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Showing posts from 2006

Sites that revolutionized the Web

I compiled a list of the websites that have changed the way information is produced, handled, or distributed over the Internet. Many of these sites have something in common: they enable users (human or software) to judge the relevance of their content, to provide "interesting" information to others. This has been called distributed cognition or collective intelligence: like diligent ants, the small contributions of many people or sites lead to great achievements and sources of information.
Google. The most effective search engine for several years now. It judges the relevance of a webpage (its PageRank) by the PageRank of webpages that link to it. Thus, if many webpages link to a certain site, this should be interesting. And even more if those webpages are interesting themselves. Google has become an empire of free web-based utilities (in some cases buying other companies):GMail. One of the most flexible free web-based mail providers, it gives users almost 3Gb of disk space a…

Do you need a tech update???

You need a technological update if...
you still connect to the Internet with gopher
your mobile phone weights more than 200 grams, or you can't receive SMS
you still use pine to check your e-mail and lynx to surf the webyou still use floppy disks
you still use vi to edit your codeyour monitor is monochromatic or CGIyou don't use Google to search the webstill have a hotmail account instead of a gmail accountburning a CD takes you more than twenty minutesyou still use Wordstaryou still listen to tapes in your walkman
you have never heard of Linuxyou prefer documents in ps over pdf
your camera is not digitalyour are proud of your laserdisc collectionyou or your children play with Intellivision or Atari 2600your company still praises COBOLyou don't know what a blog is...

Pandora: a new way to listen music

Our friends Chris and Antonja showed us Pandora. It is the outcome of the Music Genome Project, which started with the turn of the century.

They have analyzed songs from more than ten thousand artists (and counting), and graded them according to different properties, such as melody, harmony and rhythm. Making their huge database available to the public, it enables the personalization of radio stations. For example, if you like Led Zeppelin (In this world, there are two kinds of people, those who like Led Zeppelin, and those who haven't heard them), you can easily create a "Led Zeppelin station". Unlike Radio Netscape, it doesn't play ONLY Led Zeppelin songs 24/7 (which is not bad...), but will randomly give you to listen songs from and similar to Led Zeppelin's, e.g. Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, etc...

This is great not only for listening music you like, but also to discover artists you never knew about...

Pandora has more functionalities I will let the interested r…

PhD thesis: first version finished!

After two busy months, I have the first complete version of my thesis (I need to thank Nadia for her great patience!). Now it will be reviewed by the members of my thesis comission, and in a couple of months I would give the private defense...
Let's hope that I'm not requested to change more than half of it!

Please feel free to send in any comments.

Design and Control of Self-organizing SystemsPhD Dissertation presented byCarlos Gershenson(to be defended in 2007)Abstract Complex systems are difficult to design and control. There are several particular methods for coping with complexity, but there is no general methodology. In this thesis I propose such a methodology. This is based on the description of the system as self-organizing. The methodology proposes a series of steps to follow to find proper mechanisms that will promote elements to find solutions by actively interacting among themselves.A general introduction to complex thinking is given, since designing self-organizing sy…

Art vs. Science???

Last weekend, Nadia and I went to the Symposium "Where do we go from here?", to celebrate the launch of the Brussels Platform for the Arts. With all the educational reforms going around the European Union, Belgium decided that it was time for an academic Doctorate in the Arts.

For some people involved in the event, academics = science, and they defended that they had nothing to do with each other, arguing that science is cold and methodical, and that it suffocates creativity. Other people, such as Jean Paul Van Bendegem (well, actually the ones who have a hands-on experience with science), defended that there are more things in common than differences between the arts and sciences.

I think that both need creativity and hard work. Nobody in science really follows the scientific method: you need inspiration to explore new avenues and ideas. And art is not only about liberating the spirit: without hard work, you won't do anything relevant.

Sciences, not even the hardest ones,…

New president(s) in Mexico...

On December 1st, Vicente Fox stepped down from Mexico's presidency, while Felipe Calderón started his six year period. Since Calderón "won" the elections using electoral fraud plus other dirty manouvers, the civil unrest surrounding all of his events is noticeable.

