Tag Archives: geek

Irrational Desire II & Other Matters

So today I had a tutorial, in which I kinda had to admit that I didn’t actually know anything because I hadn’t done the problem sheet. So the tutor kept asking me if I understood what was going on. Rather luckily I did, he asked me to do a question up on the board and it actually went alright, all in all.

Then I took a bus up to Piccadilly Circus (because walking to South Ken tube is extremely tedious), somehow managing smack my little finger on something I was getting on, causing the tip of my nail to kinda crack in the middle and start bleeding. Which was kinda icky.

Anyways, got there and had a bit of a stroll. A purposeful stroll. I wandered over Leicester Square, up to the Seven Dials in Covent Garden. On a side note, the Seven Dials is rapidly becoming my favorite area of Central London. It’s just cool.

Got to Forbidden Planet and bought the new Buffy comic, then headed up past the Intrepid Fox (heavy metal pub. Interesting clientele) to  Tottenham Court Road, with the intention of buying a white Asus EEE 4g. First place said they hadn’t had stock in about two weeks, and that he wasn’t expecting any again ever.

Next place I tried was Micro Anvika, a sign outside said they were in stock, which is usually a good sign. I wandered over to the guy standing by the display model, pointed, and said “I want one of those, please”. Really. He then proceeded to sell me one. The weirdest part was the whole paying by card part. You do start to realise how easy it is to blow vast amounts of cash really, really fast.

Anyways, I took it home, and it’s now what I’m using to type this blog post. The keyboard takes some getting used to, but it’s really not that bad at all!

On other matters, on Tuesday, me, Sarah^2, Niro, Daisy, Rowan & Craig gathered at Sarah & Daisy’s place and made pancakes, which was awesome, and then went to the Temperance pub, which was really nice, and all in all it was a good night.

The Importance of Signage

I’ve been thinking about this one on & off for a few days. Something that’s vastly better about the public transport in London as opposed to Birmingham or elsewhere is the quality and quantity of the signage.

I was sitting on a London Overground train – which on a tangential point had departed from Brondesbury station, which has been very nicely refurbished and repainted following the TfL takeover – and I had a sudden realisation that I wasn’t even really sure I was on the right train, going to the right place.

On a Tube train, there’s pretty much always a map of the line somewhere in your eyeline, and the station you’re at or travelling to is clearly signposted by signs on the station platform itself, the recorded  station announcements, and the scrolling matrix displays. It’s almost impossible to lose track of where you are, so much so that you can master the Zen of Tube Travel and completely conk out on a trip back, waking up just at the right station.

On this Overground train I was totally lost – the station names weren’t announced, the stations were inadequately signed, and there were very few maps on display.

Which got me thinking about how important all this kind of stuff is.

For instance, the bus maps displayed at bus shelters are no end of useful, as they show not only the routes serving the local area, but a small street map showing the location of nearby bus stops. This is useful above and beyond simply finding buses, as it also gives the pedestrian both a map and a point of reference from which to navigate. It makes travelling around London a heck of a lot more pleasant, even when you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before.

However, travelling large distances on foot in London is still difficult. Using tube and bus maps for long-distance walks, or even short hops can be unhelpful because of the distortion of distances and positions to convey the networks in a simpler way.

So, rather handily, they’ve instituted a project called Legible London which aims to install good pedestrian signage across London to make pedestrian naviagation simpler and more intuitive, by capitalising on research into how we naturally navigate, i.e. forming mental networks of routes between landmarks. It’s very interesting stuff, and a prototype has been installed around the Bond Street Station / Oxford Street area.

Which might help certain people (who shall remain unnamed) realise that there is no actual street called Bond Street. To be fair, it’s a fairly common mistake :)

The Everett Interpretation

Or, as it’s often called, the Many Worlds Interpretation. It’s one of these things that’s often misunderstood. You’ve probably heard of the idea that every time a choice is made, the universe branches in two, and in one branch the choice went one way, and in the other, the choice went a different way. It’s a compelling idea, but it is, in fact, wrong. Or, to be more accurate, it’s been misinterpreted and oversimplified.

Alas, it’s hard to properly describe it without using words like “wavefunction” and “quantum state”, but I’m going to try anyway.

Your basic elementary particles like electrons have a property called spin, which is kind of like the particle spinning on its axis like a spinning globe, but in fact is actually very much not like that at all. Anyways, a particle can either be spinning one way, or spinning the other, and these are known as spin up and spin down states.

Which again, isn’t entirely true, because particles don’t have to be in either of the states, they can exist in what is known as a superposition, where the particle is a mixture of spin up and spin down, and only when you try and measure the spin state of a particle does it become up or down, a process known as collapse. This is the choice alluded to in the first paragraph – in one universe, the particle was seen to be spin up, and in the second, the particle was seen to be spin down. The superposition has collapsed into two definite outcomes.

