03 November 2015

How to clean non-printing characters in Excel

(This is more a convenient note to myself that anything else.)

Text String Cleaning (source: Microsoft Support)

Offending bits of text that can mess up VLOOKUP or INDEX(MATCH) are typically
  1. leading, trailing or embedded space characters (Unicode character set values 32 and 160), and 
  2. non-printing characters (Unicode character set values 0 to 31, 127, 129, 141, 143, 144, and 157) 
Assuming the pesky malformed text string is in cell A1.

Clean() removes the first 32 non-printing characters (0 to 31)
=CLEAN(A1)

Trim() removes non-printing character 32.
=TRIM(A1)

For higher value characters, use substitute(). As an example, to remove character 160, use
=SUBSTITUTE(A1,CHAR(160),"")

That's it for now!

28 October 2015

blogging, 2015 style

So, after eons of dithering, I decided to give Social Media a try.  

Apparently blogs are completely last decade and out of fashion, which makes this post distinctively anachronistic.  Also, apparently, as of October 2015, the two hottest place to publish your thought leadership pieces are Medium and LinkedIn. Yes, the social platform for professionals and job seekers is diversifying into user-created content in a bid to make the 2-sided platform more attractive to social influencerssales people and recruiters by retaining the eyeballs and attention of the salaried office worker who hangs around LinkedIn because surfing LinkedIn is one of the few accepted forms of loafing that can be legitimately classified as work. Both these platforms come with pre-installed reader bases, and so can help newbie thought leadership writers circumvent the first barrier to continued-writing: that of eyeballs.  

Also, apparently, according to third party interpretation of the TOCs, content posted on these platforms are no longer quite exactly your asset.  But that's, in most cases, okay since the published content is meant viewed by strangers anyway. And who knows what strangers do.

What's the subjective difference between these two platforms?

After pocking around the services a bit, my conclusion is that 

  1. Medium has better publishing user-experience (UX)
  2. Medium has better reading UX. It is more suitable for (on the demand side) readers who like reading long posts and (on the supply side) writers afflicted with logorrhoea. LinkedIn is better for short snippets of information since business people have attention spans of the this-meeting-is-really-boring-let's-see-how-I-can-entertain-myself-by-glancing-surreptitiously-at-the-mobile-phone type.
  3. Content wise, Medium is more lifestyle-orientated while LinkedIn is (unsurprisingly) more business-centric.
Given the nature of the drivel that I wanted to post, Medium provides a better fit.


What about other platforms?

I took one look at Facebook's Notes function on the desktop browser and promptly closed the tab.  After being conditioned to the mobile version of FB, the desktop UX is visually a world of pain.

For clarification: the publishing functionality on both Medium and LinkedIn are limited on the mobile platform, hence the default to the desktop. 

Unrelated side note: whoever said the mobile has totally and utterly killed the desktop or laptop obviously hadn't built powerpoint decks (as reports) or complicated excel models. 

No, Reddit doesn't count.

Experiment setup

  1. Wrote an article and stuck it on Medium. Link here: http://bit.ly/1XwphPd The use of bit.ly is also an experiment, bit.ly being the 140-character-Tweet-enabler service that shortens long links.
  2. Stuck the shortened link on Twitter, commenting & hash-tagging appropriately.
  3. Shared the article on LinkedIn via a post (not a repost!), using the full link for variety's sake.


Observation so far

Sufficient observation has been given to UX.

What about eyeballs? Given the extreme drivel-class of the content, I expect extremely viscous diffusion to the links.  On verra! 

08 July 2015

Today I learnt that

The 'official' name for printers is "hard copy peripherals" and that most of the printer manufacturers and their OEMs have declining revenue lines.  I do hope it is due to a genuine success of the "think before you print" movement as opposed to rampant commoditisation of things.

23 January 2011

05 July 2008

You are on the Internet!

Have you ever tried searching for yourself on the internet (via search engines), or on the many social networks that dominate cyber-social life?

First thing that you'd find out: your name isn't unique.

The rest is serene reflection and a deep sense of wondering how different life would be if you hadn't chosen the path that you did. Or choose it again, in fact.

12 June 2008

Purity

... as defined by xkcd.



Ah.... :)

27 November 2007

A Phylogeny of Complete Genomes that humbles

Witness the The Fall and Decline of the Animal Kingdom. It's not what you think -- it's what you don't usually think about: that in terms of sheer numbers animals are a minority in the vast ocean of life that inhabits the oceans and lands of this world.

Doesn't this suggest that it takes so, so, so many permutations of Genetic Arrangements to create even the simplest eukaryote? That's the advantage of a 3plus billion years time frame.

By the way, check out the Interactive Tree of Life and mouse over Homo Sapiens. Lovely picture. No wonder the neighbouring Pan troglodytes look so shocked.

15 November 2007

Moonrise from SELENE



Courtesy of JAXA/NHK, one of the most enduring images of spaceflight recorded. Two actually: moonrise and moonset. (Above is an image from the Earth-set series.)