Usually, the exchange of presidential powers is made before the Congress. Everybody says speeches, promise everything will be better, and so on. However, there had been a strong militarization around the Congress building in Mexico City fearing civil demonstrations, especially after Vicente Fox was unable to give his last presidential report (to my mind for the first time in our history), and when he had to move the celebrations of the Independence day and "cancel" those of the Revolution, knowing how many people would reming him of his mother if he shows himself in public. (Not to worry, the government of the City took care of both celebrations).

So, how things went: Exactly at midnight of Dece…

Computability: theoretical or practical?

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Alan Turing defined in 1936 the now well known "Turing Machine" to define computation. A Turing Machine is actually an abstract mathematical construction, which cannot be fully materialized, since it requires an infinite tape (memory). Nevertheless, people have been discussing their brains out on whether the human mind (whatever that may be) is computable or not. This is because people believe that if whatever our brains or minds do is computable, then (in principle) it could be modelled in a computer, thus reaching the ultimate goal of artificial intelligence: a machine with the same intellectual abilities as a human (whatever that may be).

Still, computability as we understand it, i.e. Turing computability, i.e. a function that a Turing machine can perform, is only computability in theory. In practice, there are Turing-computable numbers that are not computable in practice by our computers, since there would not be enough time in the universe to calculate them, or memory to…

50 years of AI

The term "Artificial Intelligence" (AI) was coined at a conference in Dartmouth College, NH, in the summer of 1956, so this year has seen several celebrations, e.g. in Boston, Monte Verità, Paris... so Brussels couldn't be left behind!

The AILab of the VUB organized a one day event at the Royal Flemish Academy for Arts and Sciences, with invited talks by people who have done advancements in AI in Flanders... so it was basically VUB people (i.e. ex-students of Luc Steels) and a couple from Leuven. You can see the full info here (in Dutch).

So, during and after the presentations, I realized how the expectations of AI have changed. In the 50's, people were predicting that we would have robots with humanlike intelligence in a few decades. In the 80's, a new wave of AI began to spread, namely with behaviour-based systems, neural networks, dynamical systems theory, and artificial life. Many of these were also aiming at humanlike intelligence (from the bottom-up), severel…

A new Republic in Mexico

Yesterday, November 20th, 96th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, Andrés Manuel López Obrador took protest as the legitimate president of Mexico. Since the circles of power have corrupted the national institutions and the media, culminating with the presidential elections fraud last July 2nd, more than a million Mexicans, of which several were representing many others, gathered last September at a National Democratic Convention, and elected López Obrador as the legitimate president (well, he had won already, but since the electoral institutions and tribunals were corrupted, they gave the victory to the puppet Felipe Calderón, who will attempt to take possesion of a spurious presidency on December 1st).

The new legitimate government will be defending the rights of the majority of Mexicans, living in poverty and "forgotten" by the people in power (they have not forgotten, they are just being unmercifully exploited). For example, the President proposes to the Congress the bu…

Web 3.0 already???

What to expect from Web 3.0 by ZDNet's Phil Wainewright -- Web 2.0 is just a staging post. Web 3.0 is coming, and it's going to recreate our notion of the application as well as upsetting a few applecarts along the way.

New aphorisms

*“If we could achieve all that we wanted, there would not be anything left to enjoy”

*“It's much easier to take a woman into your bed than into your life”

*“Winning or losing does not matter as much as what you learn from it”

“For most things, you need to give in more than what you get out. (2nd law of homodynamics?)”

*“Do not suffer for what you lack,
enjoy what you have”

“Those who have less usually give more”

“If you care too much about your goals, you will never reach them.”

“Using time for yourself does not mean losing it” -Nadia

“(...) our brains are only minuscule fragments of the universe, much too small to hold all the facts of the world but not too idle to speculate about them” -Valentino Braitenberg, Vehicles, p. 1.

More Aphorisms here.

New cartoons: Complex Humour

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I've added seven new cartoons to Complex Humour




More cartoons @ Complex Humour.

