# Update on the D-Word

Dwight Read is another academic who uses the word Darwinism to refer to evolution by natural selection. During his plenary talk this morning, Read spoke of “Universal Darwinism,” Dawkins’ term for the idea that natural selection is not substrate-specific and can in principle be applied to non-biological things, like cultural memes.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s folklore among the science-blogging community that British academics are more likely to use “Darwinism” in this sense than Americans are. (Over here, hearing the D-word is a pretty sure sign you’re dealing with a creationist, or at least somebody whose knowledge derives too much from creationist sources. I wonder if there’s also a bit of national pride at work.) Read is currently at UCLA, but in 1999 was a visiting professor at the University of Kent, Canterbury.

# A Homecoming of Princes

While I try to figure out how to upload all the pictures I’ve taken at ICCS to the NECSI website, my deci-PZ of readers might enjoy this story. As a Prom King myself (no, really) I take a special pleasure in announcing that Davis Senior High School of Davis, California has elected a gay couple to homecoming royalty.

â€œPeople were so excited for us,â€ [Kiernan] Gatewood said of the coupleâ€™s victory, announced a few weeks ago. â€œWe were a little surprised, but Davis â€¦â€

â€œIs a liberal town,â€ interrupts his boyfriend of four months, [Brandon] Raphael. â€œGo 10 miles in any other direction and youâ€™ll get some other feeling.â€

Unlike my high school, Davis does not put names on its homecoming ballots; the two princes won in a purely write-in election.

(Tip o’ the felt-and-sequin crown to The Greenbelt.)

# All Hallows

To begin at the end:

This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo!

Starting now, we couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night… so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn’t mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business.

So goodbye everybody, and remember please, for the next day or so, the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian… it’s Halloween.

Tonight, if you aren’t spreading madness over the airwaves, as the Mercury Theatre did; if you’re not showing off comets as you hand out candy; if you’re not dressing up as an antiparticle seeking to annihilate with an attractive particle, as Jennifer Ouellette suggests; then you should at least have a song in your heart.

# ICCS: Emergence in Particle Systems 1

I typed the following notes during Hiroki Sayama‘s presentation on “Phase separation and dynamic pattern formation in heterogeneous self-propelled particle systems.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a WiFi signal in the room where Sayama gave his talk, so I’m falling short of the gonzo science ideal, posting about the talk after it was given instead of as it occurs.

Sayama is speaking about particle swarm systems, and the phase-separation and dynamic pattern formation behaviors they exhibit. He adds the novel feature of heterogeneity to the particle system. Research on self-propelled particles goes back to Reynolds (1987), Vicsek et al. (1995), Aldana et al. (2003), Chuang et al. (2006), etc. Reynolds was a computer scientist who created a method for simulating bird flocking, which developed into the simulation which created the bats in the otherwise unremarkable Batman Begins. Vicsek and Aldana were physicists.

These systems show collective behaviors such as random clustering, coherent motions and milling. The same system can exhibit all of these behaviors, depending upon the input parameters. Cranking up the noise can induce phase transitions. Almost all of this work focused on homogeneous particle systems, in which all particles share the same kinetic particles. What, then, would happen if two or more types of self-propelled particles were mixed together?

Sayama works in a framework he calls Swarm Chemistry, which is implemented as a Java applet that can be run online.
Continue reading ICCS: Emergence in Particle Systems 1

# ICCS: Monday Evening

The parts between talks are the best parts of conferences. Sure, it’s great to hear Greg Chaitin deliver his sermon about the ideal realm of pure mathematics being an infinite ocean of complexity, out of which we can only seize finite buckets — but Chaitin writes about that kind of thing, and you can read it for free online. It’s an altogether different experience to discuss during the coffee break Mike Stay and Cristian Calude’s paper, “From Heisenberg to GÃ¶del via Chaitin,” with one of the three men in the title.

Question-and-answer sessions after the presentations can also be quite good. Last night, for example, Barbara Jasny of Science Magazine explained how that publication is adapting to the whizbang modern world. It’s reassuring to hear that at least one person in the publishing community has a common-sense understanding of what cheap, open digital access means: journals can only justify charging prices if those prices reflect the actual value which those journals add. More interesting than that, however, was Jasny’s reaction to the question from Frannie Leautier, former Vice-President of the World Bank and currently head of the World Bank Institute. Leautier asked if Science would publish articles which used cartoons as illustrations (instantly endearing herself to all the Larry Gonick and Sid Harris fans in the audience).

# ICCS: Sunday Morning

The following is my first attempt to liveblog ICCS 2007. I arrived at the Quincy Marriott shortly before 8:30 this morning, having driven south on I-93 from Boston. Unlike the first time I drove out here, I didn’t get lost in Braintree, since I took the left fork at the “Braintree split,” where I-93 undergoes mitosis. These things are important to know.

The morning’s plenary talks began with Diana Dabby (Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering), who spoke about chaotic transformations one can apply to music in order to generate musical variations, as in “Variations on a Theme of Beethoven.” Her scheme begins by breaking the musical performance into a sequence of pitches, denoted $p_i$, and then mapping each $p_i$ to a section of a dynamical trajectory on a chaotic attractor like the Lorentz owl/butterfly mask.

# Shameless

A little while ago, the cast and crew of NECSI were sitting around eating pizza and birthday cake, and Justin, who happened to be visiting today, told a story about “a friend of a friend.” This fellow, so the story goes, is polygamous, and his mother recently found out.

