Category Archives: Technology

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Last year, University of Pennsylvania researchers Alexander J. Stewart and Joshua B. Plotkin published a mathematical explanation for why cooperation and generosity have evolved in nature. Using the classical game theory match-up known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma, they found that generous strategies were the only ones that could persist and succeed in a multi-player, iterated version of the game over the long term.

But now they’ve come out with a somewhat less rosy view of evolution. With a new analysis of the Prisoner’s Dilemma played in a large, evolving population, they found that adding more flexibility to the game can allow selfish strategies to be more successful. The work paints a dimmer but likely more realistic view of how cooperation and selfishness balance one another in nature.

“It’s a somewhat depressing evolutionary outcome, but it makes intuitive sense,” said Plotkin, a professor in Penn’s Department of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences, who coauthored the study with Stewart, a postdoctoral researcher in his lab. “We had a nice picture of how evolution can promote cooperation even amongst self-interested agents and indeed it sometimes can, but, when we allow mutations that change the nature of the game, there is a runaway evolutionary process, and suddenly defection becomes the more robust outcome.”


The university (of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) contracted with Cray to build the National Science Foundation-funded supercomputer Blue Waters after IBM backed out in August 2012. Blue Waters will be capable of sustained performance of one quadrillion calculations per second and peak performance of more than eleven quadrillion calculations per second. The system also boasts the largest online storage system in the world with more than 25 petabytes of usable space. The university whimsically celebrated January 12, 1997 as the “birthday” of HAL 9000, the fictional supercomputer from the novel and film 2001: A Space Odyssey; in both works, HAL credits “Urbana, Illinois” as his place of operational origin. [More at Wikipedia]

Maybe Barbie should have gone to school in Australia

barbieMaybe Barbie should have gone to school in Australia:… Back in 2010, “Computer Engineer Barbie” was released… The book shows Barbie attempting to write a computer game. However, instead of writing the code, she enlists two boys to write the code as she just does the design. She then proceeds to infect her computer and her sister’s computer with a virus and must enlist the boys to fix that for her as well. In the end she takes all the credit, and proclaims “I guess I can be a computer engineer!” A blog post commenting on the book (as well as giving pictures of the book and its text) has been moved to Gizmodo due to high demand: at
And in Australia? “Teenage boys are often thought to be the geeks of the computer world. But a major international study released Thursday found Australian girls are more computer-literate than their male classmates. Year 8 students from Australia performed higher than students in almost all 21 education systems on the 2013 International Computer and Information Literacy Study – the only exception being the Czech Republic…” More at

What’s wrong with research funding

Here’s an article from that talks about the nightmare of Science funding now in the USA. Just change the word ‘Science’ to the word ‘Humanities’ and you have the problem; the problem that’s turning humanities faculties today into sheltered workshops for dullards:

Like any researcher, [Tim] Berners-Lee had to find support to work on his idea. He wrote up a 14-page proposal and sent it to his boss at CERN, Mike Sendall, who famously scribbled the following on the front-page: ‘Vague, but exciting…’ We are all very lucky that Berners-Lee was in a time and place that gave the young engineer some latitude to pursue his vague but creative idea, one that would ultimately change the world. If Berners-Lee submitted that idea to government funding agencies for support, who knows where the Internet would be today?
‘There’s a current problem in biomedical research,’ says American biochemist Robert Lefkowitz, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. ‘The emphasis is on doing things which are not risky. To have a grant proposal funded, you have to propose something and then present what is called preliminary data, which is basically evidence that you’ve already done what you’re proposing to do. If there’s any risk involved, then your proposal won’t be funded.‘[…]
‘A truly innovative idea cannot be judged by peers: if it is truly innovative, no peer has any clue about it; if peers already know about it, it is not innovative’ said John Ioannidis, head of the Stanford Prevention Research Centre in California. Ioannidis and others published a recent analysis called ‘Conform and be Funded’ where they show that safer, established ideas have a much better chance of being funded at the NIH than novel, creative ones. [Emphasis added.] [More here]

Nice police

computercopFor years, local law enforcement agencies around the country [the USA] have told parents that installing ComputerCOP software is the “first step” in protecting their children online. Police chiefs, sheriffs, and district attorneys have handed out hundreds of thousands of copies of the disc to families for free at schools, libraries, and community events, usually as a part of an “Internet Safety” outreach initiative. The packaging typically features a signed message warning of the “dark and dangerous off-ramps” of the Internet.
ComputerCOP is actually just spyware, generally bought in bulk from a New York company that appears to do nothing but market this software to local government agencies. The way ComputerCOP works is neither safe nor secure. It isn’t particularly effective either, except for generating positive PR for the law enforcement agencies distributing it. [The product has] a keystroke-capturing function, also called a ‘keylogger,’ that could place a family’s personal information at extreme risk by transmitting what a user types over the Internet to third-party servers without encryption. That means many versions of ComputerCOP leave children (and their parents, guests, friends, and anyone using the affected computer) exposed to the same predators, identity thieves, and bullies that police claim the software protects against. [More here]

The Kentucky Phone

Kentucky Chicken Phone

Some of the most unusual and amusing digital accessories in the world are coming from the Japanese arm of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fast-food chain already unveiled a fried-chicken keyboard, computer mouse and USB drive as part of a Twitter promotion and giveaway. KFC Japan looked upon its mighty works and said, “Yes, this is good, but we can do better.” And then it introduced a fried-chicken iPhone case. I think the laughing Colonel is saying “Oh no, she’s actually using the Chicken Phone! This is too much! Talking on it! Wait until she starts trying to eat it!!”