New Paper: Complexity and Philosophy

Heylighen, F., P. Cilliers, and C. Gershenson (forthcoming 2007). Complexity and Philosophy In Bogg, J. and R. Geyer (eds.) Complexity, Science and Society. Radcliffe Publishing, Oxford.
Abstract: The science of complexity is based on a new way of thinking that stands in sharp contrast to the philosophy underlying Newtonian science, which is based on reductionism, determinism, and objective knowledge. This paper reviews the historical development of this new world view, focusing on its philosophical foundations. Determinism was challenged by quantum mechanics and chaos theory. Systems theory replaced reductionism by a scientifically based holism. Cybernetics and postmodern social science showed that knowledge is intrinsically subjective. These developments are being integrated under the header of "complexity science". Its central paradigm is the multi-agent system. Agents are intrinsically subjective and uncertain about their environment and future, but out of their loca…

Internet slowdown

I don't know about you, but we've had in Belgium some serious Internet slowdowns for a few weeks already. Sites such as digg, Gmail and blogger have been periodically timing out.

They seem correlated with an excessive increase in SPAM I'm receiving... about 100 a day. Spammers have evolved in such a way to generate automatically different messages with different words (so that they will be difficult to detect by text based filters), from randomly generated addresses (so that they cannot be tracked or blocked), and which have randomly generated links to sites that are simple redirectors to porn portals... Changing randomly the characteristics of these messages make it difficult for anti-spam technologies to categorize them as spam... Well, even if they do, their massive propagation through the Web slows down everybody! What could be done to stop such foul behaviour??? Moreover, which solution would not be only temporal, since spammers are constantly evolving their techniques…

PhD thesis in progress online

I am finally compiling my PhD thesis. Please feel free to check the latest snapshot. Any comment/suggestion/feedback would be more than welcome.

Most of the contents of the thesis are the outcome of my work on self-organizing systems.

AbstractComplex systems are difficult to design and control. There are several particular methods for coping with complexity, but there is no general methodology. In this thesis I propose such a methodology. This is based in the description of the system as self-organizing. The methodology proposes a series of steps to follow to find proper mechanisms that will promote elements to find solutions to problems by actively interacting among themselves.A general introduction to complex thinking is given, since designing self-organizing systems requires a non-classical way of looking at things. To illustrate the methodology, I use as case studies self-organizing traffic lights, self-organizing bureaucracies, and self-organizing artifacts in an ambient intelligen…

One Mexico, two presidents

After the electoral fraud last July in Mexico, the right wing candidate Felipe Calderón is due to take possession of the presidency on Decembe 1st. However, things are still uncertain as left wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who was the real winner of the elections), was declared "legitimate president" by millions at the National Democratic Convention, and should take possession on November 20th, the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. If the institutions betray the people, the people can deny those institutions...
In general, the situation is not violent. However, the conflict in the state of Oaxaca is reaching new heights. The APPO movement, formed mainly by teachers and peasants, has the capital of the state "under siege" for several months now. In practice, the governor hasn't been in office since then. The sentate studied the disappearance of powers in Oaxaca, but even when they admit that the state is not governable, they didn't declared …

New paper: Self-organizing traffic lights: A realistic simulation

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Cools, S.B., C. Gershenson, and B. D'Hooghe (2006). Self-organizing traffic lights: A realistic simulation. Submitted.

Abstract:We have previously shown in an abstract simulation (Gershenson, 2005) that self-organizing traffic lights can improve greatly traffic flow for any density. In this paper, we extend these results to a realistic setting, implementing self-organizing traffic lights in an advanced traffic simulator using real data from a Brussels avenue. On average, for different traffic densities, travel waiting times are reduced by 50% compared to the current green wave method.

Full paper at: http://uk.arxiv.org/abs/nlin.AO/0610040

Special Issue on the "Evolution of Complexity"

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Special Issue on the Evolution of ComplexityArtificial Life journalCall for Papers Guest Editors:Carlos Gershenson
Centrum Leo Apostel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Krijgskundestraat 33. B-1160, Brussels, Belgium
cgershenvub.ac.beTom Lenaerts
SWITCH, Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
tlenaertvub.ac.be
MotivationAs a result of the quality of the Evolution of Complexity workshop at ALife X last June in Bloomington and the interest of the attendants; we announce a call for papers for a special issue on this theme for the Artificial Life journal.The evolution of complexity is a central theme in Biology. Yet it is not without ambiguity. Complexity has been used to refer to different things. For instance, complexification has been interpreted as a process of diversification between evolving units or as a scaling process that is related to the idea of transitions between different levels of com…

Another Mexican Revolution?

