Saturday, January 31, 2009

Animal blogs and other things

Well, it's time for a good old rant I think. The subject is something that got asked on a forum I frequent and is basically 'do you think a Hamster should have their own blog?'

My emphatic answer to this is 'NO'. It is trivial banality at it's worst and lessens any sort of authoritative impact any blog may ever have. Worse, it is an extreme form of anthropomorphism that I regard as frankly unhealthy. It is pure fiction being written by someone who truly believes that what they are typing is what their hamster is thinking... I could probably go on like this for a long time, but that's probably enough for now :)

Now don't get me wrong, I like having pets. I like having hamsters (something that Anita has gotten very into since we moved in together, as some may know :)) and when we have a bigger house want to get more and even get other pets (cat, dog, baby... you get the picture ;)) but a pet peeve of mine is this whole animal empathy movement. I don't quite get how some people can project complex emotions onto an animal that is clearly not capable of feeling it... well, I can get how it happens (basically assume that their feelings on the observation are the animals feelings) but I don't see how so many people manage it to such an extreme extent that is almost beyond the rational.

I guess it is just another case of evolutionary empathy going to the extreme. I don't seem to be afflicted as much because I appear to have less empathy than most (still not sure if this is a good or a bad thing...) but it definitely seems to be the path of the world at the moment. For every person that speaks up in defence of science, rationality and adhering to ideas that as far as we can tell are real, there seem to be a dozen speaking out for some far-fetched belief and asking us to become irrational and take it on faith. It's like people think that rationality has no craziness to it (anyone who has ever looked into quantum mechanics knows otherwise... pure craziness that is experimentally proven) or that there is no beauty to a 'cold, stark, scientific view' (again, I would strongly argue otherwise, and against the 'cold, stark' part, as I have done previously).

Still, I seem to be in the minority nowadays, especially on this subject if I continue to frequent hamster forums :) Just had to rant a bit, hopefully I managed to get some form of point across :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stop Software Patents petition banner
An email regarding this dropped into my inbox again today, prompting me to resign the petition. The problem the petition is for this time is to try and stop patent offices granting patents for software, even though they are technically not allowed. I can see this is definitely required as if the patent is granted then entities (companies/individuals) can threaten law suits with it and probably get out-of-court settlements even if the patent would be thrown out as invalid in a court case. Allowing them to be granted even if they'd be invalid if challenged is as bad as making them legal in many ways.

So, once again: petition banner

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Another week

And another lack of real progress. I've gotten started slightly with my redesign, and am doing things 'properly' this time (read: using SVN, spending time thinking about things and looking for decent ways to do what I want rather than hacking it in when I think of it) but my recoding isn't going very well. I've got the weekend coming up, so I may be able to get a decent amount of design and setup done then though.

Other than that, it's been a fairly dull week. Not done much other than work, eat and watch Angel. Considering what phone to upgrade to as I'm due one, but none of the options are particularly appealing. The phone is going to Anita, as last time she upgraded we went for the cash option to pay some bills, but there just doesn't seem to be anything worthwhile :( Was half tempted by an iPhone, but the only way we could afford it is to have a reconditioned one. I'm also now considering getting her onto a Nokia 5800, especially as I've grown fond of S60 v5 over the past couple of months working on it. But that depends on the cost of the phone on a tariff I can afford when it's released in a couple of weeks. I'll also hold off after that to make sure it has decent response time etc.

Still, that's about it for now. Got to get to bed. I'll try and get a more informative and interesting blog post done over the weekend, although it'll most likely be extolling the virtues of Ruby plugins at the moment :)

Monday, January 12, 2009

And its that time again

Time to actually do some of the development I keep on meaning to, namely start work on the complete redesign of my online entry system for hamster shows.

