Visualizing Turbulence and Interpreting the Elements

I stumbled across two nice representations today. The first is a series of images visualizing turbulence. Some of these models took millions of processor hours to compute.

The second is a periodic table of the elements assembled out of 118 prints in various media. Sadly, no poster seems to be available just yet, but the project initiator hints that many things are in the works. Wouldn’t high school chemistry have been more fun this way?

LiveMesh Lands On Mars

In April I wrote the following to a colleague after reading ZDNet’s article on the announcement of LiveMesh:

I have absolutely no respect for Ray Ozzie as an architect. Everything he’s ever created has been overcomplicated shite only an architecture astronaut could love. Seeing the current confusion over “what *is* this thing?” doesn’t give me much hope he’s going to change that pattern this time around.

Since I got the term “architecture astronaut” from reading Joel Spolsky it was a happy circumstance to find that he has a similar (though wittier) opinion of Ozzie’s LiveMesh:

Windows Live Mesh is not just a way to synchronize files. That’s just the sample app. It’s a whole goddamned architecture, with an API and developer tools and in insane diagram showing all the nifty layers of acronyms, and it seems like the chief astronauts at Microsoft literally expect this to be their gigantic platform in the sky which will take over when Windows becomes irrelevant on the desktop. And synchronizing files is supposed to be, like, the equivalent of Microsoft Write on Windows 1.0.

It’s Groove, rewritten from scratch, one more time. Ray Ozzie just can’t stop rewriting this damn app, again and again and again, and taking 5-7 years each time.

And the fact that customers never asked for this feature and none of the earlier versions really took off as huge platforms doesn’t stop him.

By the way, here’s the “insane diagram” I assume Spolsky’s referring to. Or maybe it was this one.

What’s the lesson here? Well, for one thing, that when Steve Jobs put a bullet in OpenDoc, he did the right thing. What other astronomical architectures would be better put out of our misery?

FYI, A Couple of Broken Things

First, I notice a lot of interest in my old post on configuring a JXTA peer using Spring. Be advised that a) this article is out of date and the technique will no longer work due to changes in the platform, and b) I have promised the JXTA community to look into what changes might be needed to restore the declarative configuration technique to viability, submit the feature requests and/or patches, and write a new article on how to do it. In the meantime, it would be best if people avoided the old post because it will only lead them astray.

Second, I notice my blog is partially b0rked–the sidebar modules don’t work anymore. I have some suspicions about why that is, and when I get a decent chunk of time I’ll try to fix it (hopefully without completely b0rking everything!) Please be patient. “Technical difficulties are temporary…”

Genetic Programming Example in JavaScript

While researching genetic programming as one possible way to discover near-optimal solutions to the Travelling Salesman Problem (TSP), I came across this cool interactive demonstration of genetic programming using JavaScript. I found myself playing with it for a good while, enjoying watching the solutions evolve and converge under different fitness constraints.

The page itself doesn’t provide much information on what’s going on, but you can get a quick overview of genetic programming here. For deeper investigation, try, a site maintained by John Koza, one of the major figures in genetic programming research. There are links to all sorts of resources including all of Koza’s publications, many of which are available online.

Government Hypocrisy on Drugs

Of course, that topic could fill a book… but for now, note that the U.S. Government claims marijuana has no legitimate uses and insists on keeping it illegal. Why, then, has it patented the medical use of cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants? Flipping hypocrites. I’ve always believed that the U.S. Government has no intention of eliminating drugs; it only wants to control their distribution and sale and the immense profits therefrom. Call me paranoid now!

The Long Tail of Transactions

So there’s a rumour Amazon will be offering a payment service to compete with PayPal. I think a pre-cursor (perhaps test run?) of that is their DevPay service for Amazon WS developers, built on the existing Flexible Payments Service (FPS). I’ve been looking forward to seeing Amazon do this. The FPS is more intrinsically interesting for developers, but it makes sense for Amazon as a company to take a piece of the “long tail of transactions.” If anyone can match PayPal at this, Amazon should be the one.

Antique Cannabis

While researching migraine remedies, I came across this site on Antique Cannabis, i.e. medicinal uses pre-1937. Besides the history and the strange range of uses (anti-asthma cigarettes?), the photos of antique ads, labels, apothecary bottles, tins, production facilities etc. are very cool. Note the manufacturer on this one:

NDP Motion to Let War Resisters Stay Passes

According to an NDP news release:

An NDP motion calling on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to allow Iraq war resisters to stay in Canada received strong support from Parliament this week. NDP Immigration Critic Olivia Chow is urging Harper to respect the will of regular Canadians who think George Bush’s war in Iraq is wrong and act immediately to ensure American war resisters are able to become permanent residents of Canada.

