Dec 30, 2011

You don't have to be brain-dead to give advice on the net

In one corner of the web somebody quotes somebody euphorically as giving "4 signs of a culture of innovation" (google that complete phrase and enjoy the list of cut-and-paste-authors that make you call for intelligent filters)
The four signs? We get that dull list of standard soft-skills that no less than every serious company in the civilized world subscribes to - twice!:
1. Development of the employees
2. Concern for employees' progress
3. Respect for everyone's contribution
4. Teamwork and collaboration
That was it. "4 signs of a culture of innovation" - Those four lala-points! To make things worse the list is supplemented by some bullet-points highlighting unmistakeable signs for 'un-innovation'(! snake-oil anybody?):
a. Emphasis on sheer talent
b. Categorizing by ability
c-f. some modes of harassment that no employer, who isn't completely insane would ever subscribe to.
Girls, boys, listen. 1-4 are the most commonly accepted soft-skills. But they alone don't carry any company. We need some hard skills. An accountant who really learned her job would be nice. Some guy with communication skills, that engineer, who actually *makes* something, the PR-person who gets her facts across much faster than anybody - we call it talent and ability. And we categorize by that - because the accountant should do accounting and the PR person should do PR. Nothing bad about all that. Filing it under 'un-innovation' is nothing short of plain stupid (excuse my french).

Dec 23, 2011

Happy holidays

and the best wishes for an exciting, interesting, stimulating new year!
click here for a soundtracklet for today ;)

Dec 15, 2011

3 things you should never forget

These days I checked the net for bloglisting services to break loose from the shackles of blogs I usually read - and find some new ones.
It was scary.
Most of the high-ranking blogs seem to be platforms for advice. Everybody apparently insists on giving me hints how to improve my life in any conceivable aspect. Who needs that? Who believes that? Who wants to know? And who makes THEM the experts to tell ME "How to Negotiate in Three Easy Lessons"?
There is this humunguous number of 'how-to'-advices combined with the 'n steps to become...(a successful rocket-scientist/a top-rated womanizer/jobless)' workings that obviously catches on. If the advice is packed into catchy phrases, numbered, spiced up, then it will inevitably make your blog one of the more clicked ones out there.
Did anybody ask for this flood of advice? Don't I stand a chance to die dumb?
James Altucher will not like it when I say that his site is on the shortlist of those I return to whenever I want my Adrenalin-level to go up. And up it goes - again and again.
why?
Because *he wants it so*. Believe me, it is handycraft. Read (if you care to) the "33 unusual tips to being a better writer" . It is actually quite entertaining (and very good advice in parts!).
But what drives a person to increase the click-rate on his site - at any price. It must be a marketing-thing; something from the flesh and bones of those sales-persons who initially designed and (ab-)used the ill-labeled 'social media'. Only a few years ago it was imperative to collect as many followers or friends as possible within all of those networking-tools. You could actually buy followers by the thousands from companies skilled in that trade. And then you were told that those numbers show your impact - and impact meant importance, of course! Ten thousand followers make you a thought-leader. 50 followers only - you are a dweeb.
At the core it is about 'social branding'. People want to be known for something. They want to be experts on something. Which is ok. But it ends up as a fight for high ranking in google searches. And this is recognition substituted by SEO-skills. It is reminiscent of the misperception of the word 'respect' in the dark and iffy side-streets of american big cities. Those scary folks out there demand 'respect' and substitute it by 'fear'.
The seo-optimizing blog-scene hopes for recognition and substitutes it by page-rank.
This is a smoke-screen. Reality works the other way around: reputation, respect, skill, trust prove themselves again and again to be among the most valuable currency in human interaction, no matter by which medium. This currency buys you an audience, followers - even friends. There is no substitute for the real thing.

And the "3 things you should never forget"? Only you know.

Dec 6, 2011

It was 'free will' - not 'free Willy!'

