Jan. 7th, 2011

dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)

I'm getting into a heavy duty programming project today.  I just discovered one real big reason to keep with Apple instead of going down the Linux laptop route.  That reason is Xcode.  I'm just getting into using it.  To think I used to struggle with Make.  No more of that mess!  Then again, I think the Eclipse development suite has everything that's nice about XCode and a whole lot more.  The other thing that's helping this project is my Kindle.  While I dislike the crap that Amazon is doing with retracting people's old purchases when they decide that certain genres are offensive, I like the platform and its capabilities a lot.  I need to learn C++ for this project and simply because it'd be another skill to put on the old CV. So that means I need a book.  Normally, I might try Borders or Barnes and Noble.  Now, since I am in Toledo, the computer section has loads of books that prepare you for various low level IT certifications, teach you web design and light weight web programming.  But, old school CS?  No way.  They don't deal in that mess or any sophisticated works.  Toledo's just not the market for that stuff.  The University City Barnes and Noble in Philly had this kind of thing as do the book stores in Ann Arbor.  No surprise, there are people who buy that kind of stuff in those places.  Not so much here.  The bookstores would cheerfully order me any book I want, but that'd take close to a week.  A minute in the Amazon store and I have Stephen Prat's C++ Primer Plus on the Kindle.  E-books are here to stay.  A lot of people are going to like this experience and the traditional book store is probably going to become a niche retailer.  My gut feeling is that people are going buy a lot of fiction in paper after they've developed a sentimental attachment to a work, but for most things they'll prefer the immediacy of downloading.  This is definitely the case with nonfiction for me.  The other nice thing about the e-book experience is something I mentioned in passing.  With paper books you're restricted by the interests of the people in your geographic area.  It's hard to find books about Complex Systems, Systems Theory and general academic works here in Toledo.  Popular fiction and politically biased nonfiction are available by the bushel.  Religious books abound, but try finding a decent book on Economics.  All you find are political attacks on the other guy's fiscal policy positions.  Not good, but that's what the retailers have.  With a good e-book platform, a network connection puts almost anything in your grasp.  It's hard to say what the ultimate cultural impact is going to be.  I'd like to think these new technologies offer the promise of transforming people by helping them to see things in new ways.  Unfortunately, what I've noticed is that while these readers facilitate searching for information, they inhibit browsing and the retailers can constrain both search and browse.  The retailer can subtly steer you towards certain choices.  They probably won't do so for any nefarious reason.  They just want you find the best match, but it's what they believe is the best match as opposed to your judgment.  The other problem these technologies pose is that we can create cocoon of opinion affirming information and never see anything which challenges our beliefs.  This is a serious hazard in nation that's becoming ever more culturally and politically divided. 
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dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
I've made mention of a strange coding project involving the Quake 2 game engine and some AI concepts. I figure I'lll describe it for whoever's interested. I've been interested in Cognitive Science since my first year of college so I've always been into Artificial Intelligence to some degree. Not so much that I'd actually try to code such a thing, but challenges in the field are that same for those trying to understand the human mind. While studying Physics and getting somewhat appalling marks, I developed an interest a in loosely defined field of study that attempts to understand the general principles of organization which appear to be common throughout Physical, Psychological and Social systems. The field is fairly old and comes in and out of vogue every few decades. From the 1940s to the 1960s it was System Theory. It fell out of favor because while interesting, it's hard to devise experiments and test hypotheses. By the late 1980s, computers had shrunk both in size and price such that even impoverished undergrads like me could run simulations inn their dorms. A new set of researchers began to talk of Chaos and a Theory of Complex Systems while we dusted of textbooks on Dynamical Systems Theory. Once again, the field faded from view even as we built the Internet and started swimming complexity to earn our paychecks. In recent years, researchers in Economics, Sociology, Mathematics and a few other fields started using the name Network Science and going to seminars at the Santa Fe Center for Complex Studies. Whatever the name, the inquiries remain the same. My own particular interest is the study of the dynamics of Social Systems and how individuals organize into groups and how those groups aggregate into communities and even nations. Over the years, I've been sort of looking or a visually appealing way to model this phenomenon.
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dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
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