Subjects Keeping Me Awake

19/05/2009

In the spirit of our times

Filed under: Uncategorized — bjosk @ 21:10

Today I filled in “woman killed” in google and it immediatly completed it with “by chimpanzee” as the only suggestion. Further studies showed that “man killed” gave the following suggestions.

man killed by horse
man killed at monster truck show
man killed by condom
man killed video
man killed his family
man killed sidney airport
man killed with screwdriver
man killed by komodo dragon
man killed by lightning
man killed by meteor

I firmly believe this is a statement of our society. I just can’t understand what that statement is supposed to be.

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19/04/2009

Questions inverted

Filed under: Uncategorized — bjosk @ 22:35

I have seen the question How would the artists and creators survive without anti piracy laws? far too many times these last couple of months. It pisses me off. What kind of society puts the interests of a small group of entrepreneurs before the interests of all of its citizens? The question is fairly important but it should be posed in its inverted form: How do we make laws in line with the zeitgeist, aimed at maximizing the good of society? I think it is fair to assume music will always be around, business oppurtunities as well.

13/03/2009

Rise of the bnovel

Filed under: Uncategorized — bjosk @ 14:18

Steve Yegge has invented the ‘bnovel‘.

08/02/2009

The evolution of a media player

Filed under: Evolution — bjosk @ 01:31
Tags: , ,

3258055075_ba09586776A couple of weeks ago Roger Alsing made a genetic algorithm that manages to draw La Joconde using a disturbingly low number of translucent polygons. Very impressive but it reminds me of an annoying thing with demos of genetic algorithms. Most of them do things that aren’t truly impressive. If you want to see Mona Lisa, go to Paris or at least look at a true reproduction. If you want to see the the power of evolution, go to a park and look at the birds. Both can be surprising eye openers. However: there is something missing in between. The power of natural, or in this case hopefully, synthetic or possibly quasi-natural selection is that it can solve very complex sets of  changing requirements so who dares throw one at it? 

I for instance live my life by the side of iTunes. I find it to be a very sleek and well designed piece of software and every now and then it actually enhances my experience of music. However, as with any piece of Apple software, or any software for that matter there are those who don’t quite agree with me. Typically, they hate it. Now these kinds of problems are quite common, user interface design is admittedly hard. The trade offs are really complex and any good designer must constantly measure his ability to practice the More-is-less paradigm in a hailstorm of friendly and not-so-friendly user input. 

   This is, I believe, the perfect setting for applying evolutionary design.

Do my two weeks of horrible horrible usability class qualify me to make such a claim? Of course not, but on the other hand that usability professor of mine was retarded and would probably not even the consider the design aspects of natural selection unless you asked him to so I am clearly more qualified than him.

So would this work? We want a UI design process that evolves, easy enough claim but it doesn’t take long to realize not so simple in practice. Since this is philosophic blogging and not science, let’s have a go at it! 

Firstly we would need a Genotype/Phenotype system. A genetic coding for the interface. I’m guessing getting this really good is ridiculously hard. One could of course create a crude variant where the building blocks consists of a set of normal UI components such as a button, a slider, a knob and a text window. The coding would then consist of a linking of these to each of the functional aspects of the program: play, pause, rip, mix, profit and so on. Now that is all well and good but the opportunity to come up with truly revolutionary solutions probably lies behind the tricky task of creating a more general set of design principles. How can we enable the creation of new controls and widgets? What about linking operations into highly complex systems. That sounded more abstract than intended but to clarify the biological counterpart to an operation would be to use a muscle to turn a limb and the system would be say, dancing. How would you like a dancing media player? I would.

Ok, so let’s say someone pulled an all nighter, the code is checked in and she’s all that. We have our Genotype to Phenotype connection. Our synthesis, it’s gin and juice for the lot? Not quite. What about selection? Here is what has always annoyed me about genetic programming. Matching your phenotype against  the Mona Lisa is like numerically solving differential equations by chewing bubble gum and running matlab. It just isn’t impressive anymore, but here’s the kicker: You should be able to solve much harder problems! How do you know a user interface is good?