Almost the day when SmartS got it's remarks on emergence out, the follower-crowd got interspersed by a significant number of psychoanalysts and 'quantum-esoterics' guys.
While we happily welcome every lost sould searching for wisdom also in our utterances, I, personally, get scared.
Not because of the psychoanalysts. I actually might need them. But because of the scientoid babble of the others. The guy who delivers his revolutionary thoughts in 7MB chunks to the mailbox is easily complimented to the door of the spam folder (even though the subject-line is somewhat mouthwatering "polarities cosmic physics are contrary to the physical plan of expression of earth. Cosmic physics in the positive attracts positive and negative attracts the negative"). But some not-so-asked-for wisdom strains the patience of even the most diplomatically trained reader:
In one mail I had to endure some lecturing about the *free will* of photons (!) (yes! PHOTONS!).
Photons *obviously* are endowed with free will as they *decide* whether to behave like a particle or a wave, the author wrote. I don't want to sound rude, but could some rocket-scientists, please!, consider mounting a spam-filter right in their outbox?
(thank you)

Nov 28, 2011

Don't Count on Emergence!

You want to know why a single ant is not even a nuisance, while a whole bunch of them gets your attention and a vast number finally builds a complex society? Need an explanation how those few synapses you use to navigate yourself through a bar-conversation becomes a conscious something by sheer numbers? Ever tortured that brain with the question how to overthrow THE world financial system?
Emergence is the answer. Emergence develops to the catch-phrase of the occupy-movement as well as the mantra of some proponents of the network-first!-cooperators. Increase the number of actors (cells, fish, occupiers, collaborators…) and something awesome will happen. How? It will emerge!
The basic idea is good, the concept, however, not really understood. Emergence does not deal with the self-organized creation of something awesome. Emergence at its very roots describes the upscaling of complexity by increasing the number of participants. Thereby the 'language' necessary to describe the system increases with increasing complexity.

A small series of pictures might be instructive. Look at a single ball in an unrestricted space (a). This particle is there, has some properties that might be describable. Add another ball (b). These two fellows can be seen in relation to each other (close, far, beside…). But if you add a third marble (c), there emerges a principally new feature: order. These three elements can be ordered (in a line, a triangle…) or disordered. Order is a property that emerged with increasing number of players. And this order will become more and more complex with more balls in the game - but which order locks in is not predetermined. The complexity emerged, the potentiality emerged, maybe even some capacity… but whether a huge chunk of cells is just that (a huge chunk of cells) or develops into a liver or a brain … this is not warranted by the sheer number.

Nov 17, 2011

Visualizing science

The fascination of complexity is one big force that drives curiosity. It appears that the mind is getting utterly excited when a sensoric impression is neither completely predictable, symmetric or repetitive nor random. Pure symmetry and repeated patterns might sooth the aching brain - but boredom is not far away. Complete randomness, on the other hand, is quickly masked as 'background' or noise, unable to keep our attention for too long - equally rapidly discarded from our attention-span. It is the broken symmetry on the one side (the nearly perfect crystal-structure, the flaw in a symmetric image, the spot in a beautiful face...) and the structured randomness (seemingly repetitive patterns in the noise, almost symmetrical structures in an otherwise random system) that catches the attention of artists and scientists alike.
Both, it appears, are looking for tools or 'languages' to extend the space of what is describable, in this sense understandable, and to build something like 'safe terrain' to walk on in the humming chaos. While the arts are clearly more free in what languages they chose or devise, the comprehension-expanding but rather strict languages of science (as incomprehensible as they may appear to the untrained observer) make them less ambiguous and the insights conveyable to more.
Creativity acts in both worlds, but the ironclad rules of the scientific grammar (mathematics in most cases) allow for a less ambiguous communication of new-found understanding between those speaking the language than the arts could ever achieve within their babylonian conversation. Art often appears to indulge in the quest for new forms of expression - therefore new grammars - to the gain of creativity and expressive richness, but at the expense of comprehendability and generality.
The science-artist Tim Otto Roth is one of the most active figures in the quest for the visualization of the scientific world. At the American Museum of Natural History in the very heart of NYC he just opened a show of his recent mapping from the language of science to the poetry of art. The untrained observer - speaking neither in the tongues of science nor arts - feels the vegetative reaction of his organism to the brain's struggle for comprehension and the search for structure - something that would be impossible for the public without the artistic transliteration. Tim Otto Roth by this means opens an emotional door to the sciences that is usually rather tightly shut. He takes the complementary approach to Pythagoras, who described cosmic principles with musical analogues. Roth uses the complex harmonics of nature to compose his dynamic art. As Martin Kemp put it in a review of another installation of Roth's "we stand as witnesses to the chaotic drumbeats of cosmic radiation."