I particularly like their disclaimer about how the earth will never been seen to rise or set from an astronaut's perspective on the lunar surface: this is a unique view from orbiting satellites.

21 October 2007

Good Teachers Wanted.

Read this Economist article and think.

I particularly like the revelation that South Korea's primary school teachers are placed on a higher pedestal than secondary school teachers. First mover, or in this case, influencer, advantage!

06 October 2007

Scientific Humour is such a wonderful thing

This is a classic that should endure for quite some time yet: chicken chicken chicken. Its iconic status is confirmed, with its author, Doug Zongker, giving the keynote address of this year's Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.



What I will give to attend the 18th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony!

04 September 2007

A deadly assumption to make

kudos to whoever came up with the original joke

ex and a constant were walking down the street. Suddenly, the constant notices a differential operator walking along the other side of the street. "Oh, no!" exclaims the constant. "I've got to run away! You've got to hide me! There's a differential operator... he could reduce me to nothing!" "Hmmmph," came the haughty reply. "I'm ex. He can't do anything to me." So ex walked across the street and introduced himself. "Hi. How are you doing? I am ex," he bragged. "Pleased to meet you," replied the differential operator. "I'm d/dy."

16 July 2007

Random Observations

Upon hot air, eagles soar.

(author's right to the metaphor is hereby exerted)

08 July 2007

All I want for this Christmas*

is an army of thinkgeek's exclusive, USB powered, Snowbots!



Checkout the Snowbot in Action video!

*Christmas Wishlist as of 8th July 07

29 June 2007

Where does your iPod come from? (The economic perspective)

A study from UC Irvine on capturing and attributing (economic) value of a 30G iPod across its creators and manufacturers. In this reckoning, even though each 30G iPod contributes $150 of trade deficit between US and China, the actual value added to the product via the assembly etc is only about a few dollars, meaning that the trade deficit actually winds up in other places. Here's a nice summary from economist Hal Varian.

A torchlight into global assembly and logistics lines as well as a commentary on the true value of innovation.

20 June 2007

Powerpoint turns 20

Originally developed for the Mac in 1987 as a result of identifying the need for graphic presentations in a world made possible by Mac's GUI , Powerpoint was subsequently bought over by Microsoft. The window's version came out in 1990 and the world never looked back. If there is a competition for software that can be considered 'omnipresent', Powerpoint would surely come up among the top few contenders. A nice article from WSJ on an interview with the programme's creators.

Surely a blog on Powerpoint cannot be complete without a discussion on its users merits and flaws, but since I'm feeling rather lazy today, I'll refer you to the worst powerpoint slide ever? and the effects of powerpoint on pedagogy.

I do like Powerpoint as a canvass upon which art can be created. I also like the use of Powerpoint as a (with apologies to the WSJ article) as a printing press to write detailed business plans: data-rich landscape documents that are meant to be read, not presented. Presentation slides in my view are best kept sparse!

For historians of Powerpoint, the website of one of the creators Robert Gaskins is full of interesting stuff (including Dilbert) for you to mull over.

09 June 2007

Look, I read the Economist too!

From the Onion, the commentary to the main article. The Commentary is quite funny... so does reading the Economist make you something of a intellectual snob? Heh.

Not to say that the main article doesn't make some point too, but it's the inspiration that NASA's science and exploration that makes it, still, even today, as something of a symbol and inspiration for apolitical science and exploration.

28 May 2007

What a Word!

What a word!
tergiversate

27 May 2007

Postcards from the Future

Oh why oh why did I forget all about the ISDC? According to Wired, the Indie film Postcards from the Future will premiere at the Conference.



More pictures from the movie site.

I still want to be an astronaut!

At the same time, take a look at this interactive on the past and future timeline of the universe. Simple enough to navigate (just point and click) yet profound enough to make you think. The 'Big Bang till Now' portion conforms to established scientific orthodoxy well enough (meaning I didn't cringe at any Bad Facts), thankfully. The future projections depend on your respective field of study, I believe.

Yet I can't help remembering Stalin's words, when paraphased, alas, 10^0 is a tragedy, 10^6 is a statistic, 10^100 is incomprehensible.

Go to Mars. Go. Go Now. Before the systematic despoilment of the Earth makes humanity culprit and victim on the 10^0 list.

24 May 2007

Psychoanalysing Anakin Skywalker

Whatever the motivation, here are serious people putting Anakin Skywalker on the psychiatrist's couch.

From the article:
Why do we care about the psychoanalysis of a Star Wars villain? Because the diagnosis helps explain why teenagers -- no strangers to borderline personalities -- find Skywalker so appealing, said study co-author Rachel Rodgers, a psychologist in Toulouse. They may like him, she said, "because he's very similar to them."

Hmm. What does that say about people who dress up as storm troopers? Or Jedi? Or even the Dark Lord (Vader, not the generic term Dark Lord (tm)...) himself? Tribal formation indeed! This need to form groups with similarly-minded people can have amusing consequences: imagine the sight of a fistful of Vader-clones.

