Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The start of the Walled Garden

We were out bright and early-ish this morning to the local Garden Centre: Clare wanted to start her Walled Garden off. We bought five climbing plants, chosen for their fragrant flowers, and their planted portraits are shown below.

Clare - optimistic everything's going to grow just fine

I'm off to Reading tomorrow evening seeing clients Friday and early next week on security accreditation matters (see my earlier post). But first I have to go to the dentist and get two fillings redrilled. It never gets any more fun does it?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Two Serious Ladies" by Jane Bowles

A review of the novel "Two Serious Ladies" by Jane Bowles (Amazon Vine).


Christina Goering, daughter of a rich and distinguished family is a difficult child. Driven by her fervent imagination she flits between cultish fads, dragging other children into her worlds, children who can’t comprehend and therefore cordially dislike her.

As a grown woman, she lives in a smart house outside of New York - it’s the early 1940s. Soon, however we find her abandoning luxury to live with her lady companion and a couple of male admirers in a cheap leased house on a run-down island downwind of a nasty industrial town with glue factories. Soon she is visiting the roughest dives, making out with the local tough guys and finally allowing herself to be picked up by a gangster.

Her friend Mrs Frieda Copperfield has a puppyish dolt of a husband, endlessly battily curious, self-centred and lacking all common sense (an ENTP I’m afraid). They go to Panama where Mrs Copperfield ends up befriending a local prostitute, Pacifica and living in the “hotel” in the red-light district where the prostitutes conduct their business with visiting sailors.

Various adventures befall Mrs Copperfield and the people she meets and finally she returns to New York with Pacifica and meets up again with Christina Goering. This time at a restaurant where the gangster is conducting his business. And there the novel ends.

Jane Bowles wrote this when she was 26. She was already a bohemian, bisexual, hanging out with W.H. Auden and Gipsy Rose Lee. The novel is billed as a cult classic, her masterpiece: I was therefore very curious myself as to how it would measure up.

To start with, the book is a very easy read. The two women’s narratives are told in parallel with linear plot development and short sentences. It’s at once apparent that the characters are not meant to be real people: they’re archetypes of a kind of intellectual anomie, people who are there to show and work out strategies of alienation. The two serious women of the title are not well-differentiated: I would say that Frieda Copperfield is Christina Goering with competence turned down and neuroticism turned up. In Myers-Briggs parlance, they’re both ENFPs.

What is striking about both women is that they pursue their counter-cultural life-choices with absolutely no thought of the consequences. A rough type (Andy) after being involved in a brawl says to Miss Goering “It would please me in the midst of all this horror to go to bed with you. But in order to do this we’ll have to leave this bar and go to my apartment.” “Well, I can’t promise you anything but I will be glad to go to your apartment” Miss Goering replies. And nothing bad happens to her (or Frieda) - ever. Nobody hits them, rapes them, steals from them or even swears at them.

So I saw this novel in the end as Jane Bowles playing with personal scenarios of rootlessness, the excitement and novelty of random sexual encounters, the accumulation of novel experiences for their own sake: and most of all, a complete and enduring lack of personal emotional commitment. So although as a literary accomplishment this book is merely so-so, as a view of the personal drives and demons of the very-unusual Jane Bowles it’s very interesting indeed.

Note: the subject matter might suggest this is a very prurient book, full of shockingly explicit sexual scenes. But in fact everything is merely hinted at – the most overt description is when the gangster puts his hand on Miss Goering’s knee (having taken her for an up-market prostitute).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Immortality at last

The Economist last week had a survey article on the state of Human Genome research ten years on from the original announcement. The prediction is that soon anyone can have their full genome transcribed for $1,000 in a process which will take 15 minutes. And that opens up some possibilities.

Let's suppose that in 200 years time it's a routine matter to clone an individual from such a genome description: I'd be really interested in being around then.

