Quantum Statement

The New Internet, the New World

old news, but…

I just read that Star Wars Kid, Ghyslain Raza, has settled a lawsuit with a group of youth who posted a historic video on the Internet. The video, which depicts Raza “training” for battle in a school tv studio spread like wildfire, and we all know what happened next.

April 18, 2006 Posted by | Culture, Humor, Society, technology, video, youtube | Leave a comment

How to break the back of the Internet

Strange and gifted, fifty-eight year old author Bruce Kushnick of Teletruth.org made some startling prognostications about the future of the Internet. At a conference held in DC called Freedom to Connect, Kushnick railed against the Bells for scrapping the deployments of numerous fiber optic Internet infrastuctures around the country even though they promised a highspeed network. Notes of his talk are posted on DanaBlankenhorn.com. These are frightening in their implications, given the recent defeat of an amendment [via] to The Telecommunications Act that would have prevented the Bell(s) from commodotizing bandwidth on the Internet’s network backbone. It suggests that some time in the near future, The Bells will be making an already slow Internet even slower for those content creators who cannot afford to utilize their HOV lane on the information superhighway. Reminds me of the bit by comedian Patton Oswald describing the end of the world.

F—ing volcanoes spewed menstrual blood into the sky and it formed into Avril Lavigne’s face and she recited the ‘Good Will Hunting’ screenplay and the words turned into sentient razors that bored into your flesh, and George Bush was president, and mediocrity held sway! [via]

Full Disclosure: I am a volunteer for Teletruth.org

Technorati Tags: Net Neutrality Broadband

April 9, 2006 Posted by | Authors, Bruce Kushnick, Internet Speed, net neutrality | 8 Comments

Then how come I can’t remember me pin number? -Ali G

Tasnim Abbas Raza of 3QuarksDaily wrote this essay last week about computers and the brain. It took me a few readings to get through it all, but his basic premise is based on a book by Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm and founder of The Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. Hawkins’ book, On Intelligence argues that the human brain is made of billions and billions of feedback loops. Its been a while since I read it, so I apologize for this lame recapitulation. These feedback loops are sending signals from your sensory organs to your memory and back again all the time and making the best guess as to how to enterprete these sensations based on past experiences.

In one particularly enlightening passage, Hawkins describes the sensation of getting his bicycle out of the garage. He’s done it before a thousand times, so it has become quite natural. When he puts his foot on the pedal, the pressure exerted against his foot is a familiar cue that reminds his brain what to do next.

To expand on this further, I am an excellent typist (85 wpm, no joke) because I’ve done it so much. The moment I put my fingers on the keyboard, my mind recollects the sensation of the keys on my fingertips along with perhaps hundreds of other invisible cues (ie my posture, the sound of the click clack of the keyboard, etc.) from the countless times I’ve done this before. In a sense, I’ve hardwired my brain for typing. This enable me to switch to a kind of autopilot where I don’t have to think about the countless steps involved in executing a simple keystroke (starting perhaps with identifying the strange symbols on weird contraption and which one to push, how hard to push it, how long to hold it down, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.). I just sit down and go. Its hard to conceive of how many times this happens every moment. But, if you’ve ever watched a beginning computer user try and operate a computer, they have a very different thought process. Rather than, ‘click here, click here, type here,’ a computer neophyte has to start with the more basic instructions. ‘Move mouse up, arrow thingy goes up. Move mouse left, arrow thingy goes left. Get arrow thingy over blue words, push mouse button repeatedly with sufficient force to destroy its delecate components.’

In addition, Hawkins asks us to imagine if one day you took one step and the ground, rather than being where you expect it to be, wasn’t there. Your neurons would fire madly trying to figure out what is happening, but perhaps there would be no past memory to elucidate it. You take another step and again, the ground is not where you have always known it to be. From what I gather, it is at this point that you realize that your trip to the Grand Canyon has ended in disaster, but the mind is built to adapt to these types of perceptual changes. If while typing this blog, the keyboard instantly becomes a cheesebuger, my senses will immediately send a signal ‘you’re typing on a bun, you’re typing on a bun, you’re typing on a bun.’ Since I do not expect my keyboard to turn into a delicious sandwich, it kind of shuts off the autopilot and I then immediately engage my critical faculties and figure out what to do next. (In this case, probably get some ketchup).

The 3QuarksDaily piece is rather interesting, but I have a couple problems with it. Tasnim’s essay purports to be about the brain, but he does not at all discuss the brain in this essay. It is a series, however, so I expect more to come. Second, Tasnim’s premise is that the human brain works like a computer, combining tiny units of instruction into more complex instructions and connecting facets together into long strings of action.

Here’s what happens in my brain when I hear her request: I break it down into a series of smaller steps something like

Get bread: START

1. Get money and apartment keys.
2. Go to supermarket.
3. Find bread.
4. Pay for bread.
5. Return with bread.
6. END.

Each of these steps is then broken down into smaller steps. For example, “Go to supermarket” may be broken down as follows:

Go to supermaket: START

1. Exit apartment.
2. Walk downstairs.
3. Turn left outside the building and walk until Broadway is reached.
4. Make right on Broadway and walk one and a half blocks to supermarket.
5. Make right into supermarket entrance.
6. END.

