Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Real Problem with SOPA

So Congress has the SOPA bill before it. There is a huge online protest to stop it, which is being very effective.

But next week? Next month?

The SOPA and PIPA bills are just the latest in a fairly long line of bills that are designed to control the internet and will not be the last. Already there is talk about the next bill and how it will be worded better.

The real problem is not the particular bills. It is that our elected politicians even feel a need for any bill at all.

If I remember my Democracy 101, the politicians represent The People. And I sure don't hear The People clamoring for more internet regulation.

So what is really up? We have old congressmen that do not have a clue about the internet. Some lobbyist comes to them with money and supposed expertise. The congressmen don't understand the hidden (or not so hidden) agenda of the lobbyists to preserve outdated business models. And they sure don't understand the internet at all.

The only real hope to come from today's internet protest is that the pile of phone calls from constituents will give the congressmen such a bad taste in their mouth that in the future they will shy away from any bill with the word 'internet' in it.

And the world will then be a better place.


P.S. A recent article here has the opinion that the latest session of congress has been the least productive in history. Meaning they passed the fewest laws. Since when is passing more laws better? How about we measure congressional success by how many laws they repeal.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A New Kind of Science - Stephen Wolfram

I saw a book called A New Kind of Science online and ordered a used copy.

Meanwhile, I read it on line while waiting for the hard copy to show up. When it did the tome was huge. Yup, I like to buy books by the pound.

Any ways, The web site for the book is here. A New Kind of Science

This is not just any old book. There have been several books of science over the centuries that would be called landmark books. For example Principia Mathematica, The Origin of the Species or Godel, Escher, Bach. This book is right up there with them.

(I realize the hyperbole there and am quite serious.)

Back in Galileo and Newton's time the earthshaking idea they proposed was not just about astronomy, but was the idea that Mathematics could be used to understand and describe the natural world. Before that Mathematics was considered purely abstract, of the mind. Newton came up with calculus and linear equations to describe motion.

Because science has used solvable mathematics, proofs, and equations to discover how Things Work, that has been the class of problems solved. Some problems in biological growth, physics, and such have been impossible to solve, and so have been ignored or swept under the rug.

What Wolfram proposes in A New Kind of Science is that there are many structures and processes in the universe that can not be described by linear math. Instead there are automatons and computer programs that can easily describe and model some processes. Not only does this technique model many processes that were previously 'complex' but great complexity can often flow from very simple processes. A familiar example of this is fractals, where a simple set of rules generate a very detailed and complex drawing.

The other side of this coin is that some problems and models can never be proven no matter how long you simulate or compute them. Science hates to say 'I don't know', but Wolfram clearly states that there are some things that can not be known.

Much of the book centers around the idea of generating complexity by way of ultra simple programs, and finding out just how simple you can get and still get huge complexity.

The book touches on biological organisms, stellar systems, fluid flow, the mind, free will, evolution, religion, society, and of course, mathematics.

So, when reading the book one thing stood out as odd. One is the general use of I, My, This Science, where Wolfram's ideas and science is 'All New and Improved!' and will revolutionize science. This gives it about the same tone as crackpots on the internet with some hair-brained theory that will change the world and has never been know before (tm). The difference with this book is that Wolfram is correct! Books such as The Origin of the Species have none of that tone.

Another thing that will help with this book is to not get stuck on the huge amount of ideas and processes presented. You don't have to understand every concept and program process presented. If I read this and learned to understand every mathematical concept presented in depth it would take years to read.

In the end the core idea is of The Principle of Computational Equivalence. The idea is that it does not matter whether a program is run on a computer, in a biological system, or a flow of atoms in a fluid, it is all the same. This is much like how the equation of gravity, F = MmG/r^2 is equivalent to what actual gravity does. But the equation and computing it is not what gravity is doing in the real world. It is a model that matches what we see, so gives understanding.

The other core idea is that the only way of discovering the outcome of some simple systems is to run the system to completion. For example, it is impossible to determine whether pi ever repeats, except to keep computing digits of pi until it does. (And so far it has not after billions of digits.)

The final paragraph is a gem...

And indeed in the end the Principle of Computational Equivalence encapsulates both the ultimate power and the ultimate weakness of science. For it implies that all the wonders of the universe can in effect be captured by simple rules, yet it shows that there can be no way to know all the consequences of these rules, except in effect just to watch and see how they unfold.



Sunday, January 1, 2012

Honda Civic Hybrid 2005 Headlamp Replacement


A headlight blew. So I had to replace it.

The high beams are toward the middle of the car and are fairly easy to replace.

In general you rotate the lamp to the left so it unclips. Then push in the tab on the wire harness end and pull the lamp loose.

Don't touch the bulbs you are putting in ever. The oil from your fingers will shatter the bulb once it is on for a while.

The low beams are the next outward from the center of the car. They are difficult.
On the driver side the battery is in the way. On the passenger side the fuel pump (?) is in the way.

The instructions say on the driver side you have to remove the wiper fluid reservoir, but I think the Hybrid is different.

What I did on the passenger side is go in through the wheel well. You use a screwdriver to pry out the two black plastic clips and then bend the wheel well plastic cover down so you can get your hand in. (Major yoga here.) I assume you do the same on the driver side.

The left and right blinker are accessed through the wheel well too.

Oh, you have to turn the steering wheel all the way to one side so the wheel well is exposed and you can get in there.