[From: the Wonderful Amanda Kooser at]

Go Left, Young Person


What does this mean? Apple’s built-in dictionary helps a bit:
loo 1 |lu?| nounBrit. informal
a toilet. [ as modifier ] : loo paper.
ORIGIN 1940s: many theories have been put forward about the word’s origin: one suggests the source is Waterloo, a trade name for iron cisterns in the early part of the century; the evidence remains inconclusive.
loo 2 |lu?| noun [ mass noun ] a gambling card game, popular from the 17th to the 19th centuries, in which a player who fails to win a trick must pay a sum to a pool…
… but no one tells us why it is found to the left, in downtown Balmain, Sydney, Australia.

Free DOS

On Slashdot today:

Jim Hall (2985) writes “In a June 29, 1994 post in comp.os.msdos.apps on USENET, a physics student announced an effort to create a completely free version of DOS that everyone could use. That project turned into FreeDOS, 20 years ago! Originally intended as a free replacement for MS-DOS, FreeDOS has since advanced what DOS could do, adding new functionality and making DOS easier to use. And today in 2014, people continue to use FreeDOS to support embedded systems, to run business software, and to play classic DOS games!”

…who would have thought? … maybe it would run my old version of Wordperfect? Or Word 5.1?

Wordstar 4.0!!


Photo: Author George R. R. Martin

I’ve always admired Australian technical journalist Charles Wright for his incisive stories about computer software. This is a good one: later in the piece he talks about Scrivener and Aeon Timeline, programs I use every day:
“Novelist George R. R. Martin shocked a lot of readers a couple of weeks ago when he revealed to TV host Conan O’Brien that he does all his work on a 1980s MS-DOS computer, using a long-defunct word processor called Word Star 4.0.
“The thought that such a gripping, inconceivably dense, seven-novel epic as A Song of Ice and Fire (so far we’ve only seen the first five) could be hammered out on a long-discarded operating system and creaky, keyboard-oriented, command-line-driven software from the era of dot-matrix printers, completely insulated from the internet, was all but inconceivable to generations raised in the era of icons and touch-screens.” More at

Puzzle or Mystery?

game-loserFrom Slashdot: “An opinion piece at Polygon raises an interesting question about how we perceive video games: why does so much effort go into having the plot make perfect sense? Think about games you’ve played that have a story. How much do you actually remember? You can probably name the protagonist and antagonist, but do you really know what they were fighting about? The article says, [Developer Jake Elliot] talked about the difference between a puzzle and a mystery. He argued that a puzzle has a solution, while a mystery may never be solved. A puzzle must make sense, but a mystery may well not. In the context of a game, the mechanics are the puzzle, while the theme is the mystery. The game play must be predictable, or the player will never master it. But the theme can be evocative and open-ended. A theme evokes the horrors of war; the mechanics remind you to reload your gun. The plot is stuck in the middle. It wants to make sense of a game, but the game play is already doing that. If we were watching a movie, the plot would provide the backbone, but games don’t work like movies, and the plot can get in the way. It can feel awkward and unwelcome, while a looser thematic layer can be the most memorable part of the game.”

Gary Kildall honoured at last

200px-GaryKildall“GeekWire reports that Gary Kildall, the creator of the landmark personal computer operating system CP/M, will be recognized posthumously by the IEEE for that contribution, in addition to his invention of BIOS, with a rare IEEE Milestone plaque. Kildall, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 52, has been called the man who could have been Bill Gates. But according to Kildall’s son, his dad wasn’t actually interested in being what Bill Gates became: ‘He was a real inventor,’ said Scott Kildall. ‘He was much more interested in creating new ideas and bringing them to the world, rather than being the one that was bringing them to market and leveraging a huge amount of profits. He was such a kind human being. He was always sharing his ideas, and would sit down with people and show flowcharts of what he was thinking. I think if he were around for the open-source movement, he would be such a huge proponent of it.’ Techies of a certain age will also remember Gary’s work as a co-host of Computer Chronicles.” From Slashdot, at

Surgical Constrictor Knot

Enough arty photographs! Are you a surgeon? Feel a burning need to ligate a uterine pedicle? Welcome to Surgical Knots:

We introduced this section partly to accompany our research on surgical knots showing that the Constrictor is markedly superior to knots usually employed by surgeons. The paper has generated interest and, as a result, the [British] Royal College of Surgeons has kindly made it Available On Line. From: Animated Knots by Grog.

Why don’t I allow comments on this site?

In the past few years, the science of Internet trollology has made some strides. Last year, for instance, we learned that by hurling insults and inciting discord in online comment sections, so-called Internet trolls (who are frequently anonymous) have a polarizing effect on audiences, leading to politicization, rather than deeper understanding of scientific topics.
Continue reading Why don’t I allow comments on this site?


No, not a memorial to US poet Frank O’Hara, as poetry lovers might imagine, or John O’Hara, for those who prefer prose. Two of three such devices, much-trodden-on, let into the sidewalk of Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, California, long ago and discovered in December 2013 and photographed by John Tranter. Once upon a time the O’Hara Company made these little brass lids for under-sidewalk pipes — for fuel oil, perhaps — some ten centimeters square, about the size of a CD cover. The address of the firm in Los Angeles, some three hundred and fifty miles away, is now (in 2013) a near-derelict building not far from the Los Angeles Galvanizing Company.