Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Mixotrich's Tale

Richard Dawkins' great book- "The Ancestor's Tale" tells the story of evolution backwards- from man to microbe- so as not to give the incorrect impression that we are the pinnacle of the evolutionary tree. This is frankly annoying. Who would write a history book starting in the present day, then heading backwards? Hopefully, some future edition will be re-written backwards.

Regardless, it is a tremendous book- highly recommended- but I've found that i tend to dip into it's encyclopedic pages every few months. One of my favourite bits is towards the 'end' - regarding the Mixotrich.

The Mixotric - (didn't you know this already?) is a single celled organism that lives its entire life in the gut of a termite- helping it to digest wood cellulose. The termite thinks its universe is the termite mound, but the Mixotrich thinks its entire universe is the gut of a single termite.

What's interesting is that the Mixotrich moves by holding on to a team of spirochaete bacteria- using them for propulsion. Quite bizarre. I guess from the spirochaete's perspective, the universe is a single Mixotrich.

One of the fundamentally amazing things about the universe is its ability to form nested complex structures at all scales. The universe as we perceive it may be only a fragment of what's out there.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Grapefruit was Invented!

Amazing isn't it? You sort of think that 'fruit' has been around forever- but no- there wasn't any such thing as a grapefruit before 1750. This, and other amazing facts in the latest great lecture on "SALT" - Seminars About Long-term Thinking: a balanced, rational view of "Organic" vs "GM" food.


Artist/chitect Adam Kalkin built his amazing house around another house - and now uses the front porch as a dining room. Tremendously cool.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Photosynth of the Night Sky

When you look up at the beautiful stars on a clear night- you're looking at an image that's different from anything you'll see on earth. That's because each point of light is from a different time. Adjacent stars may be separated by billions of miles. You're seeing the stars as they were, and WHERE THEY WERE billions of years ago. Before there were humans, before there was Earth.

Who knows where they are now? Some of them have probably already been sucked into black holes, or blown themselves up in supernovas, or travelled halfway across the sky.

This is what i think: understanding the massive/tiny time & distance scales of the universe is too hard for a monkey brain to comprehend intuitively. "Seeing is believing" - and we have trouble grasping the fact that the image of an object is not the object itself.

An experiment is everyday living:

1. you place a fresh red apple 1 foot away, and take a polaroid photo of it, and place the photo in front of the apple. (Don't look at the apple or the photo).

2. throw the apple on the back of a truck as it speeds away, wait a year till it's completely rotten in some landfill somewhere.

3. now open your eyes- and look at the apple image.

4. Ask yourself: "where is the apple really?"

5. Ask yourself: "where is the image of the apple?"

That's what looking up at the night sky is like. Looking up at the stars is not at all like looking down at your feet. Actually, it's a lot like looking at a photosynth image- a composite image of a region of space, but with each photograph representing a different time. Maybe generation Z will have a better grip on the universe thanks to photosynth!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bose v20 + Sony Blu-Ray + TiVO + Sony TV + Apple Airport = Ultimate Home Theater
After much struggling- i've finally got the home theater/hi-fi thing all sorted. It did take quite a bit of trawling thru anti-Bose internet fora and an email to Bose HQ but it's all worked out in the end. And yes- before anyone gets stuck into me- i KNOW Bose stuff is overpriced!

What i wanted was:
a) a system that was integrated using ONE REMOTE ONLY- preferably without having to buy a separate universal remote!
b) i wanted the remote to work thru walls so i could keep the components hidden.
c) i wanted the minimum number of components... e.g. no separate blu-ray/dvd players
d) wall mounted speakers that the kids couldn't destroy.

I ended up buying the following:
Sony LCD Bravia
Bose V20
Sony Blu-Ray
Apple Airport

The Bose v20 comes with a remote- and yes it is a RF (radiofrequency) remote so there's no problems controlling the unit thru the cabinet. It does, however, also control devices via standard infra-red output.. although i'm pretty sure it is the main unit rather than the remote that emits the infra-red. You just need to tell the Bose unit what components you have- by selecting them in the 'settings menu' , and it'll (probably) work- despite what everyone else on the interweb says!

I connected the Bose v20 via standard HDMI to the Sony TV... and then the TiVo (CAB/SAT input on the Bose) and Blu-Ray (DVD input) via HDMI.

The blue ray control required the 'IR extender' (which comes with the Bose) to be plugged in to the Bose, with the end of it stuck on to the outside of the blu-ray player. This procedure takes 12 seconds.

For the Airport connection i just used a standard 1/8 plug to red/white stereo output cable and plugged this into the AUX input.

You'll need to tell the Bose that you're using a TiVO as an input device- and once this is done, the bose remote works exactly like the TiVO remote- except it works thru walls! We watch TV via the TiVO - so we can pause live TV etc.

Although i couldn't find the control codes of the Sony Blu-Ray (or in fact ANY blu-ray devices) in the Bose settings menu ... if you call it a 'Sony DVD Player' and use the control code of 1516 it works beautifully. Now i can control DVDs/Blu-Rays using the bose remote. The blu-ray upscales DVDs and they look great!

The TV on/off also works as expected using the right control code however (and i don't know why) this function doesn't work thru walls! There's no need to ever switch the TV between inputs- (e.g. Bose unit vs "TV") although that is possible too using the bose remote if you wish.

All my iTunes music is stored on a big 24" white imac- streamed from the next room wirelessly to the Bose via an Airport. It's a simple matter of clicking "airport living room" as the output using iTunes, and then hitting the AUX button on the Bose remote.

