Henry Adams and Stuart Kauffman

I recently read the chapter "A Law of Acceleration" in The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams. One of Adams's primary points is that knowledge / information / energy / force increase at an ever increasing rate, thus making it feel as if the changes in the world in the last hundred years are much larger than the previous changes. (The philosophy is relatively similar to some of Ray Kurzweil's ideas.)

This idea of ever increasing exploding knowledge made me think of a different book I read recently, Stuart Kauffman's Investigations. Kauffman suggests that the biosphere cannot be finitely describable, proposing that it is always expanding into the "adjacent possible."

I feel that a deep connection can be made between Adam's knowledge and Kauffman's nature, including how Adam's explanations help justify Kauffman's assumptions and how Kauffman's finite-representation argument illuminates the feeling of being overwhelmed by change (as expressed in Adam's work). Maybe I'll write an essay on this, if there is someplace that would be interested in publishing it.

Filed under: things that make you go hmmmmm... :)

Interesting Articles: Sep 19th-25th 2005

* U.S. Asks Court to Dismiss Abuse Suit That Names Pope (New York Times). Just posted here so I remember later to see how this turns out. The separation of church and state counter-argument to the immunity claim is a neat twist.

* Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore (New York Times). A neat read: a history of cursing over the ages.
* Supersize Strollers Ignite Sidewalk Drama (New York Times). SUV culture expands into baby strollers.

* As Test Scores Jump, Raleigh Credits Integration by Income (New York Times). Given the strength of this effect, it should be done more widely.

* California Wants to Serve a Warning With Fries (New York Times). A fairly balanced description of the debate. I can't decide what to think... People should know deep-fried foods are bad for you. Do we really need labels on a particular subset that's even worse than usual? Anyway, I cooked potato pancakes recently. I wonder if the cooking temperatures I achieve there are enough to cause formation of acrylamide. But perhaps the most interesting item in the article is the sidebar. Don't miss it! Who would've thought, for instance, graham crackers are almost as bad as potato chips?
* From Google to Noodles: A Chef Strikes Out on His Own (New York Times). Charlie, Google's excellent former head chef, is starting a new restaurant and he's got some neat ideas. I'd go, especially if he makes his Indian-style chicken curry that I haven't had in ages.
* Topics of The Times: Fountains of Garlic (New York Times). i.e., use pre-peeled garlic; it's good! Mmmmmm... lots of garlic...

Interesting Articles: Sep 12th-18th 2005

* People with malaria attract more mosquitoes (Science News). A disturbing and odd effect that increases the transmission rate of this disease. If you can't read the Science News article, the abstract of the paper Malaria Infection Increases Attractiveness of Humans to Mosquitoes (PLoS Biology, on which the Science News story was based) pretty much summarizes the experiment.
* Does the Truth Lie Within? (New York Times). On the neat things one can learn from self-experimentation.
* Movies put smoking in a bad light (Science News), based off the article Smoking in Contemporary American Cinema (American College of Chest Physicians). The real question is whether this having lower socioeconomic class characters (especially villains) more likely to smoke in movies (than protagonists or middle or upper class characters) deters or encourages smoking? And how does the characters-in-R-movies are more likely to smoke than the generate population play into it?
* Robotic Vehicles Race, but Innovation Wins (New York Times). A good narrative introduction to DARPA's Grand Challenge (though the article is definitely Stanford-focused).

* Under Pressure (New York Times). An interesting tale about how cryovacking (a.k.a. sous vide) is changing dishes at (high-end!) restaurants (for the better).
* No Heat Doesn't Mean No Sweat (New York Times). The author's experience as she attempts to prepare many raw food dishes and her reaction to whole craze.

Politics and Law:
* Tip-line bind: Follow the law in U.S. or EU? (Post Gazette). An example of (possibly) conflicting international laws. And notable because the EU realizes (rightly) that anonymous speech isn't necessarily all good and the US law (or at least Sarbanes-Oxley) doesn't (necessarily) reflect this observation (at least the same degree).
* March of the Conservatives: Penguin Film as Political Fodder (New York Times). The title says it: the article is about a take on the film (which I haven't seen) that I'd've never imagined.
* Confirm John Roberts. A clear and well-reasoned Washington Post editorial.

New York Times Select

The New York Times has changed its policy for online articles. Not all of its articles are available for free now. Notably, Krugman and Friedman, two of its most popular columnists are no longer free. The New York Times probably imagines that people will pay to read them; the new "Select" package for $8/month (cheaper if you buy it by the year) includes them, and others.

