Google’s Ngram Viewer exposes Gartner’s Hype Cycles

The Books Ngram Viewer from Google Labs provides a fascinating insight into language usage in the past 200 years. An Ngram is a series of one or more items from a sequence, in this case a word or phrase from a published text. Google’s viewer plots the frequency of occurrence for Ngrams found in books published since 1800. It is possible to narrow the search to specific collections of books or corpus. Available corpora include American English, British English, English Fiction etc. Researchers at Harvard University’s Cultural Observatory have put together some tips for using this data and have invented a new word

Culturomics – The application of high-throughput data collection and analysis to the study of human culture.


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The Evolutionary Origins of Ritual, Music, and Dance

Evolutionary Psychology posits that many human behaviors are evolved adaptations. In his excellent books The Red Queen, and The Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley explains the evolutionary origins of human sexuality, reciprocity, and collaboration. It is an easy mistake to assume that all common behaviors are adaptations of some kind, when in fact many are often merely side effects and confer no direct advantage. Despite this problem, the evidence that many behaviors are advantageous is compelling. With this in mind I am always on the look-out for evolutionary explanations of other behaviors, but remain wary that these may not imply adaptation.

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Internet Censorship vs Freedom of Expression

Zachary Sniderman on Mashable published an interesting article titled, Just How Open Is Your Internet?. I thought the featured map looked a little bit fishy – Mongolia has less internet censorship than Sweden? Really? What does that mean? It seemed to me that there might be something missing from the account. To his credit Mr Sniderman does note

…it raises some inherent problems with defining “censorship.” For example, screening out child pornography and illegal file sharing technically registers as “censorship” even though most people wouldn’t consider that a human rights offense.

Even accounting for his concerns it still looked a bit odd to me.

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The Antikythera Mechanism Explained?

The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered on May 17th 1902, by archaeologist Valerios Stais when he was diving on the Antikythera wreck off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera. The wreck is believed to have sunk in the 1st century BCE and has yielded many spectacular artifacts. The most mysterious of these is the Antikythera mechanism, a solid lump of corroded bronze gears. It has taken over a century, the latest imaging technology, and decades of research from a few dedicated scholars of mechanical engineering to piece together what the mechanism did.


I put together this playlist of short youtube videos. Together they describe the latest advances in understanding the mechanism and how it worked. There are four videos that take about 20 minutes to watch. Just click on the video and all four will play.

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Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read many books that discuss various aspects of evolution but never a complete overview of the subject. While I understand how evolution works, and have no doubt about its veracity, I was not aware of the overwhelming supporting evidence for the theory from multiple different scientific disciplines: Paleontology, Biogeography, Embryology, Genetics, Comparative Anatomy etc. Mr Coyne relishes his task, clearly presenting the evidence fact by fact. Within the first 100 pages he presents a broad, and consistent body of evidence in which he weaves together facts from multiple fields. It was hugely entertaining reading an academic, at the top of his game, build such an impressive case. The evidence is undeniable and overwhelming. Evolution is true!

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Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been interested in the work of Stuart Kauffman since I first read about him 10 years ago. I have read his other book “At Home in the Universe” and so wanted to read this one. I find Kauffman very difficult to read, but worth the effort. This time I took notes as I was reading, which helped a great deal. Part of the reason I find him so interesting is that his books are, for me, a view into a mind on the edge of discovering something significant. I’m not sure Kauffman will actually discover whatever it is he is closing in on, but he’s barking up the right tree and its fascinating to watch him wrestle with his problems.

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Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Catch 22 is a truly great novel, but it’s difficult to digest. I listened to the unabridged audio book narrated by Jay O. Sanders and I’m very glad I did. The book is arranged into 42 chapters each named after a character in the novel. These chapters contain many anecdotes about the characters and their lives in a bomber squadron on the island of Pianosa, off the coast of Italy, towards the end of the Second World War. The book is not arranged in chronological order and many of its anecdotes and sub-plots are impossible to place on a linear timeline. There are a few key events and plot markers that help position everything but it gets pretty complex trying keep track of all the events and characters. The Audio book really helped in this respect. There is a lot of dialog in the book and the narration by Jay O. Sanders was excellent. His use of accent really helped distinguish between the characters and keep everything in its place.

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no idea what i was getting into! All I knew was that this was the story of a mad captain hellbent on killing the white whale. I did wonder why it was such a big book with 135 chapters! Not so much a single narrative about Ahab and Moby Dick as an immersion course in the 19th century whaling industry, its practices, myths, and misconceptions, all interwoven with various stories, hung on the framework of Ahab and the great white whale. Of course, there are many subtexts, some of which I could pickup but many ran too deep and escaped me. Mostly I think my lack of biblical knowledge meant i missed out on many nuances of plot and motivators for various characters, not least Ahab.

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The Imortal Game


The Immortal Game, originally uploaded by Virtual Traveler.

This is a photo of a painting I commissioned from Blair Bradshaw last year. It shows the final crushing move of the Immortal Game, circled in red. I chose Blair because I have a print of one of his other pieces and had been to his studio so was familiar with his style. I thought he would do a great job of the immortal game, which I had been thinking about getting painted for some time. The piece is 5ft square and is comprised of 64 small square mini-canvases. Blair and I spoke at length about how to visually show the history of the game. I think he did a great job and am very pleased with what I got.

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Movabletype 2.661 Entity Relationship Diagram

I have been experimenting with Python 2.3 and MySQL 4.0.13 recently and have been using a copy of my Movabletype 2.661 database as a sandbox. Before I started a spent a few minutes working out the structure of the database. This Entity Relationship Diagram is what I came up with. I expect version 3.0 of Movabletype is different, but just in case anyone else is digging around in Movabletype and could use a map here is a pdf version.
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