I've been away on holidays, but certainly things haven't been easy in Mexico these weeks, in spite of the silence of the international media.
After the massive fraud on July 2nd and the days afterwards, the right-wing candidate Felipe Calderón had a lead of about half percent of the votes. The federal electoral tribunal ordered a recount of 9% of the booths, where irregularities were abundant: votes for López Obrador were subtracted, votes for Calderón were added, and in general more than half of the checked packaged had been fiddled.
In the last ten years, the electoral tribunal had always nullified electoral booths with such inconsistencies, since it is impossible to know how many votes there were originally. If the booths with irregularities in this election were cancelled, López Obrador would have an easy victory. Note that in the remaining 91% of booths that were not recounted certainly there were further irregularities. In spite of its own jurisprudence, in spite of admitt…

Limits of Moore's law

These thoughts emerged after speaking with Clément Vidal, from an ongoing discussion at the FRIAM mailing list, and are also related to the so called Singularity. Many people say that in a few decades computers will have the same computational power as the human brain, and then AI machines will take over. This argument is based on Moore's law, which states that the transistor density of semiconductor chips doubles roughly every 18 months, giving an exponential growth in computing power. Ignoring the fact that brains do different types of computations than PCs, these people argue that when we'll have the computational power to model all the neurons of a human brain (100 billion, with about 100 thousand connections each), computers will be smarter than humans. And since their capacity will keep on growing, soon we'll be left in the shadow of obsolence.
Now, just imagine that you have all that computational power right now. Even more, let's say with the capacity of 10^100 …

Facts on the Mexican elections fraud

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I am translating these facts from the senderodelpeje blog, trying to spread the information internationally. I would ask anybody reading this to spread it as well, helping the ill Mexican democracy. All of these facts have been reported in the Mexican press.
Felipe Calderón, presidential candidate of PAN, who is attempting to steal the election supported by the current government, certain businessmen, and certain media, was a honour witness at the wedding of Luis Carlos Ugalde, head of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), in charge of the electionsOne of the companies of Diego Zavala, brother-in-law of Calderón, porvided the software for the IFE, and gave "technical support" to the very suspicious preliminary results system (PREP) of the electionThis same company, gave illegal access to all the data of the Mexican voters to the PANThe PREP was plagued of inconsistencies favouring Calderón, such as this which erased 100 votes for López Obrador: The "final" counting …

Atomium pictures

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Here in Brussels they recently renovated the Atomium, a relic from the 1958 World Expo. It's quite nice, shinny and with lights at night...




it seems I should take a tripod the next time...

More on the Mexican Elections fraud

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More dirt has come to the light in the last few days, giving more proofs of the huge fraud. The PRD, party of López Obrador, claimed a recount of 48,000 booths (of a total 130,000 in the country), because these had inconsistencies or irregularities in the "preliminary" results compared with the exit polls they made. The Federal Electoral Institute (which director was promoted by the leader of the national teacher's union, with her own party now, but clearly supporting the current government. btw, she was involved in the murder of a competing leader of the teacher's union), for the "final" count, did not change much of the preliminary results, and only checked 2000 booths, and opening only 800 electoral packages. They also included some votes that had "gone missing" in the preliminary results (which gave López Obrador a gain in more than 200,000 votes), so it seems that they fiddled with the votes of other districts to keep the advantage of Calder…

Mexican Presidential Election Fraud

Last Sunday, more than 40 million mexicans voted for president, both congresses, and in some states for governors. There was (once again) a fraud in the election, in favour of the current president's party, the right-wing (and sometimes extremist) PAN. Felipe Calderón was its presidential candidate. He was busy in the last months with a dirty campaign worth of Goebbels: "If you repeat a lie a million times, it will become a truth", against Andrés Manuel
López Obrador, candidate of the center-left-wing party PRD, who headed the polls for several years now. Why was he ahead? Well, he did a great job as a mayor of Mexico City since 2000, basically not stealing money and working for the people. He vowed to do the same at a national level, changing the current technocratic economic model that has stagnated the country for 30 years and motivated massive immigration to the USA (about half a million per year). Actually, depending on the price of oil, the money sent by mexicans to…

RFID @ home

RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags are becoming very popular. For example, in Europe pets have ID chips installed under the skin, so if they get lost, their owners can be traced. Public transport cards also use this technology, where you need only to pass a card close to the entrance, and your trip fare gets deducted automatically. They can also be included for tracking of shippings or luggage.
Still, in recent years RFID tags have become cheaper and cheaper, so now many supermarkets plan to use them instead of barcodes. Like this, the shoppers would only approach to the cashier, and all items would be identified with radio signals. No more queues! Like with barcodes, the shops can use RFID tags to track inventories, e.g. to know how much stock they have, and it can be easily known if more products should be ordered, or put on sale because they are about to expire.
But I was thinking the other day that this technology could have even more uses at homes. If there was a RFID detec…

Photos...