Still, say what you will about The Great Lucas's vision, the community (fan-base) expression Star Wars is has been, and will continue to be, a force for good. ;p

HAPPY 30th BIRTHDAY, STAR WARS!

14 May 2007

Gazing into the crystal ball...

Information convergence, larger wireless bandwidth, flying cars increased urbanisation, polarisation, agricultural revolution (again), mass cloning, world wars, world peace, revolutions, famines, ecological meltdown, glacial meltdown, runaway climates, global extinction, banners.

And, no, this is not an attempt at forecasting the History of the Universe in 200 words or less (now linked into the collective intelligence of Wikipedia). Personally I adore the Latin version. creatio Aranei Quam Lati Quam Terrae. ???

But come what may, it's worth noting that 'engineers and programmers are the often-anonymous architects of society' (please RTFA, it's a good article) and to that may I add dreamers.

24 April 2007

Quantum physics says goodbye to reality

So.... if "reality does not exist when we are not observing it (Nature 446 871)", does it mean that if I ignore a problem long enough it'd go away by itself?

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of quantum mechanics.

04 April 2007

Court to Rule if Chimp has Human Rights

This is not an April Fool's joke.

While I am all for good and humane treatment of Animals, to apply Human Rights (see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) on them might be just a tad too far. Examples being Articles 24 and 26. And also, with rights comes responsibilities: see Article 29.

What we need is a comprehensive set of Animal Rights that govern our relationship with them. In some cases, there should be protection at a level above what we grant to our fellow human beings... or five year old human beings. Maybe a modified version of the Rights of the Child for our closer hominid siblings?

And dolphins. Must not forget dolphins.

24 March 2007

New Words to add to your vocabulary

I found three new words to add to the "Little Vocabulary Book" in one article of the venerable and authoritative Economist.

They are

  • febrile

  • assiduous

  • dirigiste


  • Call me daft, but what an adventure of discovery when I can do a "Google>define: *" search on the trusty mobile phone and get a near instantaneous definition while sitting in a cafe enjoying the good read.

    12 March 2007

    Negative Management Thought Part (whatever)

    If things are moving too fast for you.... you're not moving fast enough.

    The World is Flat! Tipping Point! Red Ocean! Argh!

    01 March 2007

    A very brief journey into Chinese Language and History

    (Alas, the wonders of the World Wide Web! Google and Wikipedia are your friends!)

    大清国国旗国歌
    This is a great account of the history of the Qing Dynasty's flag and anthem The Cup of Solid Gold, and the The Tune of Li Zhongtang. More about the various Chinese Anthems here.


    The famous Song Dynasty general and patriot 岳飞 (Yue Fei) who wrote the poem 满江红 (Mǎn Jīang Hóng). This is written in relatively comprehensible Classical Chinese, a beautiful language which isn't exactly the most friendly. You can read about the good general in 文言文 on 文言維基大典...

    Yet there are always exceptions, and the 施氏食狮史 (The story of the poet Shi eating lions). Seriously, the poem itself (written by the poet 赵元任 to make a point) is eminently comprehensible on sight, but try reciting the poem out loud!

    石室诗士施氏,嗜狮,誓食十狮。
    氏时时适市视狮。
    十时,适十狮适市。
    是时,适施氏适市。
    氏视是十狮,恃矢势,使是十狮逝世。
    氏拾是十狮尸,适石室。
    石室湿,氏使侍拭石室。
    石室拭,氏始试食是十狮。
    食时,始识是十狮尸,实十石狮。
    试释是事。

    切記: 丙戌年十二月十五 (公曆二千零六年二月二日),萬國氣候變更會(IPCC:「吾人所見氣候變更,當屬人為也。」

    10 February 2007

    Doomsday vault for your greens and carbo

    A bit of a sensationalised name, perhaps, but the Svalbard International Seed Vault intends to serve as a cryogenic storage for the world's agricultural crop diversity: seeds! I love the idea of this seed vault built to last against anything we humans can throw at the environment - very practical AND beautiful.

    What about proteins though? Meat sources are going to much, much harder to preserve. Cloning runs the risk of destroyed labs, perpetually reproducing 'stock' animals are no better than your normal farm.... under an ice mountain. Tough question. Perhaps we might all become vegetarians, since all essential amino acids can be found from plant sources.

    26 January 2007

    'Altruistic' brain region.

    Too good not to be shared: the altruistic brain region. I'm sharing this with you altruistically, of course. Add this to the oxytocin spray (supposed to help increase trust level in/for strangers) and we will have a very trustworthy society indeed.

    Hmm. Does this mean we should all start to lactate?

    17 January 2007

    Recycle your old 3 1/4" floppies

    ... by doing the geekiest thing possible!

    Live Long and Prosper!