Similarly, “Exit apartment” is broken down into:

Exit apartment: START

1. Get up off couch.
2. Walk forward three steps.
3. Turn right and go down hallway until the front door.
4. If door chain is on, undo it.
5. Undo deadbolt lock on door.
6. Open door.
7. Step outside.
8. END.

Well, you get the idea. Of course, “Get up off couch” translates into things like “Bend forward” and “Push down with legs to straighten body,” etc. “Bend forward” itself translates into a whole sequence of coordinated muscular contractions. Each muscle contraction is actually a series of biochemical events that take place in the nerve and muscle fibres, and you can continue breaking each step down in this manner to the molecular or atomic level.

I do not dispute this is happening, but what Hawkins argues is that the brain is not at all like a computer. The brain is sending billions and billions of signals back and forth from the sensory organs to the memory. The brain is in a constant state of alert, monitering every aspect of conscious existence (and unconcious too I imagine) and making predictions about what will happen next. When I put my foot down, the ground will be there. If the ground is not there, the memory has no basis for making the next prediction. Such is the case when walking hastily down a flight of stairs. You get to the bottom and you put your foot down expecting the ground to be there and its not. Oops, you forgot the last step. Your body falls forward, but your arms reach out automatically to grab something for support or you position yourself for a softer landing.

When a computer experiences an unexpected problem, we all know what happens. You try to open a shortcut on your desktop but you forgot that you deleted the program. So when you doubleclick the shortcut, your computer buzzes for a few seconds and then says ‘hey this program isn’t where its supposed to be. Now what.’ If the computer had a brain like a human, it would react by saying, ‘you dumbass, you deleted that program last week because you updated it to a newer version. Here, let me change this shortcut for you so it works.’

Another problem I have with Tasnim’s writing is his explanation of computer processes. In order to add strength to his argument about the hierarchical functioning of both the brain and the computer, Tasnim attempts to write in a hierarchical style. He starts by explaining two or more basic concepts in clear English, then he combines them into a more complex concept, believing that the reader should be able to make the ‘logical leap’ to understanding. This doesn’t work to good affect. For one thing, its very difficult to connect abstract concepts that you’ve just learned. As I said before, reading this essay took several days. I had to go through it piece by piece, working out each section before I could go onto the next one.

The best way I can explain this is going back to high school. I’m sitting in Algebra class, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The teacher is writing a problem on the board. She asks me if I can solve it. I try and fail because my mind has not resolved it because I have never seen such a problem. The teacher then explains to me step by step how to solve the problem in a way I understand it. That night, I get home and I start on my algebra homework. By Tsanim’s explanation, I should have no trouble breaking the problem down into its constituent parts and solving it the way I have seen earlier in the day. But that does not actually happen. I try to remember the steps that my teacher told me, but since I only saw her do the problem once, the instructions are incomplete and difficult. I get stuck, I make a mistake, I don’t know what part to do next. The next day, the teacher asks me to solve the algebra problem. I explain to her that I couldn’t figure it out, and so she explains it to me. At this point, I experience the visceral sensation of ‘getting it.’ The instructions that she gave me earlier were good, but I needed to attach them somehow to my own experiences with the given problem in order to conceptualize it. I have now seen the my own error in conceptualizing the problem and have resolved it, so when I go home that evening, I am able to solve a different algebra problem much easier.

Computers don’t work like that. They follow very explicit instructions that allow them to solve a particular type of problem over and over again. See Turing Machine. They don’t often make guesses although some computer chips are designed to make predictions about what might happen next in order to make the machine run faster.

Overall, I enjoyed Tasnim’s article, but I have seen better primers on how computers work. One is a very useful e-book (which I found pre-del.icio.us, so I can’t link to it). I will post a link to it in my next entry, IF I CAN REMEMBER WHERE I PUT IT.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

April 7, 2006 Posted by | Authors, Jeff Hawkins, neuroscience, technology | 4 Comments

Music — The Kleptones — 24Hours

There’s a particularly good mashup album available for download and I presume it’ll be “all the rage” among “the kids.” The group is called The Kleptones and the double album is called 24 Hours. The music includes artists from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, Pop, Rock, Alt, Punk, Downtempo, Industrial, techno, rap, hip-hop, R&B, Motown, lots of sampling. No matter who you are, you’ll like at least one song. They’ve also got a decent music video on Youtube.[via]

March 27, 2006 Posted by | IP, Mashups, mp3s, music, novelty, technology, video, youtube | 1 Comment

I bet this makes someone in Redmond a little queasy

There is something insidiously cool about Ajax. As a nonprogramming-type, I will always be on the periphery of new technologies; however, when I see loads and loads of sites hyping a new web development tool, I take an interest. For months now, I’ve been observing a lot of chatter about Ajax. I could tell it was a revolutionary application, but I didn’t really know what it did. If you look at this chart* from Technorati, you will see how mentions of ‘Ajax’ went up from around a hundred per day in March of 2005 to roughly five or six hundred per day in March of 2006. That’s a trend worth noticing.

