Monday, June 30, 2008

Computing Beyond Turing: Jeff Hawkins Talk at UCSD

As you may or may not know, I'm a big fan of Jeff Hawkins, entrepreneur, engineer, and cognitive theorist. You really should read his book On Intelligence, if you haven't already. It's changed the way I think about cognition and has been a driving force for the direction of my dissertation.

There are some older talks out on the web of Hawkins explaining the theory that's driving the technology he's now working on, but here's a fairly recent video of a talk he gave at UCSD this year:

He does review the theory, but he also gives a demo of the NuPIC software and describes some of the recent additions they've made in the past year. It's about 1:15.

One of the things that's funny is that the title of the talk is "Computing Beyond Turing", and Hawkins spends some time talking about Turing and the Universal Turing Machine. When a questioner points out at the end of the talk that he didn't really talk about computing beyond Turing, he admits it, so it's really not a good title for the talk. The hierarchical computation Hawkins is talking about is still carried out on a Turing machine. If anything, it's a subset of Turing computation.

Still, it's an interesting and worthwhile talk if you care to invest the time in it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Recalling Bobby Jindal

Well, Jindal signed the incredibly stupid Louisiana Science Education Act, but that didn't seem to upset too many people.

What did upset a lot of people is that he didn't veto a recent pay raise that Louisiana legislators proposed for themselves.

Now papers have been filed calling for a recall of Jindal.

Part of me thinks this is kind of amusing and also appropriate. Another part of me realizes that this is probably dirty pool, trying to taint a young rising star in the party who is being considered as a VP nominee by McCain. Recalls in general are a bad idea, I think. The candidates are vetted by a long and grueling process, and office terms aren't that long. I think if you make your bed, you have to sleep in it. If you screwed up, vote the person out the next election.

Still, I find this somewhat amusing.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

WALL-E Negative Review Backlash

WALL-E is currently at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 129 positive reviews and only 4 negative ones.

Who are these four brave or utterly misguided fools who dared to be in the extreme minority? Well, one is Brian Orndorf of the SciFi Movie Page, who gave the film 2 stars out of 4.

I read through his review, and a lot of what he said I agreed with.

Wall-E is Pixar's biggest creative gamble in over a decade; a genuine cinematic leap of faith. However, the ambition doesn't match the outcome, and while Wall-E dances whimsically, it's a plodding, frighteningly hypocritical, and forbidding film that trips over its fogged intentions at every dreary turn.

Wait...hypocritical? How?

[Plot points from the second half of the film up ahead...slight spoiler alert]

Where Wall-E heads next is sure to divide audiences. Following Eve into space, Wall-E boards the "Axiom," a huge cruise space ship that's home to the loose ends of the human race. You see, in the 700-years since mankind bolted from Earth, they've evolved into overweight blobs of pudding, nurtured by the Buy-N-Large Corporation who use humans to feed the endless, aggressive cycles of profitable consumption, leaving them helpless and totally enslaved to commercial trends. The human characters are obese nincompoops who've lost the ability to walk eons ago, puttering around on floating chairs waiting impatiently for their next needless desire to be force fed to them by the all-powerful corporate machine.

Here's where I remind everyone this is a Pixar/Disney picture. Pixar/Disney. Decrying greed.

The guy's got a point. I wasn't that impressed with the preachy nature of the second half of the film. I was more let down by the lame story. But Orndorf points out the hypocrisy of a film criticizing consumerism while its title character is plastered all over lunch boxes, pajamas, and dozens of other tie-ins and products.

Fair criticism, right? Well, here's what some of the comments on Rotten Tomatoes thought:

Nice last name Brian orndork....... Idiot.


Mmm, I've never liked self proclaimed critics. You hurl insults at the movie but I'm not sure I've heard you explain why it's "hypocritical" or "forbidding".


Apparently any douchebag can start a website and write 'reviews' for movies. Get bent you steaming pile of sh*t.


Is it Andrew Stanton's fault that Disney will try to sell this like crazy? Why not actually review the film instead of talking about how they'll make toys.


I'm going to take a guess since you go on for 3 paragraphs about the obese, that you yourself are fat and worthless and took this film personally.