Some disagree that people will pay this fee just for them. They may be right. I'm certainly not a big enough fan just to pay to read the columnists.

But, I'm still contemplating this package. The largest benefit I see isn't discussed much in the news: you get 100 free NYT articles from the archive per month. This'll be great for me when I'm following links (whether my old ones or someone else's) to articles which are no longer publicly available.

Milk Taste Test

My house-mate had a guest recently that left a carton of Horizon organic milk in the fridge which I used at one point when I was out of milk. It tasted good. (My first thought, literally, was, "this is what milk should taste like.") I wondered if it was because I usually drink fat-free regular (non-organic) milk and this was 2% or whether it was the organic nature of the milk. This weekend I decided to find out.

I bought my usual milk (fat-free Safeway Lucerne) and the organic equivalent (fat-free Horizon) and got my house-mate to pour two glasses so I could do a blind tasting. The difference was obvious from the first sip. One glass was slightly sour. (And maybe, just maybe, a tad more watery.) The other was certainly preferable.

Not that surprisingly, it was the organic milk that was better. And don't go claiming that it's because the dates were different -- the Lucerne had a date further in the future so if anything it should be more fresh, not less. From now on, I'll buy the slightly more expensive good stuff.

Get a friend, and do a blind tasting of a food product you commonly buy with a competitor. You might learn something neat. (I've done this for a few other products too; I may blog about them at some point.)

San Bruno Avenue Festival and the SF Greek Festival (or, why is Mark so wired?)

[Mostly written after the fact but back-dated appropriately.]

Today I went to two festivals in San Francisco.

The first was the San Bruno Avenue Festival, down in the south-east corner of the city in the Portola district. It was a cute small-scale festival that served as a nice excuse to see a neighborhood I'd normally never have a reason to visit. The people and the neighborhood were predominately asian, but the neighborhood had two distinctive features. One, it had a surprising number of donut shops. Two, it had a surprising number of BBQ joints; I spotted five in the five-or-so blocks of the festival, consisting of one southern BBQ, one Hawaiian BBQ, and three "hong-kong style" BBQ joints. I grabbed lunch at the southern one, Johnson's BBQ, because it was supposedly decent (and it was). I wrote a longer review of the restaurant -very Barber-Shop-the-movie-esque- and distributed it to the appropriate people -- if you want a copy, just ask.

There are three things I spotted worth photographing, though I won't bother uploading the photographs:
* The street fair had a very sad looking petting zoo. Fenced off in the middle of the street, it included two bales of hay and a few chickens and a rooster.
* The New City Bakery. It had a sign: the top said "Grand Opening;" below that it said "Open Daily 7:00am - 8:00pm." Grand opening daily! Hah. (Reminded me of the Thai restaurant in Palo Alto that was perpetually having a "Grand Opening.")
* The police had a booth for recruiting and information and a talking police car on display. The police car was a two door and looked like it was from the 1980s. The car gave advice aloud about safety and security when the door is open. Now we know what police cars do when they survive to a ripe old age and retire.

One band that performed at the fair was actually fairly good: The Skin Divers. They played a wide variety of re-interpretations of songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, including some I didn't recognize that they may have written themselves in the same style. I really enjoyed how they added instruments like a saxophone and a tambourine (though one that was shaken, not hit) and how they speed up the tempo quite a bit. Maybe I'll try to catch them when they perform in Berkeley next month.

After the street fair ended, I still had lots of reading to finish so I delayed attending the Greek Festival (which I wanted to arrive at around dinner time). Instead, I found a nice place and read in the sun (and sometimes in my car when it got too windy and uncomfortable) and got quite a lot done. It's so easy to read when there are no distractions (especially computers) around.

The second festival was the SF Greek Food Festival, in a church in the Mission district. The people attending were a relatively ordinary crowd, lacking the surplus of Mission district hipsters I'd expected. The festival itself was on a slightly smaller scale than the last Greek Festival I attended: while it did have dancing, the dance floor was smaller and there were fewer people doing it (especially compared to the large young crowd that arrived in the evening at the last festival); there were a smaller selection of booths; there were no other plays/performances besides the music. Yet the most important feature was there in the same glorious scope: the food!