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Following Nadia's steps and advice, I've been making some "artistic" pictures, some of them you can find here.

Non-reducible systems

Some thoughts have come recently... about why we cannot reduce the behaviour of complex systems to the behaviour of their components. There are reducible systems where you can do this, e.g. where properties of a system are given by the average or sum of the properties of the parts. But, where does the emergent "more than the sum" comes from?
The answer is:Interactions.
When two elements interact, new information can be produced. This information is not included in the information of the elements. Thus, it cannot be predicted from that. The system needs to "run" to express its properties, generated only when elements interact. Emergent properties are a posteriori.
Because of this, reductionism is doomed. It simply cannot predict the precise information that will be produced by interactions that cannot be specified before they are observed. They need to be observed first to be described and understood. Feedback between experience and reason.

flocking memes...

Some ideas just came up, after a talk I had with Klaas, who is making a PhD on memetics...

In cultural transmission of fads and so on, I've heard that there are models in which the majority imitates an elite, and the elite tries to go away from the crowd, and that gives you the dynamics...
The idea is that maybe another way of looking at this phenomenon is to take the analogy of flocking: birds try to keep together (safety, direction, whatever reason), but also keep average distance to their neighbours (not to crash). If we take this mechanism into the memetic space, people will imitate many aspects surrounding them, just because of mirron neurons and the evolutionary advantage of imitation. But the separation is also important, for people assert their individuality with it... This could be seen as taking the inverse of a meme... starting to sounds like dialectics... (who would have thought that Hegel and starlings had lots in common...)
Of course in the social context there are many…

Why Open Office?

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Well, apart from the fact that Microsoft software sucks...why.openoffice.org/



New book chapter: Complexity and Philosophy

"Complexity and Philosophy"
Francis Heylighen, Paul Cilliers, and Carlos Gershenson
To be published in "Complexity, Science, and Society" (tentative title), edited by Robert Geyer and Jan Bogg, published by Radcliffe press.

Abstract:
The science of complexity is based on a new way of thinking that stands in sharp contrast to the philosophy underlying Newtonian science, which is based on reductionism, determinism, and objective knowledge. This paper reviews the historical development of this new world view, focusing on its philosophical foundations. Determinism was challenged by quantum mechanics and chaos theory. Systems theory replaced reductionism by a scientifically based holism. Cybernetics and postmodern social science showed that knowledge is intrinsically subjective. These developments are being integrated under the header of "complexity science". Its central paradigm is the multi-agent system. Agents are intrinsically subjective and uncertain about th…

New drawing: "Recursive eyes"

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Recent aphorisms...

“There is nothing completely new because everything is related to something else. But there is always novelty in anything, since contexts change constantly”

“Life is a game complex enough not to be able to always win”

“Life is not meant to be perfect”

“The problem of being unaware is that you are unaware of being unaware”

“Tendencies tend to change”


You can find many more at http://homepages.vub.ac.be/~cgershen/jlagunez/aforismos.html
(since 1997)

New Paper: Towards Self-organizing Bureaucracies

Just finished the first version of a paper (still needs refining, so any feedback is more than welcome) :

Gershenson, C. (2006). Towards Self-organizing Bureaucracies. (ECCO working paper 2006-03)
Abstract: This paper proposes self-organization as a method to improve the efficiency and adaptability of bureaucracies and similar social systems. Bureaucracies are described as networks of agents, where the main design principle is to reduce local "friction" to increase local and global "satisfaction". Following this principle, solutions are proposed for improving communication within bureaucracies, sensing public satisfaction, dynamic modification of hierarchies, and contextualization of procedures. Each of these reduces friction between agents (internal or external), increasing the efficiency of bureaucracies.Download pdf

Why I use Firefox (and everybody else should...)

