Why minds are not like computers#

AI proponents understand that communication is possibly the most important way of demonstrating intelligence, but by denying the importance of each agent's internal comprehension, they ironically deny that any real meaning is conveyed through communication, thus ridding it of any connection to intelligence. While AI partisans continue to argue that the existence of thinking and social interaction in programs is demonstrated by their mimicry of observed human input-output behavior, they have merely shifted the burden of proof from the first-person experience of the programs themselves to the first-person experiences of the people who interact with them. So although behaviorists and functionalists have long sought to render irrelevant the truth of Descartes' cogito, the canonization of the Turing Test has merely transformed I think therefore I am into I think you think therefore you are.

A detailed, smart and thoughtful analysis of the many conflations and misunderstandings long prevalent in the study of strong AI, and how the goals of the field have become somewhat less ambitious over time. (I realize it's a very long article, but power through it — it's worth it.)

Particles have free will#

A new paper co-authored by mathematician John Conway, inventor of a cellular automata demonstration known as the Game of Life, argues that you can't explain the spin or decay of particles by randomness, nor are they determined, so free will is the only option left.

Scientists give a hand(edness) to the search for alien life#

The technique the team has developed for detecting life elsewhere in the universe will not spot aliens directly. Rather, it could allow spaceborne instruments to see a telltale sign that life may have influenced a landscape: a preponderance of molecules that have a certain "chirality," or handedness. A right-handed molecule has the same composition as its left-handed cousin, but their chemical behavior differs. Because many substances critical to life favor a particular handedness, Thom Germer and his colleagues think chirality might reveal life's presence at great distances, and have built a device to detect it.

'Hidden photons' to send secret messages through Earth#

Hidden photons are a class of particles predicted by so-called supersymmetric extensions to the standard model of particle physics. Unlike normal photons, hidden photons could have a tiny mass and would be invisible because they would not interact with the charged particles in conventional matter. This means hidden photons would flit through even the densest materials unaffected.

[…]

[O]ver the 12,700-kilometre diameter of the Earth, the signal capacity would be just 1 bit per second.

Tweetie for Mac

April 23, 2009

I know, just what you need, another take on Atebits' latest creation, Tweetie for Mac (which was released earlier this week), but bear with me, because my opinion matters!  ;)

127-character review: superficially, the app clearly has a minimalist bent (nice!), but that elegant simplicity belies its very powerful feature set (much like the iPhone version of the app).

When I initially launched the app I really wasn't sure whether it was going to work for me in the long run; yeah, it was pretty, but I'd become so accustomed to TweetDeck's multi-column interface (see my previous post on TweetDeck) that I didn't think I could ever deviate too far from it.

That said, after having used Tweetie for three full days now, I definitely am sold on it (hell, I already (happily) dropped $15 on the no-ads version). In fact, most of the people I follow on Twitter who have given it a shot have made it known that they too have been persuaded to leave behind whatever client they were using previously.

Tweetie for Mac is beautiful, fast and works just the way I want. Indeed, like its iPhone equivalent (from which it borrows much of its look and feel), it's now the desktop client to beat as far as I'm concerned.

Tweetie separates your tweets into three categories (each of which gets its own icon): main timeline, mentions (i.e., @replies+) and direct messages, and you can view only one of these at any give time. At first I thought this would be a deal breaker for me given how much I'd come to rely on TweetDeck's ability to let me see all three of these at once. However, I've come to like a lot the one-context view; it makes the app a bit more unobtrusive and ‘backgroundy.' Furthermore, I quite like the animation that occurs when you switch between the three views; it's fun.

I love love love the way Tweetie maintains scroll position. Here's how it works: switch to the app, read, scroll up, read, scroll up, etc., until there are no more unread tweets. No thought is required with regard to which tweets you have or haven't read, or where you were in the timeline when you last took the focus away from the app; when you return to the program you simply begin where you left off. (I'm pretty sure Twitterrific is the only other desktop app that handles this sort of thing even remotely "correctly.")

Another great feature is the ability to set a system-wide keyboard shortcut for bringing up the "New Tweet" dialog. Truth be told, when I first noticed that posting tweets in Tweetie occurred in a window separate from the main app, I immediately started thinking about how I might invoke it with a global hotkey (e.g., by using some combination of AppleScript, FastScripts and the provided JavaScript (bookmarklet)). Not until after I was well on my way to figuring that out did I notice that Tweetie provided the same thing natively. This feature really goes to the background-iness of the app; with a simple key sequence I can fire off a tweet without ever having to jump into the app proper (and risk getting sucked into catching up on the timeline). (Yes, you of course could do this a hundred different ways (e.g., via Quicksilver), but it's nice that it's built into the app.)

In addition to the stuff outlined above, the app is filled with all kinds of thoughtful niceties:

  • If you scroll to the end of the timeline it automatically pulls down the next few tweets.
  • If you click too far down a rabbit hole, you can see your path at the top (similar to what Path Finder does when you're browsing your machine) and click any "point" along the path to get back to that point.
  • Clicking a hashtag runs a search on it.
  • Shortened URIs are resolved so that you can see where they link to before you go to them (TweetDeck recently added this too).
  • Double-clicking a tweet reveals its conversation history (if existent).
  • Direct messages and @replies are displayed in "conversation" form.

