Archive for February, 2011

Emergent Behavior Explained

500 people tracing a straight line.

A Sequence of Lines Traced by Five Hundred Individuals from clement valla on Vimeo.

A Sequence of Lines Consecutively Traced by Five Hundred Individuals is an online drawing tool that lets users do just one thing – trace a line. Each new user only sees the latest line drawn, and can therefore only trace this latest imperfect copy. As the line is reproduced over and over, it changes and evolves – kinks, trembling motions and errors are exaggerated through the process.

A Sequence of Lines Consecutively Traced by Five Hundred Individuals was first created as a tool to be used in conjunction with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk – an online labor market. Mechanical Turk workers were paid 2 cents to trace a line.

Note how the line starts to change appreciably right from the off. Eventually it splits into several lines and takes on various interesting and intricate forms. Notice also that it tends to move, drifting left or right.

The line morphs and moves as a result of people tracing over it, attempting to prevent exactly the emergent behavior that ends up manifesting. Weird emergent properties like this appear everywhere, from evolution to mob mentality to stock markets. This is, I think, the purest expression of the phenomenon I’ve ever seen.

Disclosure Notice

Nifty Unix Hack from Ted Dziuba

Awesome work on egregiously abusing Unix’s make to allow interruptible/resumable workflows. Brilliant stuff.

“She’s said ‘I’m a bad girl, just like in the movies'”

Oh man, guys, Johnny High Ground has a new EP out! Joe Rybicki is a brilliant musician, and crafts truly awesome tunes. Go check out his new EP, Lorum Ipsum on his Band Camp page. Then go and buy all the rest of his stuff, too. Because it’s all brilliant.

But if you do nothing else, go check out his new song “Slow News Day“. It’s catchy, well-crafted, well-performed, and a very important message.

Support Your Friendly Neighborhood Rockstars

Okay, so they’re not exactly in my neck of the woods, but they definitely are friendly and rockstars. See, four of the most brilliant, kind, funny, awesome people in the world happened to get together and form a band. That band is called the Shondes, and it’s been my great and distinct pleasure to meet them on a few occasions and to get to know them a little bit. They’re talented musicians and beautiful human beings.

Last weekend, their van got stolen. Now a good van is the life-blood of many a decent rock band, but the Shondes, living as they do in NYC, have no other vehicle. They need a good reliable vehicle to get them to gigs and to their recording studio in upstate New York. They’ve set up a kickstarter project to try and raise money to get a new van.

Now I’m planning to donate some to the cause, but I kind of wanted to do something more. So here’s the plan. If any of you reading this donate to the Shondes’ kickstarter project, post a comment here with the amount that you donated and I will match all donations from my readers between now and March 1st up to $100, in addition to the lump sum I was already going to donate. It’s not much, but it’s definitely something.

The Shondes are great people and awesome musicians. So please, if you can, donate to the cause. If you do so ’cause you read about it here, please leave a comment, and I’ll match your donation.

In the meantime, here’s a fun video for their song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”:

Dear Immigration Opponents

Sit down, get out your pencils and a sheet of college-rule, because Mr. Bryan Caplan is about to take you to school:

FFF Economic Liberty Lecture Series: Bryan Caplan from The Future of Freedom Foundation on Vimeo.

Caplan’s hour-plus take does a pretty good job of demolishing anti-immigration arguments, but if there’s any questions still remaining in your mind, here’s a supplementary reading list that should put those questions to rest:

Steve Chapman, “Immigration and Crime” (Reason Magazine, posted a year ago today on 2010.02.22). Key quote:

“Since 1986, the year of the infamous amnesty for illegal immigrants, the U.S. murder rate has plunged by 37 percent. (In Chicago, the number of homicides went from 747 in 1986 to 460 last year.) Forcible rape is down 23 percent. Drunk driving fatalities are off by more than half. You are safer today than you were before all those undocumented interlopers arrived.”

The Implications of Immigrant Entrepreneurship” (, 2007.07.03) Quote:

“A survey of 28,000 companies found that immigrants were key founders in more than a quarter of all the engineering and technology companies set up in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005.

The new research–led by Vivek Wadhwa, an executive-in-residence at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering–is a follow-up of a study published earlier this year by Wadhwa and his team that had counted $52 billion in annual sales by these immigrant-founded companies. Total employment at those companies: roughly 450,000.”

“Rethinking the Effects of Immigration on Wages”, Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano, Giovanni Peri. 2006.08 National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Abstract:

“This paper asks the following question: what was the effect of surging immigration on average and individual wages of U.S.-born workers during the period 1990-2004? We emphasize the need for a general equilibrium approach to analyze this problem. The impact of immigrants on wages of U.S.-born workers can be evaluated only by accounting carefully for labor market and capital market interactions in production. Using such a general equilibrium approach we estimate that immigrants are imperfect substitutes for U.S.- born workers within the same education-experience-gender group (because they choose different occupations and have different skills). Moreover, accounting for a reasonable speed of adjustment of physical capital we show that most of the wage effects of immigration accrue to native workers within a decade. These two facts imply a positive and significant effect of the 1990-2004 immigration on the average wage of U.S.-born workers overall, both in the short run and in the long run. This positive effect results from averaging a positive effect on wages of U.S.-born workers with at least a high school degree and a small negative effect on wages of U.S.-born workers with no high school degree.”

“God does not need Abraham”

Sorry for the no blogging the past few days. I’ve had a few college friends in town, and have spent my time catching up with them as well as doing my fair share of drinking, carousing, etc.

Content volume should pick up tomorrow. In the meantime, this song wrecks me. Ethereally beautiful, heartbreaking, lush, perfect:

EDIT: Looks like the embedding widget is broke. Grooveshark link.

Kurzweil on Watson

Here’s an interesting article by Mad Prophet (whether he’s mostly mad or mostly prophet depends on your personal view point) Ray Kurzweil on Watson, the Jeopardy-playing Computer. One bone of contention, Kurzweil says that “I do expect the type of natural language processing we see in Watson to show up in search engines and other knowledge retrieval systems over the next five years.”

The problem is that his prediction as stated would be about 8-years behind the curve. Next IT has been doing Watson-level language recognition in publicly available systems for years. Domain-specific language, sure, but then again that’s all they need to do. Are we five years away from general-purpose Watson-level language parsing in search engines or information retrieval systems? Possibly, but I doubt it’s that long.

Welcome to the future folks!

Disclaimer: I’m a former employee of Next IT.

Of Moles and Goldfish

At this rate it won’t be long before I need a “China Miéville is Right!” category. It’s strange how often I end up agreeing with a Trotskyite like him.

“The major monstrosities of imperialism are things like expropriation & mass murder. Among imperialism’s minor crimes, to which an appropriate response might be not so much rage as a gasp of epochal irritation, is that it treats humanity as if it is truly, epically, boundlessly thick.

“Traditionally, the totem of emancipation is a mole, industrious little seditionist unexpectedly poking up throughout history to throw the cantering jodhpured fuckers off their horses. Blair, Biden & their colleagues appear to believe, instead, that it is a goldfish.”

RTWT, as the kids these days are saying.

“Her voice, delicate as it was, had a strength to it that made one realize why a teacup can stay in one piece for centuries, defying the changes of history and the turmoil of man.”

-Richard Brautigan, Sombrero Fallout

Someone Give This Man a Medal

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1.) Carry out your own dead.
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