The answer is: You don’t. You don’t even have to. The only thing you need to decide is how any two individuals compare to each other a great many times. With some faith in the right decision being made more often than the wrong one, the rest becomes statistics.

Natrual selection happens when an individual dies before it manages to carry on its genes and I imagine that process can be reproduced. If your algorithm is aiming for a fixed target such as the Mona Lisa, the process is easily handled by the computer. Is this more or less like Mona Lisa? is not a trivial question but it is certainly a fixed target. In our case however, the final judge of the process will be human users so the selection must be performed by them. The simplest solution would be simply to let users kill single individuals and get a new one. Let’s say something like this: Each time you start the program, it spawns a new individual user interface by sexual reproduction of two random individuals from the internet. Don’t like it? Kill it and start anew.

This process has a number of interesting properties, especially if you add a reproductive age property where only running programs actually used for a while will be used for reproduction. On top of this, one can imagine all sorts of user input possibilities to speed up the process but selection always needs to be at the heart of it.

The last problem(well, not really but the last one I care to write about) is evolutionary speed. No one would enjoy using all those really bad intermediates so creating an acceptable starting point and getting the process to move fast enough from there for users to notice the improvement would be paramount. For this, I have no good solutions. Do you? Creating an initial state is clearly doable, speeding up evolution is probably not so easy. In the biological sphere, we humans share a couple of nucleotides here and there with peas. With peas! That is from what I’m told something like a quarter of a billion years worth of selection since our evolutionary paths split and the best information preservation known to man. So no, I don’t expect magnificent results in six months worth of say a thousand people trying to play their Peter Björn and John-tracks.

Dammit, it would have been cool though. I so would have liked to see the product from the genetic mix of iTunes and Winamp.

17/01/2009

Shirts and symmetry

Filed under: Uncategorized — bjosk @ 15:38

Greg Lynn is an architect with a strange taste in shirts. He however has very good taste in architecture. In this TED-talk he however said something quite profound. Symmertry is not the sign of order and organization, symmetry is the absence of information. It immediatly struck me as at the very core of how I look at software and in particular bad software. In the end it seems, the reason bad systems design is bad is because it is not symmetric when it could have been. Unnecessary complexity is a well known bad boy in software engineering but I don’t think it quite explains the underlying problem in the same profound way this theory of symmetry breaking does. Symmetry breaking also explains how you can in rare cases see really large systems that are still not ugly and it is a hopeful thought: You can actually add functionality without moving towards that seemingly inevitable code bloat. You can do it, if you can do it without breaking symmetry. But look out! your shirt may still be ugly as hell.

07/01/2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — bjosk @ 23:30
Tags:

 

Paul Eluard, Portrait by DaliHoly mother of god, someone asked me to blog. My life is officially over. I am now a soul valued only by the collected bits it manages to produce. 

I am Bob Scoble

Of course he has readers in plural which is, put mildly, salting the agony.

I just saw Stephen Fry claim that ‘Zeitgeist is my middle name’. Personally I was unaware that he was jewish but really, I am not surprised. Middle aged, hiv positive and sad at that. The odds weren’t really getting anyone psyched. On the other hand, he was in character so I guess I shouldn’t draw to wildly on it.

Anywhoo… thoughts of the holidays included reversible execution of instruction set simulators(papers appreciated), carbonara recepies and the term ‘support drinking’, the english translation doesn’t really do it justice so I am considering renaming it to ‘suppressive drinking’ since it tends to bring to mind ‘suppressive fire’ and  then I just let the mental imaging take it from there. Did some field testing on monday and it worked like a charm. Went to bed early (tuesday morning) and had a sweet little head ache all tuesday which went well with the sad little macworld keynote of the day. The jury is still out on what the ideal results of suppressive drinking actually are but I’m putting it up as a win for the time being.

16/09/2008

The origins of creativity

Filed under: Books — bjosk @ 20:22
Tags: ,

“Effective searching procedures become, when the search-space is sufficiently large, indistinguishable from true creativity”

Richard Dawkins – The Blind Watchmaker

The quote is interesting to begin with. The fact that it does not come from any self serving google employee blog makes it usable. Being written by a biologist during the nineteen eighties makes it truly thought provoking.