(Also, it's worth mentioning that after three full days of solid use, the app is eating up less than 30MB of real memory; TweetDeck could not get off the ground with just 30MB, much less stay in the air.)

There are of course some things I'd like to see modified/added, most of which I'm sure already are on Atebits' radar:

  • Icon list (e.g., timeline, mentions, etc.) on the right rather than the left.
  • Option to remove the menubar icon.
  • Ability to change the rate at which the app polls for new tweets.
  • Indication of the number of unread tweets.
  • Indication of how many API requests remain before the quota is reset.
  • Something other than "Bad Gateway" to indicate current API issues (perhaps there are others, but in three days that's all I've seen).

On the whole, it's a great application that you want to use.

Is understanding the selfless behavior of ants, bees and wasps the key to a new evolutionary synthesis?#

It would appear that altruistic traits should quickly become rare and go extinct, since altruists always fare worse than their selfish neighbors. They expose themselves to the danger of death while the selfish save their own skins, simultaneously benefiting from the protective behavior of the altruist. But altruism is everywhere. Somehow, evolution bridges the gap between the individual, where altruism dies, and the group, which it vivifies.

For Sloan Wilson, the solution is straightforward: Altruism is advantageous at a larger scale, and that is the scale at which natural selection selects it. Altruism is good for the group; therefore its evolution and persistence are inevitable.

The bride was beautiful#

Katie Kirkpatrick, 21, held off cancer to celebrate the happiest day of her life. Katie had chased away cancer once, only to have it return — to clog her lungs and grab hold of her heart. Breathing was difficult now, she had to use oxygen. The pain in her back was so intense it broke through the morphine that was supposed to act as a shield. Her organs were shutting down but would not stop her from marrying Nick Godwin, 23, who was in love with since 11th grade. Five days later, Katie died.

I, of course, cried as I went through this set of photos. The brilliant juxtaposition of decay and undisturbed excitement in photo #6 is especially powerful. (Via Jason Kottke.)

Danny MacAskill riding for Inspired Bicycles#

[T]his video of Inspired Bicycles team rider Danny MacAskill features probably the best collection of street/street trials riding ever seen. There's some huge riding, but also some of the most technically difficult and imaginative lines you will ever see. Without a doubt, this video pushes the envelope of what is perceived as possible on a trials bike.

Uh, wow. (Via Andy Baio.)

History of video games (1972-2007)#

I'm pretty sure most of you will quite enjoy this video. (It's shown against Tom Waits' "Shiny Things," which actually works out better than you'd expect.)

Googling the brain on a chip#

Kwabena Boahen is using the human brain as the blueprint for designing radically more powerful and energy-efficient computers. In this short demo, Boahen describes how his Brains in Silicon lab at Stanford University has created computer chips with "synapses" and "neurons" — and how these chips might revolutionize computing.

Inside a Google data center#

Google provided a look inside its data center operations at the [recent] Google Data Center Efficiency Summit. The presentations included a video tour of a Google data center, which showcased the company's use of shipping containers to store servers and storage. Each of these 40-foot data center containers can house up to 1,160 servers, and Google has been using them since it began building its own facilities in 2005.

Black Rain#

Black Rain is sourced from images collected by the twin satellite, solar mission, STEREO. Here we see the HI (Heliospheric Imager) visual data as it tracks interplanetary space for solar wind and CME's (coronal mass ejections) heading towards Earth.

Beautiful and mesmerizing, if a bit creepy. There's something very Kubrick about it. (See also Brilliant Noise.)

Scarpar#

If this ever is sold, I likely will buy one. Be sure to watch the videos.

Flutter: The New Twitter#

"We limit our users' posts, or ‘flaps' is what we like to call them, because it's like a hummingbird's wings flapping, which is like really fast, which is like, you know, faster than a regular bird tweets."

It's a pretty funny video.

The rebellion of the ant slaves#

[S] ome of the kidnapped workers don't bow to the whims of their new queen. Once they have matured, they start killing the pupae of their captors, destroying as many as two-thirds of the colony's brood.

Why Bit.ly will upstage Digg#

Smart piece from Om, though I think he maybe does not give enough weight to Twitter in this scenario. URI shorteners have been around for a long time, but have taken off only recently, and almost exclusively because of Twitter's 140-character limit. If Twitter, say, doubles that limit, or starts losing users to Facebook, etc. (where the limit is not really an issue), I suspect use of the shorteners will decline commensurately.

If I were an investor I'd probably think twice about throwing money at a service that is so predicated on the fickleness of users and the whims of app developers (e.g., TweetDeck, my favorite Twitter client, defaults to bit.ly for shortening, but that could change tomorrow), not to mention the sheer number of competing shortening services (TweetDeck alone supports 13 of them).

All of that said, I definitely do think there is serious value in being able to generate a list of the most currently-popular URIs from across the web (instead of just those that are bubbled up through a particular site, e.g., Digg).

Interview with Todd Jackson, Gmail's product manager#

On the five-year "beta" descriptor:

"We have very, very high standards for the product," Jackson explained, "as we do for all Google products. But we are not ready to come out of beta yet. There are a few things that we're working on, and once we meet a couple more of those criteria, we would love to come out of beta."

*yawn*

On the only thing that really matters at this point:

Jackson would not comment directly on what's in store for Gmail, though he did leave the possibility of a dedicated iPhone client on the table.

I want! I want!