The menu was nearly identical to that of past Greek festivals. Instead of going with the items I knew were good, I decided to branch out and try items I hadn't yet tried. First was the grilled lamb chops. These were disappointing: too charbroiled for my taste (though my dad would've liked them) and with no distinctive greek flavor. Second was fried potato wedges which, while fine, had no distinctive greek flavor either. Third was Ouzo, a greek hard alcohol that one sips. To me, it tasted quite sweet but not sweet like southern comfort or italian sodas, rather with a different kind of sweetness that I couldn't put my finger upon. According to the web, most Ouzo tastes of licorice: that could be the flavor I was sensing. (I haven't eaten licorice in years so I don't remember what it tastes like.)

Digression: I got a really good short story idea while sitting at the Greek festival and reading. (Yes, I had a lot of reading to do...)

Happily, I did eat one really good item at the festival: loukoumades. And this finally brings us to the title of the post: Why is Mark so wired? I discussed these (without trying them) in the previous Greek festival post and the Chronicle article to which it links. Loukoumades are roughly honey coated donut holes. They're so goooood! I negotiated and only got a half-order but still I really felt the sugar intake as I was eating them. I'm so glad I didn't eat more. That must've been more sugar than I've eaten in one sitting in a long time. I jogged to my car to get rid of energy, played high energy music in the car and waved my hands all around, and exercised when I returned home. That's how wired I was. And the loukoumades were why. You have to try them given the opportunity.

Interesting Articles: Sep 5th-11th 2005

By happenstance, lots of science-related articles this week:

* Political Science. Somewhat interesting piece on how the position of science advisor works in the Bush administration. Also includes some history about the position and how it has worked in other administrations. (New York Times)
* Olive Oil May Have Pain-Relieving Properties (WebMD). Note: the study only involves extra-virgin olive oil. Also see the original Nature article (Phytochemistry: Ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil) and the Science News (Olives Alive: Extra-virgin oil has anti-inflammatory properties) summary of it. (The latter may not be viewable.)
* Researchers Say Human Brain Is Still Evolving (New York Times). While not really news -of course we're evoluting- some of the evolution is in terms of brain size, and whenever some scientists find a genetic link between a feature of the brain/mind, one wonders how this knowledge will be used or mis-used. (Also see the article mentioned in this old post linking intelligence and genetics.)
* Some articles on non-human social learning:
       * Bumblebee 007: Bees can spy on others' flower choices (Science News). If you can't read it, the abstract of the article Flower choice copying in bumblebees (Biology Letters) summarized the experiment.
       * Chimps ape others to learn tool use (Science News). The original souce for this article is a Nature article entitled Conformity to cultural norms of tool use in chimpanzees.

Belmont Greek Festival 2005

Last Saturday September 3rd 2005, I attended the Belmont Greek Festival. It was a lot of fun! Unlike most festivals that bring in dozens of random vendors selling random food and items, Greek festivals tend to be highly themed and controlled. The only food is produced by the festival itself; the entertainment is Greek music and plays; almost all the vendors sell items from Greece.

The most distinctive feature of Greek festivals (from what I've seen) is the amount of space devoted to food preparation and delivery. Greek festivals always have a wide menu ranging from the well known items like gyros (which I tried and it was great!) and souvlaki and baklava to more unusual items like spanakopita, moussaka, loukoumades and galactoboureko. If you want a good description of the food served at this festival, read this Chronicle review of the Belmont Greek Festival.

In addition to the gyros, I tried the
* Moussaka (eggplant and beef casserole). Pretty decent when I got a balance of the flavors; however, there was way too much beef in my serving and hence most bites entirely lacked eggplant and were uninteresting. I left a lot of ground beef on my plate.
* a Greek salad. Good, though oddly without feta cheese.
* Fasolakia (Greek-style green beans). Nothing special.
* Galactoboureko (custard filled filo pastry). Very tasty.
* Kataife (shredded nut pastries). Similar to Baklava in flavor, but the shredding of the nuts and the shreds of baked dough give it a neat texture (and birds-nest look).
* Hillas (a Greek beer). Tasted like Budweiser (i.e., nothing).

The food was provided and prepared at a variety of places. It was impressive watching the gyro and lamb chop people roast whole lambs outsides. In retrospect, besides desserts I probably should've just stayed outside with the gyros and souvlaki and lamb chops and possibly the filo pies as entrees rather than trying the green beans and the moussaka. (But the roasted chicken inside did look really good...)

Lines for the various stations were long at times, but there was one line that never shrunk. It was always at least half an hour long in waiting time, all the way through closing. As the Chronicle writes, "The most popular sweets by far are the Belmont Greek Festival's renowned loukoumades -- doughnut holes glazed with honey. The freshly fried treats are so popular that the festival organizers have to limit orders to two per person before sending people to the back of the line." I didn't have the patience to wait, but some people at the table I sat at did, and decided it was well worth it.