- Did we discover intelligent life 'out there'?
- Do we finally have a theory of everything?
- Are the starships departing on their light-year journeys?
- Are we surrounded by artificial intelligences?
- Have England finally won the World Cup?

Perhaps I should leave a modest sum in my Will to be invested in bringing about my resurrection (along with a the digital transcription of my genome)?

A couple of points.

1. I expect as a matter of course that before my genome is cloned there will be a basic editing sweep designed to fix all the obvious mutational flaws: any propensity to cancer, heart disease etc. Works for me.

2. It has been argued that what I'm buying here is a twin, not myself getting a second life 200 years on. But I don't buy that: it's me really - the only things which will be lacking are my personal memories - just information. But I'm sure there's enough data (e.g. in blogs like this) to reconstruct my life the first time around. Some smart AI system could edit it all together into an immersive 3D movie-like biography and after my future cloned-self had experienced it I'd be in the same situation that I'm today (namely I have rather partial and biased personal memories).

3. In theory I don't have to get my genome transcribed, any biological sample (such as hair) would do. But the digital version strikes me as being much more reliable. Perhaps the smart thing is to do both - it's conceivable there could be some data thrown away in the current transcription process (such as 3D DNA conformation).

Anyway, it seems to me that for $1,000, effective immortality will shortly be here at last. What's not to like?


While I'm about it, why not accept some additional pre-cloning genome-transcription editing to improve my memory, IQ and general ability to handle abstractions. After all, understanding the successor to 'String Theory' is going to take some serious smarts.

Perhaps when the edit is finished they could do a search on the genome database and find out if there were anyone else alive at that time who had an essentially identical genome to my improved version (it wouldn't surprise me).

In that case, I'm already experiencing my second life without the bother of getting cloned after all. Perhaps in that case I should just arrange for an email (or whatever replaces it) to be sent to that person - with my biography as an attachment!

Fuse-Box Settings for reference

Reference: Fuse-Box Settings

Just in case we ever have to change them and need to know how they were set originally. Click to enlarge.

Fuse Box Settings

PAC Construction

Just a note here to say thanks to Peter Hutchinson,the proprietor of PAC Construction who did the building work on our house in Wells which is now completed. His people:

- Fitted the kitchen
- Fitted all three bathrooms installing toilets, shower and bath
- Changed the boiler and fixed the central heating
- Sanded the doors
- Demolished an ageing lean-to and a large secure storage facility
- Laid the patio
- Built the wall
- Widened the drive
- Tarmaced the drive.

The work was well-organised and efficiently carried out by a trustworthy and conscientious team. Recommended to anyone else in the area south of Bristol.

The wall and drive - built by PAC

PAC Construction, West Close/Cameley Rd, Temple Cloud, Bristol, BS39 5AF. Tel: 01761 451 551.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fun at the seaside

Today Clare and myself visited my brother Adrian and his wife Anne at their holiday site at Brean (near Burnham-on-sea). My mother was also staying with them. So here below are the family snaps taken as the sun shone through a veil of wispy clouds and a constant warmish wind blew in from the sea. Most of the pictures will enlarge if you click on them.

As we sunbathed, chatted and drank beer we thought of our son Adrian on his first day in New Zealand and hoped he and his travelling companions had got some sleep, had bought their car and had got themselves to the mountains so that their snowboarding vacation-cum-work could properly begin.

Yes, it's the sea!

Anne and her dog

Clare - the witch of Wells

Anne, Adrian, Beryl, Nigel

On the beach at Brean

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Continuum Computation

Roy Simpson writes:

Speaking of models of computation (as we sometimes do), I have off and on wondered about the following model. Reading an old (online) paper by Engelbart has reminded me of it again. I wonder whether you think this idea as any merit.

Normally in digital computation the core construct is:

State1 -----> Action A1 ------> State2

This is the basis of all the models whether Finite State Machine or Turing machine. However we know that in some modelling situations (ranging from robot modelling to Project Planning) we would write an expression like this and then say:

"to undertake Action1 we need to do activities A11, A12, ..., A19 (perhaps in sequence, perhaps in parallel)".