For convenience- however, i can access the music in the 'shared folder' from my apple laptop which i keep in the hi-fi room- and use this to stream the data to the Bose when i want to sit down and 'surf' my music collection.

The only downsides with all this (other than cost) are:
  • watching DVD's on a the blu-ray player can be frustrating with regard to fast-forward/scanning which seems ridiculously slow and cumbersome.
  • I've run out of HDMI inputs on the Bose! I would have liked just ONE more HDMI to connect a mac-mini/laptop. This requires an optical audio cable and a Mini-DVI to HDMI converter cable (purchased from the apple store). I've tried this out with my laptop and it works perfectly... converts to Sony into a huge monitor. Great for watching (legal) bittorrented downloads. I could connect the computer to the second HDMI input on the TV, but the sound then wouldn't come thru the TV (or the Bose obviously) as DVI doesn't carry sound- only image.
image below is of the rear of the v20:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Flanger: Crime in the Pale Moonlight

Can't explain why somebody set this to this movie.. but great music.

Koop: Come To Me

Monday, July 27, 2009

Music Machine For Kids

Great music machine from tony-b: great fun - great sound. Don't forget to check out the 'specials'. You need to enter a name and password to get started.

Google Earth Updates

Google Earth is much more than Google Earth- it's now also Google Moon, Google Mars, Google Sky and Google Flight Simulator! (although you can't fly around the moon or mars yet). You can even dive underneath the water and zoom along undersea mountains etc. It also now has simulated day/night and 'atmosphere' on Earth. Amazing!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Evolution of the Seagull/Butterfly Effect

I first heard about the 'Butterfly Effect' reading Douglas Hofstaedter's amazing book 'Metamagical Themas', and subsequently James Gleick's book on Chaos when they came out decades ago.

Essentially, systems (like the weather) where the output is fed back into the input (i.e. 'iterated') demonstrate 'sensitive dependence on initial conditions'. In other words, a teeny tiny difference in the beginning setup may cause dramatic, and upredictable changes in future states. This is why long term weather forecasts are always unreliable. 'Chaos' theory demonstrates that, just because something is deterministic- it does not follow that it must be predictable.

What's got me fascinated recently, however, is how the original presentation of the theory has been modified- even by the original author himself!

Edward Lorenz, in a 1963 paper given to the New York Academy of Sciences stated: "one flap of a seagull's wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever.". Later, he gave a 1972 paper entitled: "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?".

Perhaps this was based on a 1952 short story by Ray Bradbury titled "A Sound of Thunder" where a time-traveller inadvertently squishes a butterfly- with unintended consequences. It is unclear, however, if Lorenz ever read Bradbury- and in any case the butterfly in question should have been flapping it's wings and causing some distant, massive weather disturbance- not being squashed underfoot by a time traveller and altering world history.

It seems that no lazy journalist now bothers to look up Lorenz- they just substitute whatever they want into the equation:

"The Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in X can set off a Y in Z".

for example:

I suggest making it even more generic: i.e.

The 'W Effect' is when the V of a W in X can set off a Y in Z"
  • W is some sort of thing
  • V is something the thing does
  • X is the location of the journalist
  • Y is something big and/or frightening to the journalist
  • Z is somewhere exotic where the journalist might like to go on a holiday

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Free Full High Quality Documentaries from

Lots great free stuff from Australian ABC- quality looks excellent even on my 24" iMAC with fullscreen view.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Big History Error

Just bought Cynthia Brown's "Big History" today and started reading... history from the big bang to the present day. Looks like it going to be very interesting (and better than Bill Bryson's effort). There is however a mistake in the 2nd paragraph of the 1st page!

Cynthia assumes that because the universe is 13.7 billion years old, it must be 13.7 billion light years across. In fact, logic would tell you that it'd be 13.7 billion light years in radius i.e. 27.4 light years in diameter.

That would be the case, except for the fact that the universe is stretching iself out at an increasing rate that is currently measured at 74.2 kilometers per second per megaparsec of space. This makes the 'observable universe' a sphere 93 billion light years in diameter with you in the middle. In other words, the position in space that the light left from 13.7 billion years ago to finally end up in your retina or telescope now exists billions of extra light years further away.

Zombies Zombies Everywhere: "The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!"

Saw a copy of "Pride andPrejudice and Zombies" at the local bookstore- and i was very tempted to buy it but unfortunately i do not belong either to the part of the subculture that is into Zombies- or that part that is into Jane Austen. In fact, i can imagine the Venn Diagram of the intersection of these two sets to be an exceedingly small area that includes the author and a handful of others. It would be a strange introduction to the Zombie or the Jane Austen genre and i think i wouldn't get any of the 'in' jokes. The cover is definitely the best book cover i've ever seen.

The longer you live, the more Rapamycin/Sirolimus you can eat!

We can all live forever! There's a fascinating bit on the wiki entry on the worlds oldest living (currently dead) person: Jeanne Calment-

"In 1965, aged 90, with no living heirs, Jeanne Calment signed a deal to sell her former apartment to lawyer André-François Raffray, on a contingency contract. Raffray, then aged 47, agreed to pay her a monthly sum of 2,500 francs until she died, an agreement sometimes called a "reverse mortgage". Raffray ended up paying Calment more than the equivalent of $180,000, which was more than double the apartment's value. After Raffray's death from cancer at the age of 77, in 1995, his widow continued the payments until Calment's death.[1]"