Nov 4, 2011

Left Brain, Right Brain

At a wonderful summer night I was lying in the grass, my little son beside me. We were staring into the dark sky, debating infinity, other planets, the origin of everything, observing falling stars that were whizzing through the atmosphere at a delightfully high rate. Why did we see so many of them that night? What are falling stars? What are comets. Why do comets return and when?
The air was clear and warm. No artificial lights anywhere. The moon was lingering lazy in the trees across the river. Some fireflies were having a good time, switching their glow on and off rather randomly - in one group they seemed to synchronize but then it was random again. It reappeared: a few bugs were flashing simultaneously at first ... it started to expand, it was getting more. A whole cloud of insects was flashing in tune. Are they doing this on purpose? Do they have a will to turn the light on and off? How do those fireflies communicate? And why? Do they communicate at all? My son pointed at a field of clouds that were passing the huge silhouette of the moon. Why was the moon sooooo big? Weren't there ripples in the cloud-structure? A very regular hatching. How do the clouds 'know' how to organize? Do the droplets communicate? We both were excited by the regularities. He said he will figure all that out when he grows up. I knew he felt the urge, the drive that I experience so often as a scientist: the delight of looking at the world in utter amazement and the heartbeat when something appears not completely random. The moments when there appears to be a big hidden meaning of it all.
Another evening I was at an opening of a wild underground art show in Berlin. Electro-Music pressed into the sparsely lit room of the hopelessly overcrowded gallery, too many people were pushing, dancing. The humidity was high, the sound physically hurting - we immersed in the crowd. The backdrop of the DJ was a fast, intense, complex video - the central piece of the exhibition. It hammered a coded message. The code was to be unlocked in each and every one of us.
What a contrast to the morning when I was reading 'The conductor' by Sarah Quigley while listening to Shostakovich's seventh symphony! My heart beating rapidly, my mind wandering; carried away by the images and emotions of the story and the emotions of the music.
What do these scences have in common? In all of them the interaction between the individual and the world is sensual at first. Some sight, some sound, the smell, the heat ... they trigger strong emotional reactions that clearly lie in the deep archaic parts of our brain. But then curiosity sets in: what is the meaning of all this? Is there pure randomness? Is there a structure? This accounts for the richness of those experiences: they span from the almost vegetative reaction of the body and mind to the sensory experience all the way to the curiosity-driven structure-seeking questioning and delight of the almost inquisitory analytic brain. No doubt does the symphony or the piece of art trigger emotional reactions (of most diverse kind, depending on circumstances, experiences, mood...) - but the access can be much more: a musician can understand the harmonic intricacies of the work, can smile about some tricks of the master. A historian will point at the political influence on the composer that can even be seen and felt in the score of his masterpieces. The VJ implanted some messages of recent sociological debate into her visual stream.
The gratification of approaching the world on both levels - the immediate, vegetative and the inquisitory, analytical - is much higher than it would be if one of the sides was excluded.
It would do the piece of art no justice if it was only to be perceived 'vegetatively', as a simple 'wow' - neither would nature be fully enjoyed this way. And of course it would be a pale, wrong caricature of science if only the analytic part would be emphasized.
But seeking the sensory, vegetative approach to science too often results in crippled, touchy-feely science-babble instead of emphasizing the deep emotional impact of the omnipresent human curiosity, the desire to find structures in the chaos and the sometimes fiery emotions related to that.
Reducing art, nature, even emotion to a purely vegetative phenomenon is as wrong as reducing science to cold (de-)constructivism. The origin is a clear misunderstanding: the immediate, sensory reaction, the vegetative interaction alone is too often perceived to be equivalent to emotion. But those deep, original, archaic and fundamental reactions of the human species are enriched by the ability to derive additional emotional pleasure (and distress) from the curiosity and analytic desire of the active, conscious brain.
(see also "Wissenschaft ist keine Kunst" (in german) by Daniel Rapoport and me in Gegenworte - and look at the longer post on "the divergence of thought" by Chris Jones)

Nov 1, 2011

Blushing

Of course we are impressed by increasing click-rates, see our vanity pumped by your mails and indulge in being mentioned in relevant blog-lists.
But we'd feel utterly flattered if you flattr us using the well-placed buttons on this page or other...
(and please excuse this selfish propaganda)

Oct 23, 2011

My guinea pig wants beer!

