Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 8th, 2008

At last! I have found it again!

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I read this article some years back. It describes an experiment in using genetic algorithms on hardware, as it were. It worked great, except the solution was unique to the particular lab and hardware and local situation: the genetic algorithm exploited idiosyncrasies of the hardware at hand to find solutions that could not easily be replicated. Fascinating article. It begins:

Let Darwinism loose in an electronics lab and just watch what it creates. A lean, mean machine that nobody understands.  Clive Davidson reports.

“GO!” barks the researcher into the microphone. The oscilloscope in front of him displays a steady green line across the top of its screen. “Stop!” he says and the line immediately drops to the bottom.

Between the microphone and the oscilloscope is an electronic circuit that discriminates between the two words. It puts out 5 volts when it hears “go” and cuts off the signal when it hears “stop”.

It is unremarkable that a microprocessor can perform such a task—except in this case. Even though the circuit consists of only a small number of basic components, the researcher, Adrian Thompson, does not know how it works. He can’t ask the designer because there wasn’t one. Instead, the circuit evolved from a “primordial soup” of silicon components guided by the principles of genetic variation and survival of the fittest.

Thompson’s work is not aimless tinkering. His brand of evolution managed to construct a working circuit with fewer than one-tenth of the components that a human designer would have used. His experiments—which began four years ago and earned him his PhD—are already making waves. Chip manufacturers, robot makers and satellite builders are interested because the technique could produce smaller, more efficient devices than those designed today using traditional methods. Thompson’s experiments have also inspired other research projects and some serious speculation about whether technology is poised to evolve in ways that will take it well beyond human understanding.

Looking for inspiration

Computer scientists have long looked to biology for inspiration. From simplified models of the brain they developed neural networks that have proved particularly good at recognising patterns such as signatures on credit cards and fingerprints. They have also worked out ways to mate and mutate programs and allow the resulting programs to compete with one another to generate the “fittest” software for a task.  These “genetic algorithms” have been used to evolve software that does everything from creating works of art to selecting high-performing shares on the stock market.

To Thompson, who works with Phil Husbands at the Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics at the University of Sussex, all these techniques leave something to be desired. They are too tightly constrained by the rules of chip designers and software engineers. The behaviour of living neurons, for example, is inseparable from the biochemicals from which they are made. But it doesn’t matter what material the circuits of a neural network chip are etched in, so long as they operate in a digital fashion. …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Technology

Extremely cool: genetic programming evolves picture of Mona Lisa

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Take a look—fewer than 1 million iterations.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 12:57 pm

The CIA does what it wants

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The CIA has a great network in the media that will leap to do its bidding. Glenn Greenwald looks at the result in a column well worth reading. It includes:

… In all of these accounts [listed above], Brennan’s false claims of unfair persecution — that he was attacked simply because he happened to be at the CIA — are fully amplified in detail through his CIA allies, most of whom are quoted at length (though typically behind a generous wall of anonymity).  But Brennan’s critics are almost never quoted or named (of all of the above-cited reports, only the National Journal article includes a quote from a named Brennan critic:  a couple vague snippets from one of the pieces I wrote about Brennan).  The “reporting” is all from the perspective of Brennan and his CIA supporters.  None of these journalists even entertain the idea of disputing or challenging the pro-Brennan version.

(2) None of this reporting even alludes to, let alone conveys, the central arguments against Brennan and the evidence for those arguments.  Unmentioned are his emphatic advocacy for rendition and “enhanced interrogation tactics.” None of the lengthy Brennan quotes defending these programs are acknowledged, despite the fact that not only bloggers, but also the much-cited psychologists’ letter, emphasized those defenses (that letter complained that Brennan “supported Tenet’s policies, including ‘enhanced interrogations’ as well as ‘renditions’ to torturing countries”).  The seminal article on these CIA programs by The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer — who interviewed Brennan and identified him as a “supporter” of these programs despite “the moral, ethical, and legal issues” — does not exist in the journalists’ world.

What instead pervades these stories is the patently deceitful claim typified by Newsweek‘s Michael Hirsh, who asserted that the case against Brennan was made “with no direct evidence” and then chuckled that this is “common for the blogging world” — an ironic observations given that Hirsh himself is either completely ignorant of the ample evidence that was offered or is purposely pretending it doesn’t exist in order to defend the CIA official Hirsh lauded as “the first-class professional.”  That’s how the persecution tale against Brennan is built — by relying on mindless reporters to distort (when they weren’t actively suppressing) the evidence against him.

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 10:50 am

Military shows more idiocy

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Hilzoy says it best:

Via VetVoice, one more reason to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

“The Pentagon plans to recruit more foreigners in a fresh effort to make up for chronic shortages of doctors, nurses and linguists available for wartime duty.

The Defense Department already draws from aliens living in the United States on green cards and seeking permanent residency. But under a trial program, it will now look to also recruit from pools of foreigners who’ve been living in the states on student and work visas, with refugee or political asylum status and other temporary visas.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has authorized the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to recruit certain legal residents whose critical medical and language skills are “vital to the national interest,” officials said, using for the first time a law passed three years ago. (…)

“The services are doing a tremendous job of recruiting quality personnel to meet our various missions,” sometimes with bonus pay and tuition for medical school, said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy. But they haven’t been able to fill their need for 24,000 doctors, dentists and nurses in the Defense Department.

