Friday, 30 November 2012

Seek what they sought

We can be Heros

One of the quotes that I find myself falling back on the most, comes from the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, "Seek not to follow in the footsteps of great men of old; seek what they sought."

I see this as a warning against Hero worshipping, but also the removal of limits. I'm a huge fan of Leibniz, but I'm well aware that at times he complained like a small boy with a skinned knee.

So lets think of some heros. How do we telegraph our heros to the world, (other than name-dropping in a blog)? The first two methods that I can think of are posters and necklaces. The classic student poster of Ernesto "Che" Guevara or Albert Einstein.

So my question is: "Which poster would your hero have on their wall?"
(This produces an interesting recursive question - at which level do we stop?)


I have been told that both Jean-Paul Sartre and Nelson Mandela were fans of Che, but who would Che have on his wall? Karl Marx? Vladimir Lenin?

Albert Einstein had pictures of both Faraday and Maxwell, (and some other puffed up Englishman.)


Why do we have heros? What do they do for us? To some, I imagine, they embody rules for life.  

Another way to silently tell the world of your hero(s) is a necklaces. One that distinguish the wearer as the member of a religion, (sometimes quite subtly, but mostly brazenly.) Most religions have a list of rules and one of the most popular so far has been The Ten Commandments.  The 10 commandments are a complicated issue of their own, but they are not the first time that a group, or individual has tried to numerate the rules for life. Remembering which is which is hard so here is my simple over-view:

The 10 commandments

- splits into two sections: the rules about god and the rules about man, (obviously god comes first.)

To god

1. I am the Lord your God
2. You shall have no other gods before me, (how about after?)
3. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, for I am a jealous God
3b. If you keep these commandments God will love you
4. You shall not take the name of God in vain
5. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy - 6 days work before the Sabbath

To man

6. Honour your father and your mother
7. You shall not murder
8. You shall not commit adultery
9. You shall not steal
10. You shall not bear false witness
11. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife


Putting aside the obvious mathematical error, if you are an agnostic or atheist you are already down to just six rules. Murder can be euphemistically referred to as, "taking away life", so the seventh is a special case of the ninth, and your parents are part of humanity, (and you might not know which part). Along that line the tenth is theft of the truth. Coveting is a precursor to theft, (why would you take something that you don't want?) so we can distil these rules down to:
  • Be respectful
  • Don't even want what isn't yours, let alone take it

Theft and respect are external things, but wanting something is internal. So we end up with two rules. One governing external behaviour and the other internal behaviour. So once again the Daoists seem to have got there first.

Yin-Yang

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Next Olympic Sport

Having watched Idea Channel "Are the Olympics A Model for Creating Geniuses?" I wondered if we could address one daily chore. To explain this a little further I have to explain computer code optimisation.

Imagine that you have a program that does just two things. Firstly it adds 1 (one) and then it prints.

If the adding is easy for the computer and the printing is proportionally hard, (takes 10 times as much work) then if you can find a better way to print that halves the effort, then your program goes from 1+10 to 1+5. You sit back and feel good. But this isn't the whole story. The program actually loops through the addition 100 times and then prints. So really the effort is 100+10, and with your optimisation it is 100+5. If I can find a way to half the effort of addition then with the original code I get to 50+10.

So what are the things that we do often that require energy? As an aside, I was looking at the stats for this blog and was surprised to see that more people read one entry then any other entry!

Washing up. Electric dishwashers use far more electricity than me. ( I run on food, but I'm going to eat anyway.) It might be possible for the electric dishwasher to use less water, but this is where the Olympics comes in.

Imagine, if you will, a large podium with two people. Above them is a huge transparent tank of water. Below that, (but still above the contestants) is a water heater. Between then is a solid partition and two kitchen sinks. (The contestants can bring their own sink.) They will be judged on the volume of liquid soap that they use, (less is better) and the volume of water that they use, (which will be collected in the grey-tanks below, (that way the audience can watch the tanks under he podium fill up.

The competition will be timed and there will be deductions for chips and breakages and grease spots.

There are competitions where computers play each other at chess - why not have electic dishwashers go head-to-head, or better yet - against a human.

As this becomes competitive efficiencies will be found. As the speed reaches a asymptote we can abandon it for some other task. I'm sure that the cup-stackers and speed-cubers will be able to help coach these sorts of sports.

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