The first version is currently in use, but it's got issues and is already in such a state that I have trouble modifying it. All my own fault I know as I was the only person ever doing stuff on it but then I only really ever intended it to be a prototype proof-of-concept. As is always the case though, I showed it around (mainly to my wife, who was the main person who wanted it :p) who then started using it and asking for new features... and I then never got around to productionising the system and it's now a complete shambles behind the scenes. It works fine as it is, but I've finally gotten around to starting again, and I'm going to take what I learned previously, apply Ruby on Rails best-practice as much as I can and hopefully end up with a code-base that doesn't make me ashamed every time I look at it :) (at least, not for a year or so, when I'll suck less as a programmer and everything I've done will look awful).

I feel I've made a good start though. I spent yesterday getting up to speed with the newer features of Rails (mainly focussing on REST based design) and created a project stub in SVN. I then added the plugins I wanted (restful authentication, acts as state machine and railspdf) and this morning I created the show model and set it up as the state machine I wanted... all good :) Now onto the actual work... after going to work that is :(

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Emperors New Mind review(ish)

Well, I finished reading this about a week ago now and most of the information I'm going to absorb from the first reading has just about sunk in now. So I think it's time for a quick review of what I thought:

Firstly, some background on the book for those who haven't come across it previously. It is a popular science book written by Roger Penrose and details his (fairly speculative) arguments about why a computer can't truly think. Rather than the usual approach of arguing with just prose and hyperbole, Penrose instead gives a brief tour of the maths and physics involved in both computing (including the concepts of Algorithms and Computablity) and of the mind, with brief detours into quantum mechanics and relativity.

With regards to the actual content, Penrose makes very clear that the ideas he is conveying are frequently very speculative and are not in line with the general consensus with the scientific community at large. This doesn't stop his arguments being compelling and interesting,although I don't fully agree with all of the arguments. The main thrust of the argument is that the mind is seemingly capable of doing tasks that as far as can be ascertained are non-algorithmic and thus can't be performed by a computer. He ensures that the reader is fully aware of what is involved in algorithms and computablity, which lends weight to his arguments. He also attempts to explain his view on what is required for being conscious and able to think with a highly speculative detour into the possiblities of a theory of Quantum Gravity (based on the inconsistencies in quantum mechanics) as pertains to the brain.

To wrap up (before I ramble on for hours) the book is informative, entertaining and a good read. For someone with an interest in the issues involved in AI, this is a good start for a more scientific discussion of the topic. If you have a desire to expand your knowledge of general maths and physics then this book is also a good starting point (with a possibility to move onto a book like 'Road to Reality' afterwards, which gives a much more in depth look at the maths and physics of our present understanding of the universe). If you aren't fond of mathematical treatments of topics then this book probably isn't a good choice though. I personally enjoyed reading it a lot and would recommend it. Not bad for a book from the tail end of the 1980's :)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New year, resolutions, etc

Well, it's a new year and a new update (I'm getting them done more than once every 6 months... this is almost scary :p). The christmas and new year period have been mostly uneventful thankfully, with the most major issues being that I headbutted a wall (accidentally) and that both me and Anita have been ill with a cold for the entire holiday.

The usual selection of dvds, books, shower stuff, etc for christmas, although some gems were:
  • The Emperors New Mind (Roger penrose book. Very good so far, although I'm still a bit confused on the quantum physics stuff... but who isn't? :p)
  • Guitar Hero World Tour, on the Wii. Pretty good fun, although I'm still busy unlocking songs and getting guitar rank. I'm looking forward to getting a drum kit to try those out and giving the online play more than a quick once over :)
  • Star Wars The Force Unleashed, again pretty good fun. The Wii version isn't as graphically capable, but it's still a star wars game, you get to swing the remote around pretending it's a lightsaber and you force lightening EVERYTHING :D What more could you want?
  • 3d Game Engine Architecture. Hopefully this will get me on the home programming front again. I have some stuff I want to play around with here as well (such as investigating the Hamiltonian framework as the heart of a physics engine)
I'll try and update more frequently this year (although it would be hard to update less). I've got all sorts of crazy science and programming stuff buzzing around my head at the moment, so I'll probably end up doing some more articles on those lines.

That's it for now. To the 2 or 3 people who bother reading this, I hope you had a good christmas season (even if you don't celebrate pagan festivals that have been hijacked by christianity ;)) and a happy new year.