So we have to decompose the action A1 into subactions. As a separate but perhaps related point we might want to decompose State1 and State2 into substates as well: State11, State12, ..., State19; State21, State22, ..., State29.

Either way we have decomposed the process definition above. If we iterate this then we go to as much detail as needed in the Project Plan etc. So we generally assume that there is some atomic set of subsub Actions and subsub States from which the whole system can be built up. However what if such atomic actions (resp. States) didn't always exist? Then we would have e.g. Actions like:


where the notation indicates some concept of subAction of the next integer (so it is a sub...Action of Action1 and of subAction12). This looks like a real number (or some exotic like a hyperreal) labeling the Action (and corresponding States if we do them too).

If this can be made consistent it is a little bit analogous (maybe) to the non-foundation axiom sometimes discussed for Set Theory, so that some sets have infinite descending chains of membership. Also it looks more like a continuum model of computation rather than the usual discrete ones. Anyway it is something to think about to see if a consistent model can formed here. Any thoughts?


--- Reply ---

So you presented various mathematical structures here:

1. A tree with finite branching but at least one branch of infinite depth.

2. As above but with at least one infinite branch.

3. A sequence of nodes which is in one-to-one correspondence with the digits of an infinite (non-recurring?) real number.

You want to associate an action (a computational step) with each of the nodes of the trees in (1) and (2) and with each digit in (3).

So the question is: are there any interesting computation-theoretic issues associated with any of these structures?

Well the first reminds me of automated theorem-proving where the program does a depth first search looking for a proof of the root-node proposition. The case of an infinitely-deep branch corresponds to a non-terminating compution of course, an indication that the proposed theorem is not actually true (it might be undecidable). I seem to recall from the days when I studied this that it was recommended to start two copies of the theorem-prover: one to prove P and the other to prove not-P. You'd then get tripped up only by undecidability.

The second case doesn't normally arise in theorem-provers as there is a finite set of axioms and theorems to apply at each node.

More exotically one could consider models of computation where as the actions (computational steps) got "smaller" the time to compute them decreased commensurately. Then infinite computations could terminate in finite time. This is so unphysical in digital terms that I guess few people think about it. However there might be continuum models of computation (what we used to call analogue computation) where something interesting could be said, rather reminiscent of the way number-theoretic resultsd are proved via an excursion through the reals or the complex numbers.

Definitely worth a second look!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ebbor Gorge

Such a nice day today. We decided to walk to the Ebbor Gorge, a site of Special Scientific Interest quite close to us. To get there we walked up to the local ridge 250 metres above our house. From the top there were some wonderful views ... we could actually see the sea at Burnham.

Clare out on the hills

The author

A view from the top

Above is a panoramic view which Clare insisted on populating twice. Click on the image for the best view. We discussed the possibilities of a moment of wild-passion in the wild-flower meadow close to the top of the Gorge. Clare was of course basically up for it except she reckoned she was a trifle over-dressed. Also, on these occasions no-one ever mentions the flies do they? I'm sure they'd be attracted.

As you can see the weather was great and the whole trip, back via Wookey Hole took around three hours.

Sex on Saturday

They're stuttering around the pitch like blind men, frustrated and tensed up after weeks of deprivation. There's only one thing for it: send in the WAGs. Across England critical-response teams power up their prowlers as hairdressing appointments are cancelled under emergency override. The WAGs are transferred from patrol car to helicopter to fast jet on their urgent voyage to South Africa.

We can only hope it works.

Clare and myself went down to the Strode Theatre in Street yesterday evening to see Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, performed by Street amateur dramatics. We didn't know anything important about this play so enjoyed it as a naive mini-audience. Well, the cast put on a stupendous performance with nary a welsh accent slipping as we voyeuristically observed 24 hours in the life of the tiny and insignificant welsh coastal port of Llareggub (spell it backwards) situated "under Milk Wood". Veering between gentle mockery, bawdyness and poignancy we got under the skins of a vast cast of local characters. OK, we were well impressed.