    22 December 2006

    Fourier Transforms (2)

    I came across this statement in the print version of this article on a hypothetical elementary particle called an axion. The article is on a follow-up experiment to the PVLAS experiment using the double-pulsar system J0737 to test the birefringence of a strongly polarised beam of photons that had passed through a strong magnetic field. Regarding the delicate and exact calculations required to disentangle the change in polarisation (from linear to elliptical) from the effects of various frequency shifts owing to the double-pulsars' orbital and rotational effects...
    Owing to the appalling complexities of the timings involved, the system can be regarded either as a nightmare for normal human beings or as a dream case for Fourier-analysis buffs.

    Nice!

    18 December 2006

    Helsinki Complaints Choir

    Of all the weird and wonderful things in the world, this makes it to one of my favourites list

    Helsinki Complaints Choir (YouTube warning).

    I love this!

    01 December 2006

    New Family Member!


    Even as we smile in amusement at the title Apple gene for colour red found, we eagerly get our grubby little hands on the christmas present that came early....






    So we put it together with the rest of the family...







    ... and laugh at how brand loyalty is automatically inspired from Really Good Products.

    07 October 2006

    Camera sees Camera... on Mars.

    A sublime moment when we actually see humanity's presence on the Red Planet: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sees the Mars Rover Opportunity along Victoria Crater.

    Isn't it beautiful? If for nothing else, enjoy the view of the crater. But I hope the intangible, intellectual beauty of the mere presence shines through.

    I wonder when it will take for the pictures to start resembling a small settlement, town, city, metropolis, world.

    Sublime.

    14 September 2006

    三字经

    Full credits to this post attributed to the fantastic Gutenburg Project (Traditional Chinese B5 encoding) and here (simplified Chinese GB2312 encoding).

    As with everything else, there's a bit of revision history going on there. This thing was originally written ages ago, with versions littering throughout the ages. My personal chuckle (cool!) moment came when I read this (which apparently isn't in the 宋 version)

    辽于金,皆称帝。太祖兴,国大明。号洪武,都金陵。迨成祖,迁燕京。十六世,至崇祯。阉乱后,寇内讧。闯逆变,神器终。清顺治,据神京。至十传,宣统逊。举总统,共和成。复汉土,民国兴。

    What? okay, so we want to add in 明 dynasty history. Okay. but why are we using 十六世? And this 复汉土... does it refer to the end of the Second World War? It has to be, because it refers to the People's Republic, 民国. The previous part about proclaiming the President, that links in with the Republic, 共和.

    This is the beauty of the Chinese language. One can parse history, people, nature, literature, everything, in three-word phrases. Ah. Beauty.

    09 September 2006

    Remember, Remember the 8th of September....

    Remember Remember the Eighth of September
    The Enterprise, phasers, and Spock
    I know of no reason that Star Trek's first season
    Should ever be forgot

    :)

    01 September 2006

    Star Trek turns 40

    Star Trek is the first thing I found when I grew up. Or was it I grew up when I found Star Trek? At any rate, my eyes were opened to the new world of possibilities and wonders, and simultaneously blinded to the dangers of staying up to watch tv at 1am (hail broadcasters). Star Trek (pro-fic) novels taught me English, furthered my interest in Science and its exploration and its appllication in exploration. It placed Klingon heat against Vulcan cold, exposed the nobility and travesty of the human condition. It is good.

    As a 80's child, Picard, Riker, Data and crew are closer to me than Kirk, Spock, Bones and crew. Archer, Trip and crew are new, so I can't say just yet.

    Official word from Star Trek.com

    Someone else's commentary. Commentary from Wired

    And yes, Paramount will be remastering TOS with enhanced FX and music.

    Memory Alpha is a fantastic ST collective-intelligence (borg?!) information site.

    Yet not all are satisfied by canon alone. New Voyages: ST:TOS season 4, as it should be. The upcoming episode is written by DC Fontana and stars Walter Koenig, no less! I just finished watching the first episode "In Harm's Way", and it is good. What an interesting philosophy: to view Kirk and Spock and McCoy are contemporary cultural icons that can and should be portrayed by many actors to bring the characters to their full potential. Just like Prospero, or Hamlet, or James Bond. We wait for the episode to be released.

    15 August 2006

    The one-life Game called Life

    I read this somewhere the other day: that Life is a one life game. Use it up. This amateur gamer certainly agrees!

    And oh boy... if you are in any way a Trekker, take a look at this. Go Kobayashi Maru!

    Which is funny isn't it? Kobayashi Maru. One life game. Heh.

    31 July 2006

    You can multi-task, but don't expect to learn anything

    I love the title of this article on the associated wetware processing that happens when you multitask. Moral of the story: FOCUS on one thing at one time if you want to learn effectively.

    As though we don't know that. But it's always cool to have scientific evidence (wooooooo!) to back up the hypothesis.

    Go, scientific method!

    27 July 2006

    Never Surrender Dreams: Faith Manages

    Ah, look's like my favourite TV show of all time Babylon 5 is coming back (directly to the DVD), if only for a short while.

