26 October 2005

Love and hate on the Tree of Life

the last lesson ended with the image
of a lovers' triangle
portrayed geometrically
with the colors of its sides changing
between love-color (green, say)
and hate-color (red)

(realistically, we'd need a more complex way
to show asymmetrical feelings
but we'll postpone that step for now)

these simplified triangles can have three green sides
three red sides
two green and one red
or two red and one green

and the simplified-lovers' relationships
can shift between these variations

on the full Tree of Life the most-common pattern
is probably a small green cluster
connected to a neighboring green cluster by
unneighborly red lines

and for most of human prehistory these clusters
were tribes, about 30 members in size
who wandered within a limited territorial range
and had no relations, friendly or unfriendly
with tribes beyond their nearest neighbors

but with those near neighbors sometimes competing
sometimes providing new husbands or wives

and as we travel down the Tree
past apes to simpler mammals
the tribes probably become less-well-defined

until we reach creatures
who barely recognise their own family-members
with love and hate lasting only as long as
they're within each other's sight

24 October 2005

Lazyweb product-tracking site

when you buy a product
shouldn't there be an rss feed you can subscribe to
that serves as a mini users group for that product
with faqs and updates and tips and gripes
ideally independent from the manufacturer?

ps: maybe a del.icio.us tag would suffice?

22 October 2005

Stories on the Tree of Life

so far we've visualised the Tree of Life
as a stack of yearly layers

and human consciousness as fireflies
on the tips of (some) treebranches

now we consider the six billion fireflies arrayed
on the topmost layer
almost blinding unless we
dim them to faint stars

and between every pair of stars we draw a line
that will represent the relationship between those two humans

so people with (almost) no relationship
can be connected by a line that's vanishingly slight

while a closely related pair
gets a thick/bright/crisp line

but relationships change

and when relationships change, we can start
telling stories

the language we use for telling stories
has hundreds of common words
and tens of thousands of uncommon ones
(not to mention the one-off improvisations
and unrepeatable onomatopoetics)

but to tell the basic story
of a relationship-change
the common-hundreds usually suffice

and can be broken down further into
descriptions of the state before the change
and the state after the change

so we might assign shades of color to
patterns of words
that describe common relationships

and visualise our linked firefly-stars
as linked by lines of those colors
with stories playing out
as changes in relationship-color

so the story of a lovers' triangle
has three stars in a triangle
with the colors of the sides of the triangle
flickering between love-color
and hate-color

21 October 2005

Cnet's ontology browser

A couple of weeks back Cnet debuted a Flash ontology-browser (called "The Big Picture") that occupies a big chunk of the righthand sidebar with some/most/all articles.

I've been meaning to look closer at it, and this random link about how the brain represents habits seemed like a convenient moment... because the ontology-connections are especially bizarre.

It's easier if you jump directly to the fullpane view of the browser (identical url with "?tag=st.bp" at the end, where bp = big picture).

The story-author (or an editor) is supposed to tag each story with topical keywords (green bubbles) and mentioned-companies (red bubbles), but this story doesn't actually have either of these-- the three green and one red bubble you see here are linked via other 'similar' stories (grey bubbles), though you have to look closely to figure this out.

The author/editor has directly specified three 'similar' stories, which can be traced on the browser by following the grey lines from the central story-bubble:

  • One goes NNW to "Are we getting smarter or dumber?" which has no secondary links, for no obvious reason. (If you click on it, you'll see it does have green bubbles for "Internet" and "Education".)

  • One goes due south to "IBM sells Blue Gene for brain research" which has zillions of secondary links. (But if you click on it, you lose the backlink to the original article!? There's a 'Reset' button down there, for this emergency.)

  • One goes SE to "Harvard brain images: Cat vs rat" which is linked only to the green R&D bubble (you may have to click on some whitespace to get this to scroll into view). If you click on this story you'll see it does have more hidden grey and green links, so apparently the due-south link has been arbitrarily favored for expansion (maybe because it has the most links?).

These three similar-story links are appropriate and useful, and as a basic rule of web-design all web-articles should probably offer such a short set at the end, because many readers will at that point be ready to explore. I think Cnet was already doing that in text form, maybe in a sidebar though (which is less effective).