Rather involuntary train rides (especially long ones, going to boring places for a boring event) are good for updates on some thoughts lingering in the lower levels of the brain-at-ease.
My latest trip (from Berlin to Bonn) unearthed the never-ending squabble about the elusive 'free will'. Neuroscientists make headlines proving with alacrity the absence of free will by experimenting with brain-signals that precede the apparent willful act - by as much as seven seconds! Measuring brain-activity way before the human guinea pig actually presses a button with whatever hand or finger he desires, they predict with breathtaking reproducibility the choice to be made.
So what? Is that the end of free will?
I am afraid that those neuroscientists would accept only non-predictability as a definite sign of free will. But non-predictability results from two possible scenarios: a) a random event (without a cause) b) an event triggered by something outside of the system (but caused).
Free will arguably is never compatible with randomness but should be reconciled with cause. Why should a random event (like white noise, the result of a lottery, the number of bubbles on my beer…) be a sign of free will? This line of thought (along with David Hume) is called compatibilism - and I haven't heard a convincing argument against it - yet (the comment-function is *on* :) ).
But if a free decision has a cause - how could we distinguish it from an inevitable, compelled decision? (see http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/19/what-makes-free-will-free/)
It seems inevitable to pull consciousness into the game - as both appear to be intertwined. Accepting an event triggered by something outside of the system does not mean accepting a force outside the material world. An event triggered unconsciously would suffice.
It feels right to claim that a free choice is a choice that happened consciously.
A free decision must have an origin, a cause, that is consciously set (a trigger inside the system). Everything after this initial trigger must be non-random and predictable - as we ruled out noise. So, the interpretation of the experiments hinges very much on the *report of the individual* about when she became consciously aware of the trigger.
As long as the time when the trigger was conscious depends on 'reports' of the guinea pigs, the experiments don't help much.
The conscious act will have to be defined by some measurable quantities (which would allow to actually *prove* if a real guinea pig has a conscious self, experimentally!). Only after that, experiments on free will can be devised in a meaningful manner.
And as long as free will is not defined, the experiments proving or disproving its existence are meaningless in any case.

Oct 9, 2011

Being good - talking at bankers

Recently I enjoyed following a presentation at Platoon/Berlin on Alternative Currencies. It was a great pleasure to hear that very smart guy Gabriel Shalom introducing his video "The future of money" - and the video itself was a nice treat.
But I felt increasingly at unease listening to the narrative about the presentation of the video at SIBOS, 'the worlds biggest banking conference'. There was some sound of pride in the voice of Gabriel and giggling in the audience when he reported that after the 7.5 minute short video there was absolute silence, no questions, no comments, nothing… "we dropped the evil-bomb", he said to the amusement of us folks. My problem was that common-sense in the room (well, it was a tent at Platoon): *they* are the bad guys *we* are the good guys.
To phrase it drastically - even though I never dug too deep into the history and concept of money myself there was really nothing unexpected, scary, chilling, thrilling or excitingly new in that video. It was nice, well-done, well thought through. But I believe any open mind would put together those thoughts on a good evening communicating with equally alert friends - even if these friends are bankers. But at the same time there was this notion of moral superiority and the clear cementation of a separating wall between 'us' and 'them'. Gabriel often repeated that he had the feeling the message of the video was too revolutionary, too unconventional for the banking-guys - and that's where the silence supposedly came from. I haven't been at the conference but I have the feeling the silence resulted from the talking AT bankers, not talking TO them.
I am afraid that the pleasure of being minority, the desire to be revolutionary actually slams some doors shut which are standing wide open. And the slamming noise is seen as proof of concept for some.
It is wrong.
A good moderator after the video, an open mind also on the side of the 'revolutionaries' would certainly kickstart a great discussion even with bankers - to the gain of both sides.
But the urge to define oneself as underdog, not mainstream, etc. that drives so many in the community, appears to be one of the big stumbling stones on the way to really new thoughts, concepts and, ultimately, principles.
(See Platoons report on the event here)

Oct 3, 2011

Scientoid Babble

that guy is simply -
a clown at a site of charlatans:
http://bigthink.com/ideas/38681
If taken serious Michio Kaku is threatening the reputation of science.
I know, such scientoid babble defends itself as being visionary.
It is not.