    I love Babylon 5. It has mystery, intrigue, heroes and heroines, too much grey in the fight between black and white, sacrifice, love, friendship, death, betrayal, spiritual growth. It has the mythical heroic arc. It has a story line that took 4, nay, 5 years to tell, episode by episode on the silver screen. Season 3's "Messages from Earth", "Point of No Return" and "Severed Dreams" remain, till this day, my favourite three-parter story (or according to JMs the writer and master of the B5 universe, one mega-wham episode). Lord of the Rings doesn't count because it's really SIX books in all -- or ONE book, depending on how you look at it, and the two Star Wars prequels both have their ups and downs... again SIX movies, or one.

    I remember watching Messages from Earth at 1am on the day of my A-Levels Chemistry Prelim exams... and I was so utterly blown away by the storyline I could not even sleep properly that morning. The story pulled together in one stroke the elements that heralded the whirlwind: our first serious encounter with the Shadows, the deteriorating situation on Earth, tension between Delenn and Sheridan, tension between Ivanova and Marcus, and plain old almost-state-of-the-art CGI back in the mid-nineties... Woot! It was, it felt like you were standing on the edge of a sharp precipice looking down into a void. The shadow is behind you, but you cannot turn. You have to look forward. The Shadow is near.

    As they say, Faith Manages. And I'm not doing B5 justice by this excited rant. Take some time out to look through the midwinter.com/lurk site. It's a fantastic resource for the story.

    And while we wait with baited breath for the Lost Tales, here's some cube goodies to drool over.

    17 July 2006

    The Cult of Leia's Metal Bikini

    Ah. Leia Costumers! Wired.com has a write up on this costume. The 501st equivalent is here at Leia's Metal Bikini.

    And ohmigosh.... Belly Dancing!!!!!

    14 July 2006

    Unskilled and unaware of it

    A great research paper that I encountered some years ago. Good to find it again after so long. Read this. Very good reading, especially if you are in any sort of management or leadership role.

    21 June 2006

    A Midsummer Night's Dream

    I'm sure I've mentioned previously that Neil Gaiman's the Sandman is one of my favourite piece of literary artwork ever. I've been reading 'The Sandman Papers: An exploration of the Sandman Mythology edited by Joe Sanders Published by Fantagraphics Books' over the past few days. The Papers ran almost the entire gamut of academic discourse on the series of work: from the study of female power to the depiction of the trinity of the Crone, the Mother and the Maiden to Asian influence on Sandman's clothing and the associated cultural associations of change and supreme powers, to (perhaps the most powerful idea explored in the Papers) the concept of change. I can't do the arguments justice by paraphrasing the points here, so I will leave in their place a poignant moment that the Papers evoked in this reader.

    There's a line that Morpheus spoke to Queen Titania in the Midsummer Night's Dream regarding the granting of the 'talent' boon to William Shakespeare.
    But the price of getting what you want, is getting what you once wanted

    This is a true statement.

    The price, the sacrifice, the 'that which is left behind'. because needs and wants change, and change is the only constant in the universe.

    ==========================================

    Indulge me, gentle reader, for a short moment (and moments are all we have, in this great river of time, each moment as precious as sunlight through stained glass murals), as Delight presents Badly Written Jingle #1

    Ahem. *cues cheapo jinglistic music*
    They say money can't buy you love, and
    Money can't buy you joy.
    But Money can buy you a glimmer of hope
    bright against the dreary sky.
    SSSSOOOOO........
    embrace debt!
    If you're confident of your ROI
    embrace debt!
    If your future CF brings smiles
    embrace debt!
    If you know money is the key part of the capitalist system
    embrace debt!


    Thank you. This has been a Delight Productions.

    13 June 2006

    Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your wake-up call

    Am three-quarters of my way through the book The World is Flat (Thomas L. Friedman, 2006 ed) and is already utterly, utterly convinced that the world, and more specifically, the employment market is utterly different from even five years ago. The fundamental question, it seems, is "How do you continuously re-innovate and re-invent yourself" to stay relevant in a world where your competitor, sorry, partner, can be anyone around the globe? How can you not afford to continously update your skill set to remain relevant in the global job market?

    Mindshift 1: You want to run like a top dog? Then treat everyone like a top dog. And keep running. Don't stop.

    Mindshift 2: It's no longer nation-state vs nation-state. It's no longer company vs company. It's individual vs individual. And they are all your potential partners.


    A few 'sticky' ideas for the generalist who should really be a 'versatilist'

    0. Education, education, education.

    1. 'Sticky', portable skill sets:
  • subject content matter communication skills up and down the knowledge chain: from experts to novices. Learn on the fly. With Google, there's no reason why information scarcity is 100% roadblock.

  • generally communication skills (aka influence)

  • project management skills

  • SMILE!

  • Most importantly, HOW TO SYNTHESISE YOUR KNOWLEDGE into NEW STUFF in the integrative, cross-functional, cross-industry manner.


