Monday, December 06, 2010

Theoretically, it seems possible to run the social networks like Facebook or Twitter in a decentralized way. Much less so for financial payment providers, like Paypal.

In practice, though, only a small percentage of people are technically able to implement such network (or even just deploy), and only a small percentage within those could be able to do it without consulting Internet. Which does not render this idea very viable.

From the other side, we all already have absolutely decentralized and absolutely viable communication network: its protocol is called language. Every normally developed adult can support this network and even teach the others to support it.

Also, although many of us have never spinned wool or hacked wood, we can more or less confidently visualize how such things could be done, recognize when they are being done, and do them if in dire need.

When (if ever) the ability to make a radiotransmitter, a photocamera, or to establish a server for a social network will be like wool-spinning or wood-hacking, then the world would truly become a different place. Or so my wool-spinning-vaguely-aware mind figures.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Daemons and their powers...

I have just come across an article on New Scientist site, mentioning Maxwell daemon and its possible real-life implementation.

One thing that bothers me about it (don't I see the obvious?..):

Conceived by James Clerk Maxwell in 1867, the demon exploits the random thermal motions of the microworld. It might watch a tiny ball on a spiral staircase, waiting for it to randomly hop up a step and then slam in a barrier to stop the ball moving down again. If the demon keeps doing this the ball keeps climbing. The potential energy of the ball could then be used to drive an engine.
and regarding the implementation:
Finally, enter the demon, whose eye is a camera and brain a computer that controls the electric field. Whenever the rotor makes some progress in turning against the torque, the demon shifts the electric field so that the rotor suddenly finds itself nudged onto the top of that "step". This keeps happening, and the overall effect is to gradually climb the staircase.
As it does, the rotor gains energy. Crucially, though, the demon need pump no energy into the rotor, only information about the position of the rotor, which it uses to switch the field.

Doesn't shifting the field or slamming a barrier also mean that you make some work? You need to spend some energy to move that barrier and then to lift it again. These two movements cannot cancel each other in the real world because of friction (unless we operate in a real vacuum). Same about the shifting the electric field... Do they really mean that we can disregard friction-like effects in that case?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Regarding e-readers...

I had some other post in mind, but now I don't remember what it was, so I can at least write this one down :)

I think there are going to be the following use cases for e-readers:
  •  manuals and other tech books (like the ones which can be currently read online at ) - these are the books which need to be updated ASAP in case of errata, benefit a lot from having full-text search and community feedback, and many of them aren't relevant after 5 years or so. 
  • Other thought regarding manuals - taking into account popular community projects like - I'll name two I had to look at recently - PHP manual or Programming Scala where community feedback essentially becomes part of the document itself - we can expect that the role of document author will be replaced by the role of project leader, who establishes the guidelines for the documentation and writes first draft, and then moderates the community feedback when necessary. It seems to be natural for a technical documentation to be that open-source.
  • Now, what else can be great content for e-readers, apart from tech or other manuals? (Foreign language ones can be a good fit also, especially if e-reader also has audio capabilities). I would suggest magazines. Many of us have this situation, when we are subscribed to this and that, we are getting the glanced-paper exemplars bi-weekly or monthly, read them (or not) and discard them afterwards. Daily journals are falling under the same category.
  • To the same category I'd also put so called "beach literature": the books which can be read only once, like some sort of canned conversation when you can't have one. It's a pity to spend expensive paper on those.
At the same time, I don't think that the paper books are going to die. After all, paper book has life span which is way longer than any e-reader, and it's a medium proven by millennia of human experience. But I do think that spreading of e-readers, along with internet, might significantly reduce the amount of printed information.

At the extreme end it might be even like that (and I would quite like it to be like that): everybody can access the whole body of human knowledge either absolutely free or for some fixed rate (may be a set of rates could be available for different sets of content), and everybody could order a certain book, magazine or journal to be printed out (which would cost extra) - in case he or she wants to have a hard copy. This could be the way to get the advantage of both worlds: not wasting paper on things which are expendable, but preserving information that feels like to be preserved.

Probably, under this model, the books which are ordered often, would still be printed en masse (thus being cheaper). The danger here is that some information might never be printed unless you happen to run across it and appreciate it, and we are losing the possibility to go to a bookshop and rumble through the books, discovering what we have never seen before. We might hope that some publishing houses will still be taking the risks of ordering hard copies of the literature works which they deem interesting. We also should hope that books, as such, will not become a luxury. 

At least, I do. By the way, how many new books have you read the last month?.. ;)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Alice, where art thou?

OK, been there, done that. Just have seen "Alice in Wonderland" (still have red traces upon my nose from the polarized spectacles). And what could I say, as a summary? One word: nauseating.

Obligatory warning: if you still want to see it for yourself, be informed that the rest of this article might contain spoilers.

 First of all, there is almost nothing left of the original story, apart from some main personages and a handful of plot threads. As a compensation, there is a lot of the stuff which the author of the original book, I dare to think, would never put in himself. A Galsworthy-made-bigger-than-life kind of society; two stories melt together into one (imagine a first and a second course in one bowl);  bits and peaces of fantasy from the previous years that the public has already gobbled down, so the risk of indigestion was probably estimated as low; and on top of all,  in the afterglow of the story, a mention of the "wonderful" idea to open a business in China (with Alice and A Serious Guy peering at Maps of Real Wonderlands  - was that the idea?). Surely one had to kill a Jabberwock to get to that? Did the Chinese have some share in this franchise? 

One light spot in all this was Johnny Depp, of course. He just can't play in a boring way, and Mad Hatter is one of the roles which is almost especially tailored for Mr.Depp. So no complaints here. I can imagine that when the movie was finished he was murmuring to himself: "I was again the best actor in that bleak crowd, especially when the magic voice of Alan Rickman was not interfering with my aura". So be it.

But but but, where is the spirit of Lewis Carrol story in all this? Where is that world with the laws which are both like and unlike the laws of our own world, as if seen from more than one completely different angle at once? Where is the discretion and the subtleness, where is the reality seen as a giant playground rather than a battlefield, as we are so often learned to believe by so many other movies? (And utterly, with the one in question, too). Where are the paradoxes and the silly rhymes?

Some of that did survive, of course, but so strongly vinegared with "life-motivating" quotes and images ("It's only your choice to go to battle..." , the good white queen looking to much like a stuffed Galadriel, cherries in blossom - why don't I remember anything of that in the original books? - and some other cliches which I am too tired to mention).

Thinking about what I just wrote, I could finally summarize it thusly: the original stories written by Lewis Carrol didn't have any moral. At least, the moral was not spelled with big flashing letters on every page. In the film, it is. (I can even understand that - who would finance the movie with a high risk of being misunderstood and therefore financially unsafe? Mass culture, like a fairy tale,  has some rules to obey.)

Not sure if I will even want to watch anything Tim Burton will do after that. Especially if he will again decide to tackle the classics. I am afraid for my digestion, you know.