Someone should have added "MIT" as a red-bubble link-- I expect this will become more routine. It needs at least one green bubble for "Neuroscience".

The supposed rationale for using graphics instead of just text is that similar items can be visually clustered, but this isn't what's happening here-- the most similar stories are getting buried in random linkage.

Whenever I see a floating-bubbles interface (and I'm ashamed to say I even programmed an early one, back in 1990), I think of a bad stage magician waving his hands to distract you while he picks your pocket.

Cnet's readers would be much better served if this info was offered in text-outline form, maybe with fast Ajax browsing.

19 October 2005

(You are) a firefly on the Tree of Life

in my last post i sketched a
of the Tree of Life

today i want to start with just the topmost, atom-thick layer
with its imprinted geodesic worldmap
representing this year, 2005

with a dot that stands for you
at the point on the map where you are right now
and a line trailing back across all the meandering points
you've visited this year

and the series of layers below this
one for each year of your existence
(not omitting your first nine months
in a moving womb)
with their connected lines

and below these
four billion more layers you have only
scant and indirect knowledge of

as your knowledge of others' lines is scant
and mostly indirect

and as your knowledge of your own life
has gaps
and fading places

so we might visualise your current point
on the tree
as a light, shining

with those segments of your past you know best
reflecting that shining consciousness

and the segments of others' present and past
and the past you never knew
shining only dimly
to reflect your distant
and relatively dim

Visualising the Tree of Life

this post is simpler groundwork
for longer, subtler
semantic graph-theory

to have any hope of a semantic web
we need a unifying root-model

which i propose is the Tree of Life
four billion years old
mostly confined to the surface of Earth

so to particularise this image
let's print Fuller's flattening
on a sheet of notebook paper one atom thick
representing this year

with four billion more sheets stacked beneath it
representing Earth's history
(continents drifting over the eons)
making a stack a little over one foot tall

within whose three dimensions we can trace
the worldlines
of atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, artifacts, etc

with the full Tree of Life
tracing all dna-based organisms

a single molecule of dna first appearing
somewhere in the bottom half
spreading quickly but thinly across the globe
then thickening
so that trillions of trillions of organisms' lives' lines

15 October 2005


i have a mental list
never written down, so missing forgotten bits

of ways the current pendulum-swing might be reversed

mostly relying on a charismatic leader:
a jfk
a walter cronkite
a martin luther king
an elvis with added politics

but sometimes on a charismatic community-movement:
flash zombie-mobs
chumbawamba drum-corps
bonobo group-marriages

and always falling back on robot wisdom:

a computer model of society
deep enough to guide decisionmaking

but i think there's a nice parallel for robotwisdom
in the 19th century rise of marxism

a (flawed) model that captured the popular imagination
a charismatic model

and how much more charismatic it will be, this time
as a computer game:


George and Harriet

the explanation, i think
of the harriet miers nomination

can only be that w has
stopped listening to his advisers

they surely didn't recommend harriet

he's retreated so far
she's the only one he feels safe with

(and they surely tried to get him
to rehearse the nola hammering
but he refused
unwilling to admit
even to them
it was his first time)

to qualify for facetime with w
you now have to suspend disbelief so perfectly
that he senses no hint of
threatening reality

he craves oblivion

no criticism, ever

and if rove goes

(and when miers goes)

who's going to step into that power vacuum?

14 October 2005

Pinter poems

I got these off a Google newsfeed that appears unstable, so I'll mirror them here:

God Bless America
by Harold Pinter, January 2003

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America's God.

The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn't join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who've forgotten the tune.

The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America's God.

by Harold Pinter, Februrary 2003

There's no escape.
The big pricks are out.
They'll fuck everything in sight.
Watch your back.

American Football
(A Reflection upon the Gulf War)
by Harold Pinter, August 1991

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.

We blew the shit right back up their own ass
And out their fucking ears.

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.
They suffocated in their own shit!

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew them into fucking shit.
They are eating it.

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of fucking dust.

We did it.

Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.