Mixel asked me to make a list of the plugins I use for Firefox to surf the web, so here it goes...
First, I'll repeat some advantages it has over other web browsers:
It's multiplatform, which is good for a person like me using MacOS, Linux, and Windogs machines...It's open source, meaning not only free, but that enthusiasts can check the code, and easily add their own improvements.Features include: tabbed browsing, search engine box (where you can add searches from hundreds of search tools. I use, among others, Google Scholar, Amazon.com, Yandex.ru, Webster's Dictionary, and Wikipedia... so I can make searches in no time in these sites), and themes (I use iFox, which integrates it nicely with MacOS look and feel)Now, all these are similar to other nice browsers, such as Safari, Galeon, Konqueror, or Netscape. (Notice how IE is not in the list of "nice browsers...." it doesn't even have tabbed browsing!!!). But, what takes Firefox a level above all browsers …

Gooffice?

OK, here's an idea...

I sometimes work in different computers (Mac, Linux, and PC), and synching documents is boring...
I was thinking that it would be great if there was a "Google Office", where I could edit documents online, save them as a part of my gmail space, and download/print/export to pdf if I want to...
The Open Document Format has already several filters (e.g. to import/export to MSWord), so if this was used, and the Gmail/Page Creator editors are already something, all that is needed is the filter from the editor to ODF, tweak the filesystems bit, and presto! Gooffice to go...

There are already similar softwares, but it would be great if it was integrated to the Google family...

Wikisource

Just stumbed on a great community site where you can find lots of original texts for free in several languages...It would be great if such a site would grow enough so that authors holding copyrights of their works would be motivated to upload them there... anyway if you want a book you buy it, but if it is online, the impact is much wider... especially for those who wouldn't be able to buy the book anyway, for whatever reasosn... Read more at wikisource.org/wiki/Mai...

Optimization vs. Adaptation

A word on optimization. This is feasible for static problem domains, like airplane wings, since the problem domain (laws of aerodynamics) doesn't change. In dynamic problem domains, such as traffic or societies, you can't really optimize, because the "optimum" is changing constantly (if it is knowable). In these circumstances, indeed the system tries to find the "best" solution for the current situation (optimize), but since the optimization process neither reaches an optimum nor stabilizes, it would be better described as an adaptation process. Like this you can understand why short term decisions lead to long term failures.

More on my paper: Self-Organizing Traffic Lights. Complex Systems 16(1): 29-53. [preprint]

Everybody's Hive

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After more than two years of being "too busy", I finally did another painting...

"Everybody's Hive"
Carlos Gershenson
2006.
Acrylic on canvas, 65x80 cm.
Merelo Guervós collection.
Mathematical explanation: This painting uses ideas of self-organization. Even when the tiling is periodic, the colouring patter isn't. I used local rules to determine which of the five colours to use in each tile, leading to an irregular, yet not random, colouring pattern. Each new tile to be coloured has a colour chosen randomly, constrained by the colours of its neighbours, not to have two tiles of the same colour touching each other. Since the minimum number of colours that could be used is four (leading to a regular colouring), adding a fifth colour allows nonperiodicity, yet constraining the choice of colours that result in local regularities. I say that the colouring is self-organizing because it would not be possible to determine the pattern globally, i.e. without actually doing

Four things...

JJ Merelo got me into this... memetic experiment???
4 jobsI've been enjoying the benefits of the graduate shcolarship since 2001, so these are old...
Teacher at the Fundación Arturo Rosenblueth (Introduction to Computing)Teacher at the Diplomado en Informática Médica in the Facultad de Medicina,
UNAM. (Artificial Intelligence course)
Development Director of Principia Informatica (coordinating graduate studies in Mexican universities, teaching...)Consulting for Tecnología, Medios y Aplicaciones (Tecnomedia) (Worked as
developer for the project Astra of TELMEX)
4 movies I can watch over and over and overThe Lord of the Rings (all three)
Peter Greenaway films...
Woody Allen films...Monty Python films...
4 places I've liked(4 is too few, so some of these are a bit random...)
St. Petersburg, Rossija
Siena, Italia
Sydney, Australia
Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
4 TV shows I likeFawlty Towers
The SimpsonsMonty Python's Flying Circus
Futurama 4 places I've vacationedSuppose they should be different…

Land of the Free?