But I digress about food. Arriving late afternoon, the first thing I did after familiarizing myself with all the sights around was to sit down and watch a production of a play called Jason and the Argonauts. It was great! The actors included a few high school/college-age students -they played the main characters-, and a number of elementary schoolers. The story followed Jason's adventures. It was clear the actors were having piles of fun. And the script seemed authentically home-produced, with remarks like, "I'd love to join your crew Jason, but first I want to sample some of the excellent food at the Belmont Greek Festival." One (big) monster Jason and his argonauts had to defeat was played by an adult dressed in a black robe with a child with a mask sitting on his head. The whole thing was hokey enough to be a lot of fun. They even had little fight scenes with swords and staffs, with a soundtrack played out of speakers by the side of the tiny (four-row) amphitheater . When a monster or challenge was overcome, they'd trigger the momentous-sounding music. I never thought watching such amateur theatrics could be so fun!

As for the rest of the evening, I alternated between waiting in food lines, eating, digesting, reading my book, and listening to music / watching the dancers, successfully stretching out dinner to be a three hour affair.

This was an impressively well organized festival (and I don't just mean a decent quality web page). They gave me a brochure when I entered, that included, among other things, descriptions of all food items, all vendors, and all events, assorted recipes for some of the food, maps of the festival space, and pictures of many of the helpers as well as of the actors and actresses in costume. In addition, it included a bunch of details that added flavor to the festival, like a page with basic Greek lessons, a timeline of the founding of the Orthodox Church, and discussion of Greek customs and rituals (religious and cultural). The most entertaining fact in this brochure was in the section on the history of Greek festivals: Greek festivals were known as an opportunity for young Greeks to dance and woo each other, and the wedding season tended to follow promptly after festivals.

One great feature of this festival (and yet another fact that distinguishes it from most) was that it went until late at night. While most festivals end at five or six pm, this one went until ten. As time passed from the last afternoon when I arrived to nighttime, the crowd changed. In the afternoon there were more families (with an active kids' play zone); in the evening, while the many high schoolers hadn't disappeared, some of the oldest crowd (60+) had been replaced with more college students from local colleges and some twenty-somethings. The dance floor became packed. It got happening. (Earlier in the day the music was a bit more traditional and usually there were only a dozen people on the dance floor dancing traditional dances. The music in the evening, while still mostly Greek, was more lively and allowed a much wider range of styles of dancing.)

Sad that you missed the festival? Greek festivals happen pretty often; most Greek Orthodox Churches have them yearly. The ones nearby still happening in 2005 are: Santa Cruz (Sep 9-11 2005), San Francisco (Sep 16-18 2005), Concord (Sep 16-18 2005), Vallejo (Oct 8-9 2005), and Hayward (Oct 7-9 2005). Judging by their web pages, none of these are as well organized as this one, but they should have good food and music and I've never been disappointed by a Greek festival yet (and I've been to three).

Interesting Articles: August 29th-Sep 4th 2005

* But Is There Intelligent Spaghetti Out There? You know a meme is old when it hits the New York Times. But for those of you that haven't seen this yet, check out the original web site (An Open Letter to the Kansas School Board) and the Wikipedia entry.
* In Re Grammar, Roberts's Stance Is Crystal Clear. An article reflecting an aspect of Robert's personality that I hadn't previously known. I appreciate people that are precise in their writings. (New York Times)
* Getting the Gull: Baiting trick spreads among killer whales. A neat example of (non-human) cultural transmission. If you can't read the Science News article, the abstract of the paper Gull Baiting in Captive Orcas: A Possible Instance of Cultural Transmission (on which the Science News story was based) pretty much summarizes the facts.
* Coming Soon: Broccoli and Peach 'Seaweeds'. Cool! And people think you can't innovate in produce. (Science News)
* Scientific Savvy? In U.S., Not Much. Are people becoming more ignorant or is the world becoming too complex? (New York Times)
* The Breaking Point. On the (possibly) increasing difficulty in supplying oil. It's long read but has a personal narrative tone that makes it a relatively easy read. (New York Times via Energy Bulletin)
* Study Indicates Organic Foods Are Best for Children. The title is perhaps overblown, but the article does demonstrate (unsurprising) consequences of switching to an organic-food diet. (LA Times)
* Student finds term paper for sale online. An unusual complement to the traditional argument against these sites (based upon students using them to submit plagarized papers in their classes). (Business Week)