Where the idea of the branching universes isn’t right is in this idea of collapse. What the originators of the orthodox Quantum Mechanics forgot to include was the vital element that essentially the person doing the observing and measuring is himself (or herself, with a lower probability…)  a quantum system, and the state of that quantum system is affected by the result of the measurement. Something different will get written down in the results.

In essence, the superposition of the spin states of the particle doesn’t collapse into certainty – the physicist instead enters a superposition! This is the crux of the idea – that large systems can enter superpositions, then each state in that superposition evolves independently of each other – forming individual universes, unreachable and undetectable.

This approach extends naturally to the entire universe, evolving in time as a single quantum system, with every single possible event playing out simultaneously.

It also has a rather grisly underside – the idea of a quantum suicide. As long as there exists a possible state in which you remain consciously aware, then a version of yourself will be consciously aware. Subjectively, this means that you can continue to survive an indefinite number of suicide attempts, murders, deaths by natural causes, etc. What worries me is that there are likely to be many more states in which you survive indefinitely in horrible pain than there are where everything goes really well.

This realisation really freaked me out the first time I sat and thought about it. Still unsettles me now.

Actually kinda makes me hope that Everett was wrong, and that wavefunction collapse does actually occur.

Irrational Desire

So I really want an Asus Eee. It’s roughly £200, although one place I’ve seen is selling at £189, and it’s possibly the teeny-tinest machine I have ever seen!

It’s about the size of a hardback book when closed, and doesn’t have a CD drive or a hard disk, but does have onboard flash memory to save stuff on, and wi-fi for getting on the Interweb. It runs Linux, because Windows is too expensive, but I’m cool with that, especially because I’ve been wanting to get my hands dirty (as it were) with Linux for a while now.

So the only difficulty I can see is that spending £189 would leave me uncomfortably close to being utterly broke. Which isn’t good, for very obvious reasons. Like my powerful need to continue being able to eat, but even so… I wants one.

Do you have an nVidia graphics card?

If so, you can get Portal: First Slice, composing:

  • Portal: First Slice (being the first third of Portal, the Game of the Year)
  • Half-Life 2: Deathmatch (being a game where you can kill people with ballistic toilets)
  • Half-Life 2: Lost Coast (short tech demo fun)
  • Peggle Extreme (addictive promotional puzzle game)

Seeing as how this bundle is free, it’s well worth getting!

Head over to the Steam website to get it.

Calling a mathematician!

So, I saw this the other day:
Xkcd Infinite Resistor Grid
I’m sure this problem has a solution. There’s an infinite number of variables, but there’s a more infinite number of equations that relate them together, so I’d imagine in principle there’s a solution.

Of course, infinity is weird, so I guess that might not be true? Clearly, I’m going to try solving this though.

Approximating π the Monte Carlo Way

  1. Draw a square on the ground, and within it, inscribe a circle.
  2. Throw rice into the square, as randomly as you can, counting how many grains of rice you’ve thrown.
  3. Count how many land in the circle.
  4. Divide by the number you threw, and multiply by 4.

Congratulations, you have estimated π. The more rice you throw, and the more randomly and uniformly you do it, the better the approximation. There’s something almost unsettling about this method…

Whoops.

I haven’t posted anything in just forever. Really it’s just symptomatic of my complete failure to have any discipline in any whatsoever. I really had grand plans for this blog, like learning XHTML/CSS and making it pretty and the like – all of which have been utter failures.

So, I think I’ll try and write either every day or on a M/W/F schedule. See how it goes.

Anyways, in summary:

Buy the Orange Box, you fools! If you have a gaming bone in your body, or even if you don’t, go get it.

Quantum Mechanics is both hard and intellectually satisfying simultaneously.

God still doesn’t exist.

The TV spots for The Golden Compass make me angry: "Legend tells that the last Golden Compass – whoever can read it has the power to rule the universe… The quest for the compass begins". I’m… urgh. The book (which is actually called Northern Lights) is one of my absolute favourite books of all time, and it makes me angry to see it mutilated so. I hope that this trailer is only aimed at incredibly stupid obese Americans, able only deal with plots shallower than the pools of hideous drool collecting underneath their slack, lifeless mouths.

I want to see a documentary about Tony Blair on TV on Sunday, but I’m probably going to forget.

Going swimming by yourself is about 15 different kinds of dull.

I waste a frightening number of hours every single day.

I got the new Buffy Season 8 comic, it’s awesome, one of the best yet. I also picked up the "Tales of the Slayer" graphic novel, which is a collection of stories about slayers in the past, written by some of the people who wrote Buffy for TV. And it has more Fray, and Fray is just brilliant-fantastic.

I’m sure some other things’ll come to me later. There are so many things I want to tell people that I only think of while I’m by myself. It’s an annoying paradox is what it is.

Andy out.