Hey Brian, you're in luck! If you and your boyfriend Phil move to California, the two of you can get a legal civil union! Then you can cuddle and whisper sweet nothings into each other's ears like, "Wow, I love being completely out of touch with society's tastes in movies!"


You should quit your day job and go sell mattresses. Moron.

That's just from the first two pages of comments. There's lots more where that came from.

I always enjoy a level-headed, reasoned response from the movie-going public to legitimate criticism.

Jindal Signs the "Louisiana Science Education Act"

Otherwise known as the educationally useless potential backdoor into the science classroom for creationists. And now it's the law of Louisiana.

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday signed a bill that will allow public-school teachers to supplement information from their science textbook with additional materials when addressing controversial topics.

Evolution, global warming, the origins of life and human cloning are named as some controversial topics in the language of the new law.

Jindal signed the bill —dubbed the "Louisiana Science Education Act" — into law despite cries from separation of church and state groups to veto the measure.

Proponents of the law have lauded the measure as another step for academic freedom, while critics claim that the law will allow a back door for creationism to enter the classroom.

As has been noted ad nauseum, evolution is as controversial as photosynthesis or the fact that living things are composed of cells.

I wait on pins and needles for the first instance of a teacher showing a high school student a video of a human riding on a dinosaur's back in the Garden of Eden, and then for the whooshing sound of the lawsuit being filed.

Friday, June 27, 2008

WALL-E, or Hell is Other People

When Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that hell is other people, he probably wasn't thinking of movie theaters, but he hit the friggin' nail on the head.

It's opening day, so I expected there to be a lot of kids, and for there to be a fair amount of background noise. However, what we experienced was beyond reasonable limits. The lady with her four kids on the same row as us got up at least four times during the film, usually at key moments. At one point when she came back, she smelled strongly of cigarette smoke, making me think she basically dragged her kids outside so she could have a smoke in the middle of the film. For this woman, I personally award the Mother-of -the-Friggin-Year award.

Another woman on our row brought two of her kids in late, and was loudly exasperated about not being able to find the cup holder during the first five minutes of the film. The four kids sitting behind us talked pretty much not stop for the first half of the film, as well as kicking our seats. A little girl got up near the end of the film and was wandering up and down the stairs in the aisle. And some poor kid directly in front of us kept making some weird grunting noise.

So how was the film? How the hell should I know?

Actually, it was pretty good...what I was able to see/hear of it. Despite the distractions, I thought the first 20 minutes or so was the strongest. I thought the overall plot was pretty lame, as were the heavy-handed attempts at satirizing laziness and obesity. Still, it was pretty good, what little my brain was able to process through the torrent of kicks, grunts, squeals, chatter, and bodies passing in front of me.

Seeding Mars

So NASA scientists are now claiming that the soil on Mars that's been analyzed by the Phoenix lander is capable of supporting life.

If that's true, the next obvious step seems to be to send life to Mars in order to measure its sustainability over time. The article mentions asparagus, but that sounds a little ambitious. However, I'd fully support a mission that attempted to seed the Martian surface with bacteria, which live in virtually every environment, some especially harsh.

I didn't make it through the sci-fi novel Spin, but the plot revolved around a shield that was placed around the Earth by someone or something that made time pass much more slowly relative to outside the shield. Someone got the bright idea to fire rockets to Mars and try to get life jump-started as a way of terraforming it.

Millions of years are not passing on Mars for each day on Earth, but the idea is still a good one. It would be very useful to know how long bacteria could last on the Martian surface, and whether or not they could gain a foothold by being adaptive enough to extract what they need from the environment.

Scientists recently found bacteria that had survived for 120,000 years in a glacier in Greenland, about 2 miles below the surface. Those guys might be a good candidate for the first sustainable Martian colonists.

Blogging in Parallel

For nearly seven years I've been blogging at JournalScape. It's been a wonderful experience, but it feels a little restrictive for my needs, and I thought I would experiment with Blogger for a few weeks and see if I like it better.

If so, I may make the permanent jump. If not, I'll stick with my old digs.

I had a bit of a problem getting that banner up and running. Lots of errors in the Customize interface, and then even though I had checked the option to use the banner in place of the title, the title was still showing up. So go figure.

What I'll probably do is post in parallel for the next few weeks, and possibly post some of my favorite archive posts from my old blog, to see how things work out.