Usually when I think about the gist of human intelligence I get stuck at the idea that it is the ability to extract abstract information from a context and then relate that context to a seemingly distant context via a closely related abstraction. Someone might be talking about a fantastic painting they saw att a tiny vernissage in Paris and you, after abstracting paintings in Paris to the Louvre, might be inclined to talk abaout the time you accidentally passed a room full of van Goghs at the Louvre and how, really anyone would go anywhere else in Paris to see art is beyond you.

Another interesting example of abstraction is the relation we have to text where colourful discussions may be had on subjects far and wide such as: The shaping of the letters into typeface, the meaning of words, the categorization of words into language, impact of sentence length and choice of words, the message of a paragraph and the feelings the text instills in the reader as it is read.

Dawkins of course is talking about the design process of evolution by natural selection but he does if you reframe it, say saomething of what it is to be human. The raw creative power, the creation of something from nothing, the filling of the blank page or the sculpting of the block of clay. I am not sure he has it nailed down but the idea of seeing the blank page as the set of all the pages that could be written will certainly transform the problem into a matter of search. Which one of the incomprehensibly large amounts of writeable pages should I choose and more importantly, how do I find it?

06/09/2008

Comparative politics

Filed under: Politics — bjosk @ 21:12
Tags: , ,

I once took a course in comparative politics. The experience proved utterly uncomfortable but subject itself is still very close to my heart. Turns out, as any regular viewer of The West Wing will know that when you start treating policy, not as as matter of life and death but as the strange mix of chess and no holds barred fighting that it is, things get very exciting. This interest in the theoretical aspects of politics in combination with my addiction to The Daily Show has resulted in the interesting situation where my insight into the american political situation is at least on par with what I know about the swedish political scene. This might of course seem sort of ridiculous since I only have input and any sort of stake in the second one but I as I mentioned the interesting part is really the game itself. It might also be that fact that the American political spectrum still actually contains things that run the slightest risk of rallying anyone up. If you go on TV in sweden saying things like ‘stop abortion’ or ‘guns for everyone’ or whatever other conservative claim that seems to be completely fair game in the US, you’re not likely to go on swedish television again anytime soon. Now of course there are socialist views being expressed here that will probably get you shot on the spot in about twenty fly-over-states but that party hasn’t been in charge of government, ever, as far as I know.  Obviously I am also one of those many fans of The West Wing but I have an idea of one up. How about a follow up in the form of The Kreml or maybe even a Chinese version although I haven’t really figured out what that would be named. Aparently all the central institutions of a democratic state is in place in China, they just don’t excerpt any power. I suppose it would be a reasonable first objection that making a political drama based on a totalitarian state wouldn’t be very exciting but I am very convinced it would. The idea that you can do whatever you want as the party leader of the ruling chinese communist party seems at best rediculous. Basically the man is in charge of 1,3 billion people who on average becomes 10-12 percent richer every year and if they stop feeling that before they pass the americans, they are going to be pretty upset. Perhaps upset enough to start their own government, one they can truly take pride in.

05/09/2008

Life at the top of the pyramid

Filed under: Books — bjosk @ 20:25
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Escher I would imagine, found that last precious step of the Maslow pyramid.

Escher I would imagine, found that last precious step of the Maslow pyramid.

I always wanted to be a writer. The illusions I suppose, of red wine and long nights. I wanted to tell the world… something. Something grand. Every now then I read a book which reinvigorates that dream. Last time it was Nassim Nicholas Talebs The Black Swan. Mr Taleb takes me through his domains as a professional practitioner of randomness(read: options trader) with such passion it is hard to even imagine the man caring for such trivialities as the here and now and yet oddly enough, that is all he has. It is all any of us have. And I don’t mean that in the time-is-scarce-carpe-diem kind of way. No, this is something very different. For if tomorrow is so random as Mr Taleb claims, our grand minds miscomprehend it regularly (in reality, this is of course completely random as well) you will do best in being here and now while it is still behaving the way you expect it to. Now that is what I am going to do and try again to start writing so that I can be any good at it before I die.

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