July 31, 2005
The Mark Steel lectures : Darwin
I've just finished watching Mark Steel's lecture on Charles Darwin on BBC World. Steel is a stand-up comedian who has appeared on "Have I Got News For You" and has written for the "Guardian" newspaper, among other things.
These half-hour lectures combine his brand of sardonic wit and sequences of throwaway visual jokes to explain the ideas and personalities of great scientists (Aristotle, Darwin, Newton, Einstein, Freud), artists/musicians/authors (Byron, Beethoven, Da Vinci, Shelley) and figures of social and political change (Paine, Pankhurst, Marx).
In one sequence, Steel is at the zoo, with a grazing giraffe in the background, illustrating how Lamarckianism explains the origin of the giraffe by jumping up and down trying to grab a packet of cheese and onion crisps being held on a string over his head. Halfway through the explanation, the curious giraffe turns its head, and just stops and stares, mouth hanging open.
Posted by daen at 03:15 AM
July 29, 2005
Transhumanism : are we there yet?
This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.
It's a fun read, partly because it's short. I think Nick Bostrum assumes something which is not right, though.
The much-touted "singularity", when/if it occurs, will, by definition, be so far beyond our current understanding of what technological advance entails as to render any present philosophising about its nature meaningless (of course, that doesn't stop us trying to second guess!)
This implies that, outside of science fiction, the technological foundations for discussing whether we are a manifestation of a curious posthuman civilization or not are rather shaky. We treat computing power as a tool today. In the future, if posthuman computing power really is unlimited, it probably won't be under the diect influence of our descendants in the way that we control the computers of today. It will not behave according to our current understanding of computing devices, and may well have its own notions about what software it wants to run. Whether that includes running human ancestor simulations is completely unknowable at the present time. Indeed, whether any kind of cooperation with human beings can be inferred from computing power of essentially infinite resource is certainly not a given.
Arguments extrapolating technological progress into the deep future - and its sociological effects - usually have a tendency to look pretty silly fifty years on - and I'm sure that includes the points I've made above, too.
Where's my personal rocket plane and my summer house on the moon?
Posted by daen at 12:07 AM
July 28, 2005
"American Gods" begins with the story of a small-time con named Shadow who has served three years for assault and who is looking forward to being released in two days so he can go back to his wife and start anew. Then he is unexpectedly summoned to the warden's office and is told he is being released early because his wife has died in a car crash. Strange things begin to happen, starting with meeting Mr Wednesday on the plane back to his wife's funeral. Wednesday offers him a job, but knows more about Shadow than he should. When the plane is diverted due to bad weather, Shadow impulsively get off, hires a car and drives to a bar in the middle of nowhere where he buys dinner. And then, in the mens' room, he finds Wednesday patiently waiting for him. Suffice to say, Wednesday is not just some petty crime boss, and soon Shadow finds himself embroiled in some serious voodoo ...
"Scary, strange and hallucinogenic", says the blurb. You bet.
The sequel, "Anansi Boys", is out on September 20. I'm not sure whether I'll get it straight away (my days of snapping up bulky hardcover editions are over) but I sure am looking forward to reading it.
Posted by daen at 01:19 PM
July 26, 2005
It's mine! No, mine!
The recent visit of the Canadian defence minister to barren Arctic Hans Island has stirred up an old Canada/Denmark border dispute.
The border in the Nares Strait was drawn up in 1973 between Ellesmere Island, which is Canadian, and Greenland, which is a semi-autonomous Danish territory. Bleak little Hans Island kind of slipped into the gap between the ice.
Danish minister Tom Høyem may well have started the current trouble brewing when he visited the island in 1984 and raised the Dannebrog, at the same time planting a slightly tongue-in-cheek "welcome to Denmark" note and a bottle of brandy at the base of the flagpole. The Danes (without Høyem) have made return visits in 2002 and 2003 for flag maintenance purposes (and maybe to take a slug of brandy).
It also seems that Canadian troops have been popping by the island in recent months and, rumour has it, leaving whiskey at their own flagpole.
The issue is interesting in that it a) raises military issues over Canada's ability to defend its Northernmost borders ; b) raises legal issues over ownership of valuable fishing grounds for turbot and shrimp in that part of the Arctic ; and c) could determine who controls passage through the strategically important Nares Strait.
A surprising amount has been written by concerned Canadians about Danish activity around Hans Island over the last few years.
One thing's for sure : with all the bottles of booze lying around under flagpoles, whoever does finally get control of the island can celebrate with a mighty piss-up.
Denmark is also engaged in other more important border disputes concerning small islands in the middle of nowhere.
Posted by daen at 01:52 AM
July 25, 2005
Charlie Stross's book much-lauded new book, "Accelerando", is available for free download as an ebook edition under a Creative Commons license. You can get it as plain HTML, Rich Text, PDF, ASCII, a Palm DOC or Plucker ebook format.