So, what is Ajax? Even after a bit of background reading, I am not quite sure what it is or what it does. From what I gather, Ajax is a programming language, like java or flash, but it allows you to build complicated applications that run in a webbrowser. Somehow, these applications take seconds to load and don’t strain the CPU.

Today, I took an Ajax application for a test drive. The application is called Ajax Write 0.9 [via]. The site loads in seconds. It took me a moment to get my bearings because I really didn’t believe that Ajax Write looked exactly like Microsoft Word, but it does. And even though its a little buggy, some of the functionality is missing, and their are not a lot of fonts to choose from, I believe Ajax Write will become a popular and robust word processor. Its great to know that if I’m every jonesing for a word processor (like when I’m using a public computer terminal), there’s a familiar interface I can use. Also, since one of my computers is running Microsoft Windows 95, I welcome the free upgrade.

*chart updates daily, so this will not longer be relevant in 2007.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

March 23, 2006 Posted by | AJAX, ajaxwrite, novelty, technology, Web 2.0 | 7 Comments

Steve’s Innovation Model

In this fast-paced world, its tough to keep up with all the new stuff that keeps whizzing by. To complicate matters further, it seems like there is always somebody out there who is ahead of the game. So, in order to better understand how innovation and the adoption of new paradigms happens, I have created this chart. Where do you see yourself?



larger version here. See also, Innovation Curve of Rogers

March 18, 2006 Posted by | Humor, Innovation, Internet, novelty, Powerpoint, rss, technology | Leave a comment

Thank you Youtube…

Thank you You Tube for letting me syndicate/post/see an rss feed of my favorite videos simply by adding [feed://www.youtube.com/rss/favorites/username.rss] to my feed aggregator. Oh, and by the way, thanks Andy of WordPress for letting me add rss feeds to my sidebar. Now, what would be really bitchin’ is another sidebar for the left side of the screen and let me edit the titles of the rss feeds. You hear me?

March 17, 2006 Posted by | rss, video, youtube | Leave a comment

You know I love technology

Today, the Internet is popping with cool shit. To quote Homer Simpson, “I feel like a kid in some kind of store.”

First, this news item [via] my favorite raker of muck or should I say drudge.

A Japanese-led research team said it had made a seeing, hearing and smelling robot that can carry human beings and is aimed at helping care for the country’s growing number of elderly.

I am pretty ambivalent about the idea of having cyborgs take care of the convalescents in my life. I would have to try one out for a while. If the robot does a good job of taking care of me, and doesn’t run amuck ala Katamari Damacy then I will trust he/she/it with my loved ones. Seriously though, what if you had the option of trying out a nursing home before consigning a family member to one? Would you? Maybe it should be required.

Now over to Ireland, where the marketing wizards at Guiness & Co. have developed this device called the Guinness Surger which will revolutionize life as we know it. The Guinness Surger transforms a crappy can of guiness into a beautiful, delicious, heady pint. I tried to understand how this thing works, but the science is lost on me [via]. Now if only it were powered by USB. Then, typaing thsi bolg woiuold be much mcuch eassier..

March 15, 2006 Posted by | Beer, eldercare, Japan, novelty, Robots, technology | 1 Comment

“Who makes the world?…”

“…Perhaps the world is not made. Perhaps nothing is made. Perhaps it simply is, has been, will always be there. A clock without a craftsman.” -Alan Moore, The Watchmen

I found this cool documentary, which I guess aired in England, while scanning through Digg Spy. Comic Tales is narrated by Allen Moore, writer of V is for Vendetta. He looks a little unbalanced (imbalanced?). He sure loves Northampton. BTW, I don’t claim to know anything about comics or graphic novels. I just read what people tell me to.

March 12, 2006 Posted by | Allen Moore, Authors, documentary, video, youtube | Leave a comment

Its tobacco, Officer. I swear.

CNN has a story about the public smoking ban in the U.K. putting the kibosh on smoking Shisha in public [via].

Imagine denying a Brit a pint or banning a Swede from a sauna.

Hard to contemplate. Yet many Middle Easterners in England are trying to come to terms with a new reality — life without the shisha.

This story really makes me sad. I am quite fond of smoking flavored tobacco out of these beautiful water pipes, especially in the quaint Tea Rooms around Manhattan. My favorite is the Tea Room on Fourth Avenue and 91st Street in Brooklyn. On any given night, you’ll see Middle Eastern people, trendy hipsters, and guidos (I use the term in the most endearing way) all grouped around their hookahs, drinking tea or beer and chatting peacefully while the TV plays either a soccer game or a news program on Arab Television. I really enjoy the delicious, flavored smoke, which some find offensive, as I walk by. And I don’t care who you are, it beats the smell of fifty sticks of burning incense on a card table outside Penn Station anyday. For those of you who have never tried it, smoking a hookah with a group of friends is a very pleasant, mellow thing to do. If you’re afraid to try it because you don’t want to get lung cancer, grow up. We’re all going to kick it some day anyway.

March 11, 2006 Posted by | Brooklyn, New York City, shisha | 1 Comment