  • 2. Flexible, hungry, can-do, want-to-do mindset

    3. Always on 24/7/365, jacked into the twin real worlds of physicality and wired (i.e. virtual, Internet-based). Leverage on Globalisation 3.0 and Web 3.0. Skype (or your favourite VoiP provider). No more problems with presentism or absentism! Go have a life! Proviso: mesh work into your life.

    4. Network indiscriminately. Know the center of the network and the tipping point.

    5. Always remember the triple bottom line/corporate social responsibility (or whatever the newest buzz word is right now).

    6. Energy sufficiency and bio-technoloy are going to be HUGE.

    I am enthused/terrified already.

    14 May 2006

    Circle of friends

    Returned from an industry conference in Perth: a nice one, thoroughly enjoyable, if somewhat tiring.

    Found a Scientific American Mind Vo. 17 No. 2 on the magazine rack while at the Perth airport. There's a nice article on social circles as elaborated by psychologist Robin Dunbar. He postulates that social circles are hierarchial structures in the shape of concentric rings. In the inner ring is a hoop of three or four, or at most five people, whom we feel our greatest emotional connection to. This is the 'support group'. The next circle holds between 12-20 people with whom we maintain a caring mutual interest relationship. The subsequent level of 30-50 is looser still: these are people we have regular, if only occassional contact. Each circle's number of individual increases by approximately a factor of three. This can be seen in the arrangement of battle units in many countries. The smallest unit consists of 10-15 people, a platoon of 35 and a company of 120-150.

    Did you, as you read the above paragraph, already started to populate your own social circle map with names?

    A google (is your friend) reveals this article (quoting Dunbar) on the value of gossip. The arguments seems very logical, very scientific method even. Scary. Another nice article on gossip here.

    I wonder what this says about the new media of blogs, podcasts, moblogs et. al. The new media at our disposal allows us to talk to potentially many people at once, yet time and again research as shown that new media's subscription is still rather niche. For example, many personal blogs have very small but dedicated readership, often comprising of a social grouping no larger than the second social circle. Are blogs the next incarnation of the quilting circle?

    15 April 2006

    cognito

    A spin on the original -

    Cognito cognito cognito ergo sum -- Ambrose Bierce

    08 April 2006

    The Fib

    I
    want
    to post
    this tiny
    blog post about
    Fibbonacci poetry
    mathematics with
    measures
    of steps
    in
    form

    28 March 2006

    42 is the answer to the Question...

    ...and the question is 'what is the third moment of the Riemann zeta function' apparently, according to this article.

    Ooohhhh.

    Personally, I find the related /. forum page hilarious.

    In other news, the same website that published the Riemann zeta function story also published this (Prescribing Religion) and this (the need to study religion scientifically). Is this a coincidence or what?

    24 February 2006

    Brand New Day

    For some unexplicable reason, I'm moved to write the following:
    HELLO WORLD!

    Through the predawn darkness I spy the first light of morning. Perhaps that's reason enough.

    13 February 2006

    Mind Hacks

    Mind Hacks - Tips & Tools for using Your Brain - Stafford & Webb, published by O'Reilly

    This is a great book, a not-so Dummy's Guide to the practical appreciation of the human brain, and how we can use it... better.

    Positives
  • Full of wonderful, simple experiments about the senses... more specifically vision and hearing.

  • Full of usage of online materials for simple experiments. You know that your science museum has arrived when your online exhibits are listed alongside more serious experimental psychology studies.

  • Proper citations

  • And most importantly, the first scientific explanation (that I've seen, at least) of why putting a pen between your teeth makes you feel happier (Voluntary facial action generates emotion-specific autonomic nervous system activity Leverson, ekman, Friesen, Psychophysiology 27(4) 363-384), and why you should think that you are great, happy and confident -- and in a way giving some validity to all of that positive reinforcement self-help fairy dusts (concept priming, emotion as a social bonding/communication tool, contextual memory and all that autonomic responses to emotion... again)

  • Why caffeine addiction is less an addiction to the chemical compound itself, but more a conditioned response to the stimuli... and NO, I WANT FRESH MILK ONLY, not that curlish white thing you consider dairy


  • Negatives
  • What about studies that don't support the 100 hacks listed?
  • 25 January 2006

    Space flight (part 2)

    As a follow up to my previous post on Beauty in the Dark (regarding the BOT), here's a rather cool overview of the topic of space flight. And here are nice write-ups on the soon-to-be discarded Space Transportation System. ATO! AOA!

    Would be really nice if the entire resource is available for archival download. :)

    17 January 2006

    Watching Grass Dry

    Heard a classic line from a colleague today: "One thing that is more boring than watching grass grow is watching dead grass not grow". Well, the subject matter was preserved plant tissue after all, but still, the line is hilarious.

    12 October 2005

    Link between early stress and memory loss

    This news article seem to suggest a scary trend, with stress levels increasing in the younger population of the world, what with competitive exams and competitive gaming environments...

    What will happen if a quarter of the world has Alzheimer's? Hmm...