Best quote so far:
"You know your marriage is in a bad way when you send your spouse messages via the CIA, and she communicates using the IRS."
There's also an Accelerando technical companion in Wiki form for those of you who aren't 15 minutes ahead of the technology curve ...
Posted by daen at 07:13 PM
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions : Meditations XVII
Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris.
Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.
No man is an island, entire of itself ;
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
As well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls ;
It tolls for thee.
-- John Donne (1573-1631)
Posted by daen at 03:59 AM
The Met : is lethal force now a part of life in London?
"I am very aware that minority communities are talking about a shoot-to-kill policy. It is only a shoot-to-kill-in-order-to-protect policy."
There are too many currently unanswered questions about Mr de Menezes death so far.
Posted by daen at 03:08 AM
July 20, 2005
36th anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing
Google Moon celebrates the 36th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings in the form of a special Google map. But wait - there's conclusive proof that the whole thing was faked! Zoom in to the maximum level for irrefutable evidence ... Scary stuff.
Posted by daen at 10:55 AM
July 19, 2005
|Sideshow Bob||Kim Dahl from TV2's Vild Med Dans|
Posted by daen at 02:15 AM
July 15, 2005
More than you ever wanted to know about transistors ...
Posted by daen at 11:02 PM
July 12, 2005
"Cannot be underestimated"
The phrase "cannot be underestimated" is an odd one. Do people mean "should not be underestimated"? For example, this article concerns a grey parrot named Alex, who understands the concept of zero. The story quotes researcher Dr Pepperberg as saying:
"This kind of research is changing the way we think about birds and intelligence, but it also helps us break down barriers to learning in humans – and the importance of such strides cannot be underestimated," said Dr. Pepperberg.
I'm fairly sure that's not what Dr P meant.
Posted by daen at 04:51 PM
July 11, 2005
Jazz Festival 2005 : Final Day : partial redemption
Long John's was the venue, starting at 10:00pm - lots of trad jazz, which can get a bit trying after a while. That finished at midnight, so we moved on to La Fontaine with, it must be said, some reluctance after the recent unpleasantness there. Surprisingly, the doorman seemed happy to see us, as did the barman. Of Søren, no sign (thank God). It was pretty busy inside, although there was no queue like last year's final night, and the temperature and humidity were, fittingly, akin to New Orleans midsummer. The music was excellent, with many familiar faces and sounds, and apart from the smokey atmosphere and heat/humidity (why weren't the ceiling fans on???) we had a great time, finally rolling out around 4:30am - with the music still playing. See you next year.
Posted by daen at 05:34 AM
July 07, 2005
London : horribly familiar times
I remember travelling in to Liverpool Street Station by train on Monday 26th April 1993, two days after the bomb in Bishopsgate.
As you approach Liverpool Street from around Stratford, you can clearly see the NatWest Tower (as it was then, now Tower42) silhouetted against the sky. That Monday, it looked odd from a distance, sort of fuzzy and indistinct. As the train got closer, everyone in the carriage fell quiet as we looked up and saw that not a pane of glass was left, and the curtains and blinds were waving in the wind out of the empty window frames up all 42 stories of the tower. The building looked like something alive and in pain. Until then I don't believe I had understood the reality of the bomb. There was chaos in the streets around Liverpool Street, with Bishopsgate totally devastated. The City of London itself was virtually windowless, with large sheets of plywood marking the previous existence of every window all the way out to London Wall to the West (about half a mile) and an equal radius out from Bishopsgate in every other direction.
It sounds as though the blasts in London today are nothing like the strength of the bomb that the IRA used then, which was about 1 ton but, unlike the IRA bomb, they were detonated in crowded surroundings with no warning.
Posted by daen at 01:25 PM
July 06, 2005
Charles Darwin has a Posse
Posted by daen at 03:59 PM
The Bush Four Stage Strategy on Climate Change
- Say that climate change is not anthropogenic in origin;
- Say that climate change may be anthropogenic in origin, but we should do nothing about it;
- Say maybe we should do something about it, but there is nothing we can do;
- Say maybe there was something we could have done, but it is too late now
Interesting to see that he has progressed to stage 2 now.
(Adapted from the "Yes Prime Minister" four stage Foreign Office response in a time of crisis.)
Posted by daen at 03:20 PM
Happy Birthday, Mr Ocean of Wisdom
George W Bush (59) and the Dalai Lama (70) share a birthday today. If they weren't 11 years apart, it would be fun to entertain the notion that they were switched at birth ... Looks like the Chimp Circus has left town, anyway.