Oct 2, 2011

Relativity remains relatively unchallenged

Have I mentioned my personal 'affinity' to those bubble-brains at bigthink.com? I guess I have - their poster boy physicist Dr. Michio Kaku regularly d-explains the world by oversimplifying some piece of natural sciences. Some might smile about it, others yawn - I think it is actually dangerous.
Well, here it is.
The recent piece is tied to a freshly published paper about some accelerator-experiment in which some particles seem not to obey the speed-limit.
In his article "Breaking the speed of light and contemplating the demise of relativity" Dr. Kaku states that the scientists reported that they have recorded particles appearing to travel faster than the speed of light. Um, maybe. Maybe not. The scientists explicitly stated that they publish their data to stimulate a wider discussion as they wish to figure out what makes those particles to *appear* to be faster than light.
All is based on the measurement of time - done by a synchronization via GPS signals. Some speculate about possible errors there. It is a very solid and open way to do science: discuss possible sources of error.
Dr. Kaku is not interested in that.
He is interested in the smoke, the bang, the glitter, the gut-feeling of science.
So he reminds us of special relativity - and does it wrong. No, GPS-Satellites don't get the position wrong because of their speed. The dominating effect is the low gravitation - and so *general relativity*. Funny, that GPS with all its relativity-corrections to the clocks is used for time-synchronization of this experiment? Dr. Kaku turns Einsteins concept upside down. He asks "So why is light speed the maximum speed in the universe?" and answers "as you approach the speed of light… time stops…"etc.
It is the other way around: Einstein *assumed* that the speed of light is maximum - and looked for the consequences.
What about his 'contemplating the demise of relativity'? Nothing exciting there, just "all textbooks have to be rewritten", etc., and "what a headache!". Sure. How boring can science be?
I believe the original presse-release is so much more exciting and elucidating than that science-babble. It shows how real science works.
http://public.web.cern.ch/press/pressreleases/Releases2011/PR19.11E.html

Sep 9, 2011

quixotic literary equilibria

Those blogs at blogspot.com (as the one you are glued to right now) sport a nifty little navigation thingy in the very top row, allowing you to navigate, randomly as they promise, to the 'next blog'.
As it turns out the thread of 'next blogs' is eagerly woven from the keywords in the title of the last blogentry - can you follow me? So, naively, I had named a contribution "The love of science" - and guess what: clicking on 'next blog' carried everybody through a flood of pages of marriages, personal religious or pseudoreligious confessions, decorated with clouds, sunshine and eerily smiling elderly women... Don't get me wrong! Nothing against personal beliefs, religious orientations, feelings. But I dont expect to be dried out in intellectual wasteland just because I use the wrong words in the headline of a post of my own blog!
So I changed the title. The blogpost is now named "fascinating science". Everybody who bookmarked a link to the original will be lost in nirvana (there we are again!), but the 'next blog' thread drags us through some science and education pages.
Well.
Let me think about a useful headline for this one...
I guess I found one. Let's see what the 'next blog' will be now :)
KKK4YNU5G8JQ

