfactory match with a known climatic waveform could be made, it wouldn't matter whether we could "explain" things or not, so long as we could successfully predict future climate. Again, not so different to high energy physics where there are nearly as many theories as there are fundamental particles, all pretty good at predicting the outcomes of experiments.

The question then arises whether something like this is feasible. The human brain appears to perform some quite complex calculations when tracking trajectories of objects through the air that we can only duplicate through calculus. It might require the talents of a Johanne Sebastian Bach.

Thought for the day:

All my concerts had no sounds in them; they were completely silent. People had to make up their own music in their minds!

Yoko Ono

Current Listening

Marianne Faithful -- Broken English


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Thursday 18 April 2002

I spent several hours with my first Dell computer today. It's fairly new (8 months old) and running WinME, also a first for me. The problems are it won't print to the HP DJ840C and the mouse becomes erratic after several hours use. This is the owner's first computer and he has had no success with Dell, or HP support. The problem has been evident from the day the machine was first powered on.

I uninstalled the printer drivers -- there were two copies and a driver for the DJ850. Installing the latest driver made no difference. I also discovered the reason for the erratic mouse behaviour. The printer uses the USB interface and was trying to print to the parallel port. It still won't print, though. Changing to the parallel interface and a parallel cable also fails to send the print job successfully and reintroduces the erratic mouse problem.

I downloaded the latest Win2k driver and installed it on my main workstation. The printer works fine. The owner, Glenn, forgot to bring his disks, so I cannot do a clean install of WinME. I don't own a copy. Since Glenn has okayed the clean install, I might try a Win2k install tomorrow if I have time, just to see if the problem is with the OS, or hardware related.

-oOo-

The Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) has Launceston, Tasmania's second largest city, as having a population of 31,000.  This qualifies it as a "Small Town" with a tiny Urban Heat Island effect. I believe some climatologists lump "small towns" in with Rural (no UHI effect). The population of Launceston is nearly 100,000. If they got Launceston so badly wrong, once wonders about the rest of the Global Warming scenario data. More on this later.

Thought for the day:

Please don't lie to me, unless you're absolutely sure I'll never find out the truth.

Ashleigh Brilliant

Current Listening

Various Artists -- Music for Forests


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Sunday 21 April 2002

Friday was a busy day. The job interview went quite well, I thought. I found a second hand copy of Karl Popper's Conjectures and Refutations and that made my day. My son, Thomas, had borrowed my mobile phone on Thursday, and promptly lost/forgot the PIN. He tried to guess the PIN and the phone locked him (and me) out, insisting on the PUK code before allowing it to be used. That number is recorded somewhere in a mountain of paper awaiting transfer to The House of Steel, so I had to contact my service provider to obtain that code. It's now stored where I can find it, suitably disguised so that no-one else will guess what the numeric string means.

Carl, the layer of linoleum restored the floor of the toilet on Friday, so I reinstalled the toilet on Saturday. Unfortunately, the outlet is not mating properly with the rubber seal where the effluent enters the sewage pipe, so noxious gases are escaping into the toilet/laundry area. Rather than remove the toilet, possibly damaging the freshly laid linoleum, I just ran a bead of silicone around the base of the toilet where it meets the floor. I put silicone around the bottom of the toilet so it adheres to the floor, but suspect I should have used a lot more. I hate plumbers!

My friend with the Dell machine needing a reinstall of WinME arrived yesterday afternoon without the requisite CDs. After he returned, I installed WinME using the bootable CD (about time they did this for Win9.x), but struck a problem at the end of the install. Nowhere among the documentation was there a sign of the Product Key! I tried a generic Key found on the Internet, but it seems Dell have their own Key range and it didn't work. I phoned a friend who services computers and he told me it was on a sticker attached to the side of the computer case. Doh! Apparently this is something Microsoft requires these days!

I remember a few years ago attempting to service an IBM box. The client had attached their Customer Service Number sticker to the case of the computer where it had become worn and illegible. Without that number, IBM refused to tell me the keyboard shortcut to access the BIOS.

The rest of the install went quite smoothly and I managed to get the printer working, but only via the parallel port. Mysteriously, the printer cannot use the USB interface. Why the machine as delivered by Dell could not print at all is a mystery. It had been set to use the parallel port, but they supplied only a USB cable. Technical support at Dell and Hewlett Packard had failed to make this discovery.

-oOo-

A few photographs taken over recent weeks:

The crowd at the housewarming in the carport. The crowd at the housewarming in the carport
Two lawyers from rival firms having a chinwag. Two lawyers from rival firms having a chinwag
Tony Dunshea's amazing spit roast. Tony Dunshea's amazing spitroast.
The inside view of Tony Dunshea's amazing spit roast. The inside view of Tony Dunshea's amazing spitroast
Some of the stuff left over from the housewarming. Some of the stuff left over from the housewarming
The dining area with the finished chairs. The dining area with the finished chairs
One of the new dining chairs. The timber is myrtle, a local beech. One of the new dining chairs

Some fun here.

Thought for the day:

It is an article of faith in my creed to pick the man who does not take himself seriously, but does take his work seriously.

Michael C. Cahill

Current Listening

Diga Rhythm Band -- Self Titled


 

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Jonathan Sturm 2002

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Jonathan Sturm 2002