“How can these people do that?” she asked. “How can they live with themselves? It’s just downright shameful behavior. I mean, mixing Greek and Latin roots in the same word! Any son of mine will be either polyphilic or multigamous.

I have no idea whether or not this story is true, but now that I’ve repeated it on the Internet, it will be.

# Today’s History Lesson

Bear in mind, I got just about the best public-school education an American youngster could reasonably hope for. My high school was in the well-to-do end of town, and in fact ours was the only school district which did not include a low-income housing project. (This made for an interesting social dynamic when our quiz-bowl team went to competitions outside of town. In Huntsville, we were the rich kids, but when we played against schools like Vestavia, we became the scrappy champions of the downtrodden.) Therefore, every time I notice something that my education should have covered but didn’t, I get a bad vibe. Wasting the few resources our society devotes to education — that’s not a pretty spectacle.

Despite a year of AP United States History and a semester of AP American Government, I actually didn’t know this:

When the Senate, of the very first Congress, was considering the wording of the religion clauses of what was to become the First Amendment, it rejected, on September 3, 1789, two proposed phrases that, if adopted, could have arguably only prevented government from favoring one religion over another. The first proposed wording, rejected by the Senate, read: â€œCongress shall make no law establishing one religious sect or society in preference to any other.â€ The Senate additionally rejected wording that read: â€œCongress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination or religion in preference to any other.â€ The Senate finally chose wording that read: â€œCongress shall make no law establishing articles of faith or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.â€

So, thank you, Eddie Tabash, for writing your brief to the California Supreme Court!

# Skeptic’s Circle #72

We’re not the Messiah! We’re a bunch of very naughty kids.

# I’m Out of Touch

Not only that, but I’m not even au courant with the people who are behind the times. Why do I say this? Well, Coturnix points to a query from CBS News:

I received a query from CBS News technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg about “the older generation” on Facebook. Do you have a story to share about your experiences on Facebook, particularly in relation to teens, many of whom call us over-40s “the creepies”? Or do you know teens or twenty-somethings willing to say how they feel about parents and geezers coming online and inspecting their Facebook profiles? CBS News will sort through the responses and may seek to interview some of the respondents.

I’m not on Facebook, nor do I have a spot on MySpace; I’m just not interested. Consequently, I don’t know the lingo. Stuck as I am between the teenage years and the over-40 realm, I’m just old enough that I can be moderately ignorant of both. However, I will say that “the creepies” sounds exactly like the sort of thing old people imagine young people say, rather than a word young people actually use. As America’s Finest News Source once reported,
Continue reading I’m Out of Touch

# Did You Hear?

“There’s a link on Slashdot about how to solve NP-complete problems in linear time using Peanut M&M’s! There’s also an interview with Dr. Doofus McRoofus in New Scientist, where he says quantum computing proves the reality of time travel! Plus, a mathematician at the University of Trivialshire has apparently announced a new number system where you can take not only square roots, but also the square roots of square roots!”

# Sing the Cuttlefish Electric

“Cuttlefish” was recently inducted into the Order of the Molly, joining the nice folks (Kristine, Scott, Zeno, Kseniya, TorbjÃ¶rn, etc.) and the ill-tempered illiterates (me) in the most elect group of Pharyngula commenters. Whoever this “Cuttlefish” might be, they’ve showered the Pharyngulans with delightful verse, each poem a fitting anti-prayer for the hymnal of Atheist Pope Richard I.

And, of course, Cuttlefish has a blog.

One of my favorite Cuttlefishsticks so far has been “Version 2.7,” the poem which dares to answer the question, “Will humans marry robots in fifty years?” Eat yer heart out, Kurzweil:
Continue reading Sing the Cuttlefish Electric

# I Need to Get Out More

Udo Schuklenk’s Ethx Blog also pointed me to a site which lets you create a map showing all the countries you’ve visited.

You can try it out yourself, too. The program includes Alaska automatically if you say you’ve visited the United States, but I can claim that honestly as well.

# Workplace Profanity

A study — in fact, a British study — has found that nasty language and curse words in the workplace can help employees form social relationships, improve morale and reduce stress.

Hey, Eric, you wanna get some Chinese food after we finish that $&^%(*%$!#!@ conference book?

The original article is behind a paywall, which is one sure way to provoke invective. Consequently, I can’t find out more about the researchers’ methods or the particular environments they studied. Do the same basic principles apply to an automotive oil-change franchise and to an autoerotic, oil-crazy right wing “think tank”? Inquiring minds want to know. Baruch and Yeruda conclude their abstract as follows:

A certain originality element stems from the fact that, focusing on swearing language, the paper found it necessary to use swear words (avoiding usage of the explicit form); bearing in mind the purpose of the paper, the paper hopes that this will not cause offence to the readership of the journal.

I guess the Leadership & Organization Development Journal is stuffier than the linguistics journals which publish research on, say, the proper rules for infixing expletives.

# Love Affairs of Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman says, apropos the Dumbledore fracas,

Neverwhere has two gay characters who are Out, as far as the book is concerned, and one major character who is gay but it isn’t mentioned, simply because that character was one of many people in that book who don’t have any sexual or romantic entanglements during the story. So it’s irrelevant.

He actually mentioned this a few years ago, saying that

I tend not to write characters with sexual orientation as a starting point, unless that’s how they define themselves. Most people don’t.

Just for fun, I wonder if we can guess which character in Neverwhere he’s talking about. My own copy of Neverwhere is I-don’t-know-where, at least a timezone away, so although I have the Carey/Fabry graphic novel adaptation with me, this will have to be from memory.
Continue reading Love Affairs of Neverwhere