Posted by daen at 03:17 PM
|Mogens Glistrup||Parker from Thunderbirds|
Posted by daen at 01:03 AM
July 05, 2005
The Chimp has Landed : Bush in Denmark
Bush has landed in Airforce 1 at Kastrup Airport and is on his way in Marine 1 to Fredensborg. The advance 'copter with the security people has already landed there to secure the grounds, no doubt. We spotted Marine 1 on its way from the airport about 15 minutes ago, and then a trio of black 'copters flying over Copenhagen.
Posted by daen at 09:52 PM
July 04, 2005
Jazz festival 2005 : Day 2
The second day of the 2005 Copenhagen jazz festival was much better than the first. To be honest, the walk home after the dreadful debacle last night was pleasant enough. The sun was already high and warm on our faces as we crossed Langebro at 6am. At home, we slept until midday. Then, feeling a little better, we showered and cycled to Aage Jensen's on Aabenrå where we checked out some synths until they closed at 2pm. And so to the Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen memorial concert in Kongens Have for 3pm where we met Nicky and Adrian. It was packed, and the sun beat down on us all. The start was delayed "due to technical problems". Trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and harpist Helen Davies (Mikkelborg's Welsh wife) started with a piece often played by NHØP and Palle Mikkelborg. Except that the bass part was empty, the trumpet instead in a duet with that most intangible and poignant of musical instruments, absence. The trumpet echoed eerily, and NHØP's spirit could be felt walking through the sunny Royal Gardens making hairs on arms stand on end. Other pieces had Mikkelborg and Henrik Bolberg alternating on trumpet, Mads Winding and Jesper Lundgaard on bass, Alex Riel on drums, and Carsten Dahl and Ole Koch Hansen on piano. I don't know much of NHØP's music, but I certainly got a feeling for the kind of Danish musicians he worked with and the music he played. The clouds moved in around 4pm, but aside from literally a few dozen drops of rain, the weather held, albeit somewhat chillier than earlier. The concert finished at 6pm, when we went back to Nicky and Adrian's for vegan pasta and tofu vanilla icecream, yum yum. Phrase of the evening : "an underwater lake" from Adrian, when he actually meant "an underground lake". We said goodnight to our hosts and rounded off the evening at Charlies with a pint of Thisteds Humle (hoppy and light - good with lemon!) and Crouch Vale Oregon Best (very hoppy, strong elderflower aroma and taste). End of day 2.
Posted by daen at 12:13 AM
July 02, 2005
La Fontaine : Bad Attitude
The first night of the Jazz Festival has been soured for us by an incident in La Fontaine where my girlfriend was groped by a drunken man called Søren. We moved to another table, and I asked Søren to leave. We also complained to the barstaff, but the only thing they did was to ask Søren to move to another table ; we wanted him out of there, because he had made my girlfriend feel most upset and uncomfortable and she no longer wanted to be in the same bar as him. The response from the doorman was "I didn't see it happen and he's a paying customer and there's nothing I can do and it wasn't that bad was it?" - irrelevant and wrong. A long argument ensued outside La Fontaine between the doorman and my girlfriend over whether or not being touched by a complete stranger constituted harrassment or not, during which I was not as calm or polite as I should perhaps have been as I listened with mounting frustration and disbelief. All through this Søren was sitting comfortably inside listening to the jazz. My girlfriend called the police, who came quickly but were not helpful. At this point the music was ending and Søren came out to go home. The police asked him what had happened, and then they let him go. All through this, the doorman and barman were completely unhelpful, unsympathetic and just plain wrong. All we were asking was that Søren be shown the exit, so that we could continue to enjoy the music undisturbed, sitting with the people we wanted to sit with. Søren apparently is known to La Fontaine, whereas we are not, so we had to leave while he could stay. So, ladies, if you are touched up by a complete stranger in La Fontaine, it had better not be by someone they know there, because otherwise you you won't get any help from the doorman or barman and you might as well just leave and go somewhere without a sexual harrassment policy from the 1800s.
Posted by daen at 06:00 AM
July 01, 2005
Come to Copenhagen and say "Nej" to Bush on 6th July
StopBush.dk is promoting a demonstration outside the US Embassy in Copenhagen (at Dag Hammarskjölds Allé 24) at 2pm on 6 July, moving to Christiansborg (the Danish parliament building) at 3:45pm. Don't expect to get anywhere near Bush to make your voice heard: the security details will be phenomenal.
Anders Fogh is way out of line in his relationship with Bush. Some 80% of Danes are not in favour of Bush or his policies, and yet Anders Fogh continues to offer his unwavering and uncritical, almost slavish, support. Perhaps it is fear of economic (or maybe military) reprisals which motivates him : it certainly isn't democratic concerns. Or maybe he's been promised that Denmark will get a slice of the Iraqi oil pie if he's a good boy.
Bush's visit will overstrain the Copenhagen police force, lead to restrictions on free movement through Copenhagen and cause flight cancellations at Copenhagen airport. Why should people put up with these disruptions when most Danes don't want him here in the first place?
Posted by daen at 01:10 AM