12 October 2005

I'm-an-Idiot day (CSS)

i proposed below in passing
that the 13th of each month
should be "i'm an idiot day"

and bloggers on that day
should try to think of a question
they've hesitated to ask
for fear of looking stupid

and ask it publicly
in hopes that someone will answer
or that the act of asking will make it clearer
or will inspire the required research effort

so my idiot-question, a day early, is:

back when everyone on comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html
was promoting CSS stylesheets
their promise was that if i didn't like an author's page-design
i'd be able to substitute a different stylesheet

now i've got the latest version of firefox
but i don't see that function anywhere

(there's a page-style submenu under 'view'
but it doesn't offer any subtitutes)

so were we sold a bill of goods [yes]
or is this function still on its way
or what? [workaround]

(don't say greasemonkey-- that's javascript)

(sage does allow it,
globally for all rss-feeds)

08 October 2005

Elmore Leonard's Bulwer-Lytton contender

"The last red reflection of the sun showed in the sky behind them as the wagons rolled down the slope toward the camp-- toward the silent, cold-looking, deserted-looking adobes that were already enveloped in the dull shadow of this slope the wagons were descending." Escape from Five Shadows 1956

05 October 2005

Semantics of person-person relationships

the dream of a semantic web
(and equally, the dream of a vingean singularity)

will require a formalised understanding of human relationships

which is what this vocabulary strives to be

because it's sorted alphabetically
we can't begin to critique it
without re-sorting it into (six) clusters:

1. kinship:

any two living things are in a kinship relation
it's just a question of distance, and direction
so this is really a vector
say +1 for parent, +2 for grandparent, -1 for child, etc
leaving 0 for no direct lineal relationship
and adding more parameters to capture
sibling cousin aunt uncle niece nephew etc etc etc

2. cohousing:

again this is a measure of distance
between where any two animals sleep

same bed, same room, same floor, same house
same street, same neighborhood, same town, same county
same state, same country, same continent

3. degree of acquaintance:

this one is almost more trouble than it's worth

you might try numerical values for:

but these are really graphs over time

and you'd also really need:

4. professional:

how many dimensions does 'professional distance' need?

you can do similar jobs for dissimilar companies

you can work with people outside of any company

you can aspire to a profession
apply to a company, but be rejected or fired or quit...

5. relationship valence:

if we make this independent of degree of acquaintance
then 'wouldLikeToKnow' can have the same value as 'likes'
but with the acquantance-level still zero

but you also need longterm vs shortterm valences:
i love you dearly
i can't be around you until i get some things worked out

6. sex/marriage:

this one is next-most-important
after kinship

and (in humans) involves a stereotypical melodrama of romance
detailed in my Solace

additional numeric relationship needed:

additional unary (non-relationship) parameter:

(zero desire, or even negative desire, is possible)

04 October 2005


This animated nanotech gallery
is the first I've seen
that even attempts to show the effects
of ordinary thermal vibrations
on the nano scale

but I think it lies, still
because each atom's vibration is shown
as if it's locked in crystalline diamond

but the only thing locking it
is its bonds to its neighbors

and since these are springy
the system as a whole will be
wavy as a slinky

ring-shapes will bounce back and forth
between wider and narrower diameter

waves will propagate around their rim
so that tight fits to neighboring 'gears'
will be impossible

if one atom in a ring is hit wrong, so it twists
that twist will propagate around the ring as well

and this is the dynamic world we'll soon see, inside cells

balled threads of amino acids
springing not wildly but in naturally engineered directions

with atp-molecules latching into specific sites
and blasting off their phosphate tip, when triggered,
the blast propagating across the springy ball
and doing useful work somewhere nearby

(to practice getting the picture right
think of a tiny clump of water molecules
falling weightless, spinning slightly
near freezing, molecules clinging not-quite-tight

and realise the vibrations echo
from end to end, and around the flattening rim
until they achieve symmetry
and that geometry demands
the symmetry be sixfold

and that new molecules joining the cluster
add random new vibes
that also settle into sixfold symmetry
jostling every other point on the surface
until all are mirror-matched

a snowflake)