Then we came home and tuned into BBC-4's The Chatterley Affair which creates a fictional parallel between a brief affair between two of the jurors on the "Lady Chatterley's Lover" trial and the book itself. We liked it and then we went to bed.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Photo Scrapbook

Today we had three builders working outside finishing off the wall and sundry other tasks; three Everest workers indoors putting in six double-glazing windows (action sequence below). For a time we were huddled in the back bedroom, the only one unaffected by work: then we went to delightfully-Georgian Frome to shop at M&S.

This afternoon we walked down to Wells market square and sank pint after pint as Switzerland improbably socked it to Spain. However, by the end of the week it should all be done.

Study area before

Study area during ...

Study area after

Adrian leaves tomorrow to visit relatives in Liverpool on the first leg of his trip to New Zealand and back on the snow. Clare is sorting his hair styling out below.

Adrian helping Clare with work-experience hairdressing

In other news the cat completely ignores his drinking water bowl and has taken to drinking the rinsing water. I believe the subtle flavours attract him (like those fruit-tinged waters you can buy in the supermarket).

Shadow drinking the rinsing water

Part of our campaign to free up bookshelf space round the house, our first donation to the local library shown below. The library staff pounced upon them eagerly - we're obviously culturally well-matched: completely middlebrow.

Donated to Wells library

Not a fantastic shot of the Tescos staff below, but every supermarket has abandoned its entrance floor display in favour of mountains of lager.

The world cup at Tescos

Next week we have the tarmacing to be completed, the cavity wall insulation to be be booked, the blinds to be measured up and the water pipes to be checked for lead. I think another three weeks and we're done but it should be quieter from now on.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Black Stuff

The boys from the black stuff tarmacing our drive (Thursday, below). Afterwards it had that slightly sticky feeling when we walked on it.

Today the guys are continuing to work on the walls.

I see that Ciena are acquiring Nortel's Metro-Ethernet business. I hadn't realised that Ciena has around 2,000 people and so does the Nortel ME business: quite a sizeable bite to digest.

This morning I joined Wells library hoping they would have a good stock of books by Milan Kundera ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being" etc): however there was nothing - (the parochialism of rural life - don't get me started!).

I also asked if they would accept donated books (thinking of my extensive collection of slightly out-of-date volumes on TCP/IP, DNS, NAT, IPsec, etc etc; also endless physics popularisations: Woit, Smolin, Wilczek, Susskind, Greene).

The severe-looking but quite amiable woman looked unenthusiastic: "No more than ten please and we wouldn't accept them if we didn't think they'd be flying off the shelves."

OK, I paraphrase a bit.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

It will be Ed Miliband

The Electoral College for the Labour leadership contest is split equally between MPs, constituency members and affiliated organisations (primarily the Trades Unions). The political views of each of these blocks is completely understood.

- The Trades Unions want the Labour Party to be their political wing, expressing the sectional interests of organised labour.

- The constituencies want a dose of traditional labour leftism.

- The parliamentary party (including MEPs) are all over the place.

There is no set of rational policies which can simultaneously deliver the vote across the college and achieve a plurality in the electorate at large: this will be the undoing of David M.

Ed Balls will work just fine for the Trades Unionists and CLP members but sufficient people will judge him to be a tribal and divisive figure who cannot win an election to scupper his chances.

Ed Miliband will play the "values" card, as he is already doing and will be policy-lite. By seeming "one of us" across the college he won't activate the Labour Party's immune system (unlike his elder brother) and will come across as sufficiently affable to position himself as a winner at the next election.

So I guess I should pop down to the betting shop and put my money where my post is? - Let me just check the odds at time of writing ...


Hardly seems worth it unless I were delusional about Diane ... and then magically proven correct!