    18 September 2005

    The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose

    *Spoiler Warning*

    First, a warning of sorts: this book of 602 pages is not light reading. This strange hybrid of a philosophy treatise and a science text doesn't even have a very satisfying conclusion. For a book that sets out to answer, or at least attempt to answer, what consciousness is, the answer, when it came, lacked conviction. I'm sure that the author was convinced; the fault lies with the writing. Science communication (and I distinguish this quite clearly from communications between scientists: science communication to the lay-person is an art form, not an application of the scientific method) is not only about the transmission of information and knowledge: it is also about getting logical agreement and emotive buy-in from the reader. A popular science book that doesn't provide a good 'satisfying read' serves no one.

    This is disappointing, for the background information Professor Penrose provided (which in a popular science book such as this one is essential to leading the non-expert to the the author's conclusion in an inevitable and logical way) is a good and solid introduction to the fundamentals of logic, artificial intelligence and modern (i.e.20th century) physics. It is unfortunate that the robust background information could not build up to a firm pronunciation (the author, was in the typical English gentleman way, far too apologetic) of Professor Penrose's belief that consciousness is non-algorthmic, (possibly) works because of non-local effects stemming from the Einstein-Poldolsky-Rosen paradox, does not cause vector-state reduction (refer to the 'Schrodinger's cat' thought experiment), and will require further improvements in our understanding of the Grand Theory of Everything (in which the marriage of quantum electrodynamics and general relativity is only the first step) before any description is possible.

    Don't get me wrong: this book has its brilliant moments. The introduction to computing and Turing's Test is clear, and the arguments between a deterministic universe versus a computable universe compelling. The physics discourse is heartwarmingly nostalgic of my undergraduate course and actually taught me a new thing or two. The chapters on existing knowledge of the human brain and consciousness were well written and informative (though I wish there were more details). My favourite paragraph in the entire book is this:

    "Many philosophers and psychologists seem to take the view that human consciousness is very much bound up with human language. Accordingly, it is only by virtue of our linguistic abilities that we can attain a subtlety of thinking that is the hallmark of our humanity - and the expression of our very souls. it is language, according to this view, that distinguishes us from other animals, and so provides us with our excuse for depriving them of their freedom and slaughtering them when we feel that such need arises. It is language that allows us to philosophize and to describe how we feel, so we may convince others that we possess awareness of the outside world and are aware of also ourselves."


    This had me lean back on the chair to marvel at the idea that somehow, the very language that communicates this thought to me is the very embodiment of consciousness. This is a simple concept, yet it hides such complexity behind its 'obviousness'. What of dolphin consciousness/intelligence? What of two people speaking completely different languages? Surely there are ways of bridging the gaps! (Just imagine a first contact situation, where two aliens... sorry, beings.... are trying to learn from one another how each other counts.) And if so, does it not favour an objective universe, and not a subjective one? The sheer importance for the role of imagination in a subjective universe defies belief, and I'd go with Occam's Razor on this one.

    In the fifteen years since this book was written, there has been progress in the field of super-string theory which goes some way to further explain the fundamental 'realities' of this universe we live in. My feel is that if Professor Penrose had these data back then, his arguments might have altered a little, but the fundamental arguments would still be the same. As our knowledge of clinical consciousness and the elementary (excuse the phrase... would 'fundamental' be better?) physics increase, how can we use science explain consciousness? With new, unknown science, it seems.

    As you grow older...

    ... you may find several truths.

    1. The weather is getting worse.
    2. Children are getting ruder; people less caring and civilised.
    3. Politicians are getting more self-serving and (gasp!) corrupt.
    4. The world gets smaller thanks to improved transportation links, but 'progress' becomes doubtful.
    5. It takes more to make you go 'wow'.

    Sad, isn't it?

    11 September 2005

    Sound tests (not rigorous)

    This week, Apple announced a new product called the iPod nano. This, of course, created a wave of iPod desire which simultaneously pleased many ('more toys!') and pissed off many others ('I've already have an iPod, grrr!!'). It's difficult to decide which category I fall into.

    Now, the hypothesis is that the people at One Infinity Loop has been improving their product offering. To convince myself of this hypothesis, I did a back-of-the envelope, limited-to-ears/brain-interface, doesn't-conform-to-the-Scientific-Method experiment to test the audio output between a 2nd generation 20GB iPod (bought in the good old days of 2002 when iPod was still Mac-only and favourite green-eye monster bait for all those Windows people) and a 1GB iPod shuffle. It's a little like comparing apples with oranges, given that the two products have quite different designs and specifications. However, since they both play the same set of music, it's fair game (just like apples and oranges are both fruits: fair game), methinks.


    Steps:
    1. Downloaded Star Wars Ep III soundtrack (160kbps) onto both devices.

    2. Set iPod to no EQ setting. Locate experiment in quiet place. Standardise volume output as much as possible using ear/brain response to the first bar of the music.

    3. Used old ear phones that came with iPod for general 'environment in crowded subway' testing

    Results: Like many have noted elsewhere, I noted that the Shuffle gave a bass response which was both louder and clearer in comparison to the rest of the audio range. No obvious difference for middle and higher registers. Overall, the Shuffle gave a clearer, more crisp experience.