It’s nice to know Parliament supports this, but Harper will never, ever piss off his buddy George II by doing anything about it. It’s interesting that during the first Gulf War, Canada gave an Iraqi officer refugee status and permission to stay in Canada on the grounds that he was being forced to take part in an illegal war. Americans making the same claim in the second Iraq war were told to pack their bags and head back to Leavenworth. (Under Mr. Dithers’ Liberal government.)

Who Needs Dead Poets When You’ve Got Leonard Cohen?

I had the privilege to see Leonard Cohen perform at the Sony (formerly Hummingbird) Centre last night. Thanks to a buddy for the tickets. At $250 a pop I could never have afforded them. The show was… intensely moving. And yes, I know exactly how trite and tacky that sounds, but it’s the truth. I even wanted to leave the theatre for a moment to have a little cry at one point, but not because I was sad, just a little too emotional.

At this point, I ought to admit my relationship to Leonard Cohen is not that of a true devotee and that my perception and experience of him is somewhat distorted. Being Canadian, I grew up thinking of Leonard Cohen as a poet from the CanLit canon, since that’s the context in which I encountered him, i.e. being forced to study his poetry in high-school English class. I liked his poetry very much, even though I despised all the rest of the stodgy pillars of CanLit (excuse me, but Margaret Atwood can GET STUFFED!) Ahem. As I was saying… then it seemed to me that sometime around the 90’s he started putting out records and people started playing them all the time and I thought “Well, hell, that’s cool. Nobody reads poetry anymore anyway and kids certainly don’t. Smooth move, Mr. Cohen.” And then he became a singer/songwriter phenom and his words and music became part of the background of our lives….

Well, of course, I’m a complete idiot, because a little research will reveal that Cohen’s been a singer/songwriter since the 60’s. True, he’s published a quite a few books of poetry, and even a couple of novels, but music has always been his thing and I just never noticed. For the benefit of others who don’t know the man’s story any better than I do, he’s apparently had affairs with Janis Joplin and Rebecca DeMornay, among many others. He’s also an ordained Rinzai Zen Buddhist Monk, though he’s still a Jew (Zen is easy-going that way.) He’s also apparently broke due to a sordid betrayal, but you can go read about that yourself. An interesting life, to be sure.

So, back to the show. Leonard Cohen is about 75 years old. He hasn’t toured for 15 years. Rumour has it that this tour is an attempt to make back some of the money stolen from him, which accounts for the outrageous ticket prices. As soon as he appeared on the stage he received a standing ovation, and it wasn’t just an obligatory one, either; some of those people had been waiting for this moment for a decade and a half! He asked the crowd to be seated with a hand-gesture and then thanked everyone, with a shared chuckle, for the “financial inconvenience” they’d gone to in order to be present. Throughout the show, the man displayed exceeding humility, as well as joy and humour. He’s a fragile-looking guy, though his voice was strong and there was no lack of passion in his performance, especially in favourites like “Hallelujah”, “The Future”, and “Democracy” (which really ought to be an Obama campaign song, doncha think? Check the lyrics!) His pitch may have been a bit off, but then I’m not sure he was ever famous for being an incredible singer. Nobody cared anyway.

It’s the lyrics that make Leonard Cohen’s songs so amazing, and the audience was improbably silent throughout the show so as not to miss a word. This is especially important as Cohen changes the lyrics to his songs so you might hear something new even if you think you already know the piece by heart. He would often introduce the songs with snippets of the same song, or other songs, or bits and pieces of poetry (in English or in French.) At one point he recited a poem that, although it often repeats the phrase “A Thousand Kisses Deep”, bears no resemblance to the lyrics of the song of that name. I haven’t yet found where it came from, or if it’s new, or if he made it up just for the tour or what… I’m sure some avid fan will enlighten me.

Anyway, though he will be remembered as a singer/songwriter, Leonard Cohen is still primarily a poet to me. Last night I remembered why I loved his poetry as a teenager and why I ever loved poetry at all! It inspired me to go back and re-discover poetry all over again. I also left with a little remorse. For not having paid enough attention to his art in the past. For probably never having the chance to hear him perform again. He asked everyone to make sure on leaving the theatre to look in their hearts for–or re-find if necessary–the “blessings of peace”. It felt an awful lot like a final good-bye. And now I will have to go have that cry….

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