This and That

A roller-coaster of a week.

- It was sunny so we went to the seaside (last Thursday) - subsequently there's been nothing but rain.

- There was the tantalising prospect of a new contract (I was all set up to travel to Berkshire on Monday) - but almost immediately it all fell through.

- Due to the weather, bulding work at our home has slowed down. The side-wall is not entirely finished but all the work today is in preparation for the laying of the tarmac on the drive tomorrow. Next week it's the double-glazing; the week after that it's finishing the wall.

Today I finished Sean Caroll's book "From Eternity to Here" which is an extended essay on the nature of time and why there is an arrow of time. Carroll outlines the orthodox position which is that time is an expression of the increasing entropy of the universe which raises the question of why the past (going back to the Big Bang) had a lower entropy in the first place. A number of possibilities are considered leveraging GR, QM and (speculatively) quantum gravity until we get to Carroll's preferred explanation (baby universes in a de Sitter multiverse).

Carroll is a gifted teacher, writing with great conceptual clarity and repeatedly illustrating his points with striking insights. Writing a book which is essentially about how the great physical theories of the age handle entropy was always going to be a challenge to make interesting. Still, I can't imagine anyone making a better job of it and there is a satisfying sense of cognitive closure as the book is finally closed. I'd say he's ENTP.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The countryside south of Wells

Take a break! Haven't done that for a few months. This morning I continued with Sean Carroll's "From Eternity to Here" and I reached the chapter where he's talking about Nietzsche and eternal recurrence, the subject of yesterday's post. I feel the topic is recurring all over again.

This afternoon Clare and myself left Adrian painting and the workmen building our wall and headed off into the country to explore woods to the south of Dulcote.

Clare fronting Wells Cathedral in the distance

Naturally we followed a path into the wood, ignoring the 'Keep Out' signs and the disconcerting way the path eventually petered out. We were finally reduced to scrambling up a desperately wet, slippy and most of all steep hillside to finally tunnel under the barbed-wire fence at the top and thus escape what had become a wood from childhood fairy tales.

Clare wanted me in front of the TV mast

It was then a long way back to our home and Clare ended up with a big blister. It's been covered with Germolene and a sterile pad, held in place by her woolly house-socks, which she has threatened to wear to bed.

Cheer up - it's a nice day!

The two of us by some miracle of photography - note the intense concentration ...

Tomorrow we're thinking of spending the day at the seaside as it promises to be warm.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Autopoietic Systems

Roy Simpson wrote to me as follows:


I have found some links to books by Rosen - which I haven't seen referenced in your AI papers. Some of the ideas here are interesting from my Penrose (-related) computability work, although also he is trying to model biological systems mathematically.

Here is one link on his key definition of the distinction between simple and complex systems. Simple systems have all Turing-computable models whereas complex systems (the interesting ones for life modelling) have non-computable models.

I actually found this book via a route involving Prof Bernie Cohen's pages. I am wondering whether to order the book and give it a proper study. Then there might be the question of relating it to your reactive systems etc.


--- My Reply ---

If you do order it, and review it with a healthy dose of skepticism,then I think that would be interesting.

There's a long, quasi-Marxist tradition of philosophical-conceptual analysis of biology. I remember back in our STL days Bernie and myself were much enamoured of Francisco Varela who coined the term 'autopoietic system' (self-producing systems) and wrote a book about it which leveraged universal algebra and category theory.

God, how we studied and discussed that book! (Principles of Biological Autonomy - now almost unobtainable: try instead Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living).

However, I am now inclined to believe that these paradigms - although fascinating - flatter to deceive and that they truly add little fundamental insight. I would be deliriously happy to be proven wrong!

NOTE: One of the concepts given extended treatment by Varela was Spencer-Brown's Laws of Form. In its 'mystical and declamatory prose' Spencer-Brown's work was entirely aligned with the quasi-Hegelian, dialectical approach of this whole school of thought. The maths retains an interest however.