    Note: Hints of strings being plucked strings could be discerned from the iPod; same set of strings being plucked are very clearly heard in Shuffle.

    The same results are generally true for most other music types with well defined percussion rhythms.


    To repeat the experiment:

    1. Downloaded Mahler's Second Symphony, Fifth Movement (128kbps) onto both devices.

    2. Set iPod to no EQ setting. Locate experiment in quiet place. Standardise volume output as much as possible using ear/brain response to the first bar of the music.

    3. Used Shure's E2 in-ear ear phones (see also 'tinnitus in abnormally quiet environment')

    Results: there's an soft but appreciable background hiss from the Shuffle, which wasn't there with the iPod. This is most likely due to impedance matching between the player and the ear phones, but mechanical insulation effects are also likely. Also, the solid state electronics give a very soft, high pitch whine with each press of the 'scroll wheel' button, which is cool from a geeky point of view, but highly annoying to a musician's ear. (One can argue weakly that it resembles analogue hissing from vinyl, but this hiss isn't 'vinyl warm'; it's more 'dentist's drill'.)

    Despite the hissing (which your brain happily ignores once the music becomes loud), the Shuffle gave a better technical performance, especially with the bass response. The balance between the low, middle and higher registers was more pleasing than what the iPod gave. This was demonstrated quite clearly by the time the choir sings its second triple-piano entrance two thirds into the movement. (The first entrance is way too intense to be anything but a test of your hearing's lower threshold).

    In terms of atmosphere though, iPod gave a better performance. In general, the iPod gave a better feel when it comes to classical music, and the Shuffle performed better for anything that isn't classical music.



    Overall, the Shuffle is still the better of the two, given its size and form factor, and the kind of music one listens to in busy subways and commuter buses.

    It'd would be interesting to find out if the iPod nano has the same hissing problem with 'sensitive' earphones, given its size and flash memory design. Maybe it's time to head down to the neighbourhood Apple shop.

    Tacet! Tacet! Tacet!

    John Cage's most infamous composition was his 4'33". Read a review of the performance here.

    Only if there are more of such innovative music around. Where else in this busy, noisy world will we be able to enjoy the tinnitus of an abnormally quiet space?

    So, What's the frequency of your tinnitus response?

    27 July 2005

    BOT: the Beauty in the Dark

    Caught a bit of NASA TV on BBC World, which was covering the Space Shuttle Discovery's Return to Flight launch. At about 8 minutes or so into the launch, a nice shot of the belly of the orbiter from a camera mounted on the External Tank (also known as the Big Orange Thing or BOT) appeared on the telly. Earth dominated the lower left of the screen, the curve horizon evocative of the fragility of the present and promise of the future. That beautiful, beautiful blue marble upon which we ALL depend.

    Then the Big Orange Thing jettisoned, and the orbiter just floated away ever so quickly but ever so gently, peeling away from the Big Orange Thing like a whale swimming away from the observer in a dark ocean with stately grace. What a beautiful sight. You can see the video from here (or at least a still if your system doesn't take *.ram).

    Beautiful. We need more moments of beauty like this in this world of ours.

    24 June 2005

    Frying Small Fishes...

    老子 "道德經"

    60 治大國若烹小鮮。

    'Governing a country is like frying a small fish', so said Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu in 'Tao Te Ching' (verse 60). Implication, is of course, that you spoil it with too much poking.

    Executives, executors, executioners, take note.

    15 June 2005

    Doing it

    Ah. Humour is such a very subjective thing.

    I wandered into a nice knicknack shop in an art centre in the city yesterday. The shop sells some of the most interesting artsy-folksy things around, which makes it a wonderful place to lose half an hour and half your current cash in. What caught my eye was a fridge magnet that says:

    "Singers do it with their mouths open."

    That was pure serendipity at work, for I had a chorus rehearsal within fifteen minutes of me seeing that magnet. Of course that magnet (and the one that says "Musicians do it with the conductor") got some serious chuckles in choir rehearsal that evening.

    Which reminds me of other statements of similar ilk.

    Statisticians probably do it.
    Astronauts need space to do it.
    Logicians do it symbolically.
    Engineers do it with precision.
    Cosmologists do it with a bang.

    I'll stop now because I don't want to overdo it.

    03 June 2005

    Starting the blog with an Earth Shattering ... plop?

    I have been pondering on what topic to start this blog with, when the answer presented itself in a funny, intelligent, and most importantly, as-of-now-scientifically-accurate description of 'How To Destroy the Earth', courtesy of Mr Sam Hughes of Corpus Christi, Cambridge. To my delight [haha], Slacker Astronomy, one of my favourite podcasts, gave air to this topic in a hilarous podcast.

    Evil Overlords, Take Note.

    Those of you who have read my last fiction work would know why this is a particularly close topic to my heart. Hail maraudering asteroids! :)