Aug 23, 2011

Fascinating Science

At times I dig the website edge.org - at times I am grumpy … a bit like in a real relationship, I believe. As a constant I am at unease with their narcissistic appearance and the almost audible smack, when they believe they have said something really earthshaking - which is about every time they update their page. But, well, I come back almost daily...
So I was eagerly waiting for the latest oeuvre in classical print "Future Science, Essays From the Cutting Edge" - edited by Max Brockman (Vintage Books), son of John Brockman the legend; tore open the package the minute I fumbled it out of the mailbox and started reading on my way back up to the apartment.
The book comprises of eighteen essays from eighteen obviously brilliant, young researchers. Essays on their work and their plans.
The author list seems absolutely random to a European scientist and there might be a long list of equally impressive minds around, but, hey, this is a nifty little booklet!
As a physicist I would never have expected to get excited about "the coming age of ocean exploration" (Kevin.P.Hand), the empirical findings on human altruism ("Children's helping hands" - Felix Warneken) or "Molecular cut and paste…" (William McEwan). But I was! I read article after article, one by one - without the desire for a pause, feeling a heartbeat that I recognize whenever I encounter real science and real scientific enthusiasm.
Those fellows are scientists in the very best sense - they love what they do and they make you feel that!
(a drop of water in the wine is the preface by Max Brockman, who apparently has difficulties to fill the three pages he was allotted and unfortunately does nothing to draw the reader into the text).
If you look for a present for a scientist-friend: buy this. If you look for a present for yourself, don't wait until somebody get's the idea: buy this.

Aug 2, 2011

Sechzehneichen

finally I managed - zero hits on this site yesterday. That is a drop of undisputable 100% compared to the average, the highest high, the lowest low. Simple, clear 100%. Pure silence for 24 hours. No annoying clicking sound in the web, no widget started, no counter moved.
Definitely: vacation even for my virtual self.
I am reminded to stretch out on the farm, let kids and pigs rush by and enjoy the silence of the mindless vacuum inside my eerily smiling skull.
Giving room, however, to the darker thoughts of an overstrained summer-brain. Thoughts that are usually safely absorbed by the omnipresent beach-novel dealing with murder, love and murderers in love.
Lacking any of these divertions here, I simply wonder: that little village behind the woods - was it called Sechzehn Eichen or rather Sechzehn Leichen?
I will go and check - tonight!

Jul 18, 2011

Utterly uninspired, but shamelessly overhyped

There is no lack of sites web-wide the authors of which believe "modesty" must be a talibanesque expletive. Guys (mostly) who smack their lips too shamelessly in total complacency of their writings buy themselves some chunk of electro-space and install a website called Smartass or the like. If you are *certain*, however, that your brilliance will enlighten the world, go call your site bigthink.com . Then, no name, no topic seems too big to tackle and to comment on.
I have to disappoint you, however, bigthink.com is already taken.
Those big talking folks at bigthink just published a collection of 'visions' by so-called experts and ask us (yes, me, you, the plebs!) which one of those visions might influence 'the world' the most. We are allowed to cast our vote. The visions come in handy in easily understandable little video-clips. Just in case we are too stupid to read.
http://bigthink.com/ideas/39160
Those 'visions' are stunningly unimaginative: eternal life, robots, fusion, extraterrestial life,...
It is hard to continue watching (or reading the computer-transcripts that no human eye has ever bothered to check) after you sat through the utterances of Ray Kurzweil trying to sell his book-series by claiming that a nutritional supplement of 150 pills a day made him come out close to 40 on a biological aging test, while his passport shows he is 61. Well, watching the video - with no additional information I would have guessed he is, ummm, 60 or older. A combination of food supplements, genetic engineering and, finally, nanorobots in every cell, he believes, will give us a dramatic extension of longevity.
Who out there is willing and able to go through a major part of the soundbites and lend a hand to us vision-impaired? Any lucid (or acid) comment is very welcome.

Jul 14, 2011

Smart-SPresso

The new format 'Smart-SPresso' will start shortly - delivering lucid as well as tartly formulated comments on web-wide utterances.
Stay tuned.
And be prepared to comment vividly!

Jul 4, 2011

The Internet Does Forget

Do you know the feeling that just when you return to a website to get a screenshot of an incredibly incredible post you realize that it has been taken off seconds after you got there? Instead of cursing and cussing and calling 'liars' those smart-s'ess amongst us who always claim that 'the internet never forgets' you should dig up the archives of waybackmachine.org and thumb through history.
Even though I failed to excarvate my favourite from the german weekly "Die Zeit" of May 10, 2005 I am confident that one or the other embarassingly useless piece of historical document is stored forever somewhere in California (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Archive). My favourite?
Well, in Germany a notorious cannibal was sentenced to 13 years in prison. An apprentice at Die Zeit had a preliminary headline set free to the public, reading "13 Jahre Haft für einen Haps (okay okay das geht nicht)" (something like:"13 years for a mouthful (okay okay we can't use it)"). This headline was almost instantaneously substituted by the overly pc "13 Jahre Haft für den Menschenesser (sic!)" - but screenshots disappear - albeit not in the wayback machine.