The Pentagon’s doctor and nurse corps remain 1,000 short of the numbers needed to treat all the military’s patients, and Carr said he hoped the program would fill the gaps.”

And yet, as VetVoice points out, the military keeps kicking out perfectly good doctors, dentists, nurses, and linguists because it doesn’t like their sexual orientation. This isn’t just unfair; at a time when we’re fighting two wars and short of trained personnel, it’s stupid.

Frankly, I wish the military would revise its physical requirements altogether: they are just full of bizarre manifestations of the idea that the military should be the guardian of sexual and genital normalcy. As I’ve noted before, the Army’s Standards of Medical Fitness hold that in men, “Current absence of one or both testicles, either congenital (752.89) or undescended (752.51) is disqualifying.” (p. 10) If someone could tell me precisely what military duties an undescended testicle might interfere with, I’d be very grateful. (And don’t point out that undescended testicles come with an increased risk of cancer later in life. The Army does not disqualify recruits who smoke.)

Until then, I’d rather the military accept the best people available for its various jobs, regardless of sexual or gender orientation, partial or total hermaphroditism, undescended testicles, or anything else that does not affect their capacity to do their jobs.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 10:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

Protecting the institution of marriage

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 10:11 am

Posted in Daily life

Obama on Meet the Press

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 9:56 am

Rescuing the courts

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Steve Benen has a very good post this morning. It begins:

The results hardly ever generate any attention, but George W. Bush’s impact on the federal judiciary has been fairly dramatic. The Washington Post’s R. Jeffrey Smith had a front-page item today on the nation’s federal appellate courts, where Bush’s “appointees and their liberal counterparts are waging often-bitter ideological battles.”

When Bush took office, seven of the 13 appellate courts had Republican-appointed majorities. Now, that number has increased to 10, with two more where Democratic appointees and GOP appointees are equal. Most importantly, in some circuits, if a randomly-selected three-judge panel includes two or more judges from a Democratic administration, Republican judges will insist that the entire appellate court hear the case (en banc) to ensure a conservative outcome. As one Democratic-appointed judge on the 6th Circuit noted, “Anytime two of us show up on a panel and they don’t like it, they yank it.”

With this in mind, Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to reshape the legal landscape: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 9:54 am

Fight Alzheimers with wine and cannabis

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Interesting finding:

Two new studies suggest that substances usually associated with dulling the mind — marijuana and red wine — may help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of age-related memory loss. Their addition comes as another study dethrones folk remedy ginkgo biloba as proof against the disease.

At this week’s meeting of the Society of Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., researchers from Ohio State University reported that THC, the main psychoactive substance in the cannabis plant, may reduce inflammation in the brain and even stimulate the formation of new brain cells.

Meanwhile, in the Nov. 21 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, neurologist David Teplow of the University of California, Los Angeles reported that polyphenols — naturally occurring components of red wine — block the formation of proteins that build the toxic plaques thought to destroy brain cells. In addition, these substances can reduce the toxicity of existing plaques, thus reducing cognitive deterioration.

Together, the studies suggest scientists are gaining a clearer understanding of the mechanics of memory deterioration and discovering some promising approaches to prevention.

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 9:49 am

Library look-up bookmarklet

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I’ve blogged about this bookmarklet before: If you’re looking at a book on, you click the bookmarklet in your browser and it checks to see whether your library has the book.

This bookmarklet gets a lot of use at the end of the year (i.e., now) as various “best of 2008” lists are published. For example, this morning I looked at’s best fiction and nonfiction lists. The list included links to each book’s listing on, a common practice. When I see a book of interest, I click that link, then click my bookmarklet, and then put a hold on the book at my library.

Because these lists focus on the “best” of the year, it’s almost certain that your library will have a copy of each of the books—or, failing that, will purchase the book on your request since it’s a favorably reviewed book.

Frugality is something we’ll all be embracing.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 9:23 am

Posted in Books, Technology

Tomato-Lentil Soup

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This soup looks very nice (though the recipe doesn’t mention the fresh tarragon floating on top as a garnish). I’ll make it today, I think, only with bacon (which I have) rather than pancetta (which I don’t). And of course I’ll not soak the lentils: the nice thing about lentils is that they are one pulse that does not require soaking.

Tomato Lentil Soup

•    1 cup dried lentils
•    3 Tbsp olive oil
•    4 oz. pancetta, diced
•    1 medium yellow onion, diced
•    2 celery stalks, chopped
•    2 carrots, diced
•    1 14oz can diced tomatoes
•    2 rosemary sprigs, fresh
•    2 bay leaves
•    8 cups vegetable stock
•    salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl, cover the dried lentils with water for at least two hours. Drain and rinse before using.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes before adding the pancetta. Allow to fry for about 3 minutes before adding the onions. Cook for another 5 minutes before adding the celery, carrots, rosemary, bay leaves, and lentils. Stir well, ensuring the oil coats everything well.

Add the tomatoes and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, allowing the soup to cook for at least one hour. Remove the bay leaves before serving, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4

The illustration showed fresh tarragon floating on top of the soup.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 8:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Great shave

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I used the Plisson Chinese Grey Badger, which I’m liking a lot lately, to bring forth a very fine lather from a Mennen shave stick. The Slant Bar with (I believe) a Swedish Gillette blade delivered a very smooth shave free of any nicks. Stetson Sierra was the aftershave—very nice.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 8:05 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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