No, this is not a post concerning that great Gamma Ray album. It sparked from a conversation with Nadia, who was born in Leningrad in Soviet times, and lived the crumbling of the USSR.

Well, the thing is that the Soviet regime was criticized, among other things, by a lack of freedom of expression. In Stalin's times, if you were a dissident, or plainly if three people didn't like you and told you were a dissident, it was enough to declare you "enemy of the people". Millions were sent to Siberia, repressed, or simply dissapeared. Certainly, that was hell. After Stalin, during the "thaw", there was much less repression. People still wouldn't tell jokes about the government in the open (though many, many people did in their kitchen). OK, so there wasn't ideological freedom (Now there is, but there's no certainty in the future...). A similar situation persists now in Cuba. Nevertheless, there is an active political oposition in the island. Anyway, &q…

Religion and Science (2)

Continuing a previous post...

A recent report indicates that "Just under half of Britons accept the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life, according to an opinion poll. Furthermore, more than 40% of those questioned believe that creationism or intelligent design (ID) should be taught in school science lessons."

In a 2005 Gallup poll, 53% of US citizens said they believed the Biblical account of human origins to be true.

Even when evolutionary theory is not completely incompatible with religion (e.g. Darwin himself was religious), it seems that a great part of the public is against it... In the UK, people over 55 are more likely to be on that side. It is true that deep rooted beliefs take time (in generations) to change, but still, the question remains: Is science doing something wrong in the divulgation of evolutionary theory? Or it is just that religion has PR you can't fight against with?

I mean, evolutionary theory does not imply that Go…

My name is Carlos and I have a problem...

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Shrinks came up with a new buzzword: internet addiction disorder. Well, isn't it a bit too late? Who isn't addicted to it nowadays?

It turns out that our brain releases dopamine when we get new mail... so it feels good, and we want more, and more, and MORE!!! ...until we can't live without it... and we feel depressed if we don't have our fix.

But then, everything that brings pleasure potentailly can also cause addiction, doesn't it? I mean, I am cleary addicted to my wife, to tasty food, etc. The question is: when does an addiction/dependency become a social problem?
I mean, food addiction certainly poses a serious health problem in certain McCountries, but nobody would dream of prohibiting food. Then, could campaings against excesses in food, Internet, pornography, etc., be used against drugs? I know they are not at the same level, with the argument that these addictions do not affect the mental faculties of people... but on the other hand alcohol does affect it, and…

Why Impact Factor is obsolete...

"Journal Status"
Authors: Johan Bollen, Marko A. Rodriguez, Herbert Van de Sompel
Abstract:
The status of an actor in a social context is commonly defined in terms of two factors: the total number of endorsements the actor receives from other actors and the prestige of the endorsing actors. These two factors indicate the distinction between popularity and expert appreciation of the actor, respectively. We refer to the former as popularity and to the latter as prestige. These notions of popularity and prestige also apply to the domain of scholarly assessment. The ISI Impact Factor (ISI IF) is defined as the mean number of citations a journal receives over a 2 year period. By merely counting the amount of citations and disregarding the prestige of the citing journals, the ISI IF is a metric of popularity, not of prestige. We demonstrate how a weighted version of the popular PageRank algorithm can be used to obtain a metric that reflects prestige. We contrast the rankings of jou…

Overwhelmed by Choice?

Many people complain that nowadays there is too much choice. 20 ways of having your coffee, 50 types of ketchup, ten political parties in countries of less than 10 million...
I agree that in many cases the choice can be overwhelming, but I think that the solution is not to eliminate diversity. The variety (in most cases) is there for a reason: Contextuality. Our society has become so diverse, that people coming from different contexts need different things. In the past, people were more localized, so that they had to learn only the customs of their town or city. Now we need to learn the ways of the world. But since we all learn different aspects of it, we end up with different worldviews. And if there is a variety in the population, there needs to be a variety in the social institutions serving it (Ashby dixit). Vegans DO fly in airplanes...

On the other hand, too much choice overloads our cognitive abilities. Fifty years ago, George Miller published a paper showing that people tended t…