Jun 22, 2011

Ai WeiWei freed - finally

The chinese dissident artist Ai WeiWei, who was detained nearly 10 Weeks ago for unspecified 'economical crimes' was freed on bail today. The chinese news agency Xinhua reports that he is freed after admitting his crimes, which are now said to be related to massive tax evasion of his company "Fake Cultural Development".
Artists in Berlin - among them the literary nobel-laureat Herta Müller - will read texts of Ai Weiwei, which were published in his blog but deleted by chinese authorities (Monday, June 27, Literaturhaus, Berlin). These texts will be published in german language end of July by Galiani as "Macht euch keine Illusionen über mich".

Apr 26, 2011

Schrödinger's cat is alive and kickin'

After some remarks on my comment to Dr Kaku's (a popular figure from bigthink.com) overpopularization of physics one more comment on the wave-properties of an electron seems appropriate:
There is a famous experiment illustrating the consequences of the wave-description for the probability to find an electron at a given point in space.
If an electron-source is placed in front of a metal-sheet with two narrow slits, a recording-device behind this screen would detect a distribution of incoming electrons that is identical to an interference-pattern of waves passing through the double slit (as would be seen when shining coherent, monochromatic light (a laser produces this kind of light) on the two slits).
This interference-pattern shows up no matter how low the rate of electrons coming through. Even if only one single electron per hour would pass through the slits, there would, finally, be a distribution of detected electrons given by the well-known interference-pattern.
This experiment clearly demonstrates the wave-characteristics of the electron - or more precisely, it demonstrates that the probability to find an electron at a given point in space and time is given by a wave-function. It is this probability-distribution that passes the double-slit and, quite logically, results in an interference-pattern on the other side - giving the resulting probability-distribution for the position of an electron behind the double-slit. So the electron *is* no wave. It's position is given by probabilities *that are described* by a wave-function.

Apr 25, 2011

My Computer turns vegetarian

We got some angry reactions and shows of disgust and sadness to our report on carnivorous computers, which get their energy by digestion of small animals. While that brilliantly despicable idea was merely a design concept with no proof of real functionality, another designer popped up to save our soul: vegetarian lamps! Marieke Staps http://www.mariekestaps.nl/?/Design/Soil-Lamp-2/ from the netherlands developed soil-powered LED lighting that, according to her words only needs some watering every now and then, just like her chicque and totally pc eco-watch. (a little closer look reveals some copper and zink electrodes which, together with water of the right pH, are nothing but standard batteries. Nice idea though.)

Apr 15, 2011

Thinking Big or Rather Big Talking?

Michio Kaku is featured on the website bigthink.com as a sympathetic elderly man able and willing to explain everything. On April 13 he tells us "why quantum physics ends the free will debate".
Well, sure.
I am very supportive of the idea to popularize big scientific thoughts and achievements so that the broader public gets a glimpse of what is being mulled over in the head of those big shots. But I am totally allergic to oversimplification at the expense of the real message.
Why does quantum physics supposedly end the free will debate? You guess it: because with Newtonian physics everything, every thought, every move you make every step you take was in principle predictable. The world was supposedly completely deterministic. You would just have to know all the parameters of the universe at the time of the big bang, then calculate and calculate until you arrive at your phase space of now and, voila, you could extrapolate into the future of your tremendously boring life.
Now quantum physics has added some dice to the system - much to the annoyance of Einstein - (Mr Kaku mentions Heisenbergs uncertainty relation), and with that you get rid of predictability, determinism is out and free will is in. According to Mr. Kaku, Heisenbergs principle tells us that an electron (for example) could not be pinpointed, it could be anywhere at any time. This sounds great but it is an oversimplification and wrong. Quantum mechanics deals with probabilities. It is not true that an electron is a wavefunction. The probability to find an electron at a specific point in space is *described* by a wavefunction. The result may be that the probability to find it anywhere in a given box is equal at any spot - but that does not mean that it is actually everywhere at the same time (the probability to win big in Lotto is equal for any combination of allowed numbers but that does not mean that any combination actually wins - you get it, I assume).
And even if you allow for unpredictability - why exactly does that explain Free Will? Is the lack of predictability equivalent to free will? Is white noise the same as free will? Is randomness free will? Is free will erratic? Is the concept of determinism in contrast to free will? It is very much likely that I will go and have a beer tonight - but I tell you this is my absolutely free will, albeit terribly deterministic.

(there is an anecdote on Mr Kaku's skills of drawing a giraffe that you should not miss)

Apr 7, 2011

Anybody seen Ai Weiwei recently?

In our small universe the thought of supressing an idea, an ideal by simply locking up one person representing it, seems so very archaic. Nevertheless, this still is the approach of chinese authorities, who detained the internationally renowned and sometimes mercilessly critical artist Ai Weiwei on sunday. The voices for free speach became louder ever since.
Cultural Development folks at Platoon (www.platoon.org) suggest to print out this image of Ai Weiwei and display it everywhere in public. Read this: http://blog.platoon.org/home/3/viewentry/1233

Mar 22, 2011

Support your local rodent!

Rats are suffering from bad PR. they are constantly misunderstood, mistreated, mistaken and misplaced if not murdered... The best that is said about them is that they make a wonderful energy-source in your bio-reactor-powered kitchen-table as designed by Auger and Loizeau, a bunch of brilliantly perverted product designers http://www.auger-loizeau.com (see our snippet on "my carnivorous computer").Those critters would be a sad bunch were it not for North Star Rescue who organized a massive bailout for thousand cutie-rats that otherwise would have been doomed. Listen:
A house-owner in San Jose, CA was driven out of his house by the exponentially proliferating rat-community that started with a single, female rat in a cage (well, you guess it, that lady was pregnant). The good old man was feeding his friends while himself abandoning his house and living in a trailer and everything would have been wonderful wasnt it for that annoying exponentiality inherent to uncontrolled, ummm, demonstration of affection between fertile species of opposite sex.... am I making myself clear here?
So, finally some neighbours got concerned when they where nibbled on. They called the pest control. Fortunately an organization called North Star Rescue intervened and moved every single rat in well heated comfy cages to a safe-haven where they were nurtured and entertained and,.... offered new homes.
The almost legendary independent eBook millionairess Amanda Hocking throws in all the little weight of her body urging everybody:"So, if you're an animal lover, and if you can, please donate or send supplies. And if you're nearby, I encourage you to volunteer or adopt a rat or hamster. They really do make excellent pets" ... and an excellent energy-source, as we know.

Feb 9, 2011

Every Monday I feed a little rabbit to my carnivorous computer

It is exciting, albeit horrifying at times, to see the servos grab their prey and slowly pull it into the microbial fuel cell. The PC is powered entirely by the electrical energy gained from the biomass.
I try to keep my little girl, age 1.5, away from the scene - not only because the impressions might be disturbing to her, but also for her own safety.
You are right, you cant get that horrific machine at your local gadget-dealer, yet. But the idea of carnivorous robots is not that far from reality.
The design duo James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau has developed some prototypes of bio-energy powered devices like a watch, feeding from flies it catches with a sticky tape or a machine stealing flies from a spider's web. They call them Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots.
These guys might be creative, but they are definitely nuts. Or as the Treehuggers write in their review "Brilliant - completely disgusting, but brilliant!" Yep.

Jan 9, 2011

Twitter will accept only English tweets from February 29, 2011 on

After the US ministry of justice has subpoenad Twitter to disclose records of and information on users who might be sympathetic to Wikileaks, Twitter decided to show full cooperation and volunteered to take this one step further. As the US intelligence agencies complain about the difficulties to quickly parse tweets in non-english languages, Twitter will - beginning February 29, 2011 - only accept tweets written in english. Programmers close to the company say they have implemented and tested the necessary parsing software and are comfortable with the speed and smoothness of operation. In a future upgrade it is intended to connect with Googles translation services so that non-english utterances can be transformed into acceptable language on the fly. Negotiations, sources say, are promising.