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“If we do not des­troy ourselves, we will one day ven­ture to the stars…”

And who said sci­ence can’t give mean­ing to your life, and can’t imbue you with a sense of pur­pose?

Part of me still wishes I did that phys­ics major.

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The Hubble Space tele­scope is back in action after its ser­vi­cing mis­sion in May this year, pro­du­cing even more spec­tac­u­lar images.

10 Sep 2009 | No comments

This semester, we’ve been tak­ing a course called “Algorithmic Game The­ory”, which is the broad area that my thes­is top­ic belongs in. Although Tasos is the course coordin­at­or, and lec­tured the first couple of lec­tures, the bulk of the “lec­tur­ing” has fallen to the stu­dents in the course.

Last week was my turn, and I did my talk on evol­u­tion­ary game the­ory. I had been inter­ested in that ever since I read Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene, where he makes use of evol­u­tion­ary game the­ory, albeit in a non-math­em­at­ic­al way, to explain his ideas for the evol­u­tion of genes. In a nut­shell, evol­u­tion­ary game the­ory allows you look at the evol­u­tion of strategies/​genes/​behaviours in a large pop­u­la­tion of organ­isms. For example, can a mutant gene over­take an incum­bent gene? See the link before for more inform­a­tion, or read my lec­ture slides: evolutionary.pptx, evolutionary.pdf.

Now, onto the second half of the post’s title: why I’d hes­it­ate to use Power­Point again. I’ll begin with a cla­ri­fic­a­tion: why I’d hes­it­ate to use Power­Point again where I need to use equa­tions at all. (If you’re an Open­Of­fice fan and you’re begin­ning to smirk, here’s some­thing to wipe your smirk off: Open­Of­fice Impress fails to impress me even more dra­mat­ic­ally. Sorry.)

I’ve been using LaTeX with Beam­er for my present­a­tions this year, and I’ve had a good exper­i­ence with it so far. Why did I use Power­Point? Mainly because I haven’t used Power­Point 2007 for any real pur­pose so far, and secondly, because I saw that Word 2007 had a new flashy equa­tion edit­or that’s kind of nice. It was a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment for me when I had fin­ished writ­ing all the slides with no maths to find that Power­Point some­how failed to inher­it this. Back to old Equa­tion Edit­or. I hate it, so I took to doing the equa­tions in Word and then copy­ing them over as pic­tures. The main prob­lem with all this is that, for a math­em­at­ic­al present­a­tion, equa­tions should not be treated as pic­tures. Power­Point and Open­Of­fice both lack the abil­ity to insert equa­tions as inline text, and that frus­trates me to no end. Anoth­er minor little gripe is that there’s no in-built way to have nav­ig­a­tion bars like you do in Beam­er.

The shock­ing thing is that most lec­tur­ers in aca­demia, such as the School of IT, con­tin­ue to use Power­Point even though the set of tools it provides for tech­nic­al present­a­tions is min­im­al. (If you’re doing a sales pitch with pie charts and dot points, it’s fine.) Unfor­tu­nately, this just means there’s little incent­ive for Microsoft to go and improve the tools for this import­ant mar­ket seg­ment.

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Zachary, G. Showstop­per! The Break­neck Race to Cre­ate Win­dows NT and the Next Gen­er­a­tion at Microsoft.


If you’re into com­put­ing his­tory, this is well worth a read. By the end, you get a really good sense of the per­son­al sac­ri­fices made to cre­ate the first ver­sion of Win­dows NT; it’s hard to cri­ti­cise the flaws in Vista (which is for those unfa­mil­i­ar with Win­dows ver­sion­ing, NT 6.0) when you real­ise the price that many in the team paid: the loss of friends, and the shat­ter­ing of rela­tion­ships. At first, I found the digres­sions into per­son­al his­tory dis­tract­ing, but I felt it added the neces­sary dimen­sion to an oth­er­wise tech­nic­al top­ic.

I also fin­ished read­ing Git­ti­nom­ics by the one and only Ross Gittins, and Joel Spolsky’s ram­blings on just about everything (not the actu­al title), even though I’ve read his web art­icles already. I admire Spolsky’s abil­ity to make man­age­ment and busi­ness access­ible to a tech­nic­al audi­ence.

More books

… and as usu­al I bor­rowed out a bunch of Cantonese books from Fish­er, and this time, a book on express­ive Japan­ese joined the mix. I’m now up to Dawkins #2, but this one seems much harder going than The Selfish Gene. On the left is a very dense book on con­vex math­em­at­ics from my super­visor. It’s dense.

Not so dense:

Doraemon books

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I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but to get around the fact that a lot of the online New Sci­ent­ist is locked up for sub­scribers only, you can log into the uni­ver­sity library’s web­site and go via one of the data­bases that has New Sci­ent­ist. Some are an edi­tion behind, but Factiva has the cur­rent one avail­able… and although the format­ting makes it a little hard to read, at least all the text is there.

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My Kodak LS743 gave up the ghost with the mys­ter­i­ous E45 error, which from what I can gath­er, is rather com­mon on Kodak cam­er­as. It had been show­ing the error just every now and then, but recently, every time I turned it on, it would dis­play the error. It’s a pity, because for a con­sumer cam­era, I could hardly fault it.

From scour­ing the for­ums, it appears that the error is triggered by some particles being lodged in some sensor related to the lens. The Kodak site itself was unhelp­ful, simply sug­gest­ing that you take it in for ser­vi­cing (expens­ive!). But some people have man­aged to recov­er their cam­era from the error — and judging that a mas­sacred cam­era isn’t much worse than a non-func­tion­ing cam­era, I took to it with a screw­driver.

The res­ult is illus­trated down below. Try as I might, I couldn’t work out how to take the lens out for clean­ing — there must be some screws I’ve missed. Sur­pris­ingly, it’s still boot­able in that state — you just need to hold the bat­tery in its slot because I’ve taken out the bit of plastic that holds it in. But no luck — still get­ting the error.

A bit of a waste of time, but inter­est­ing non­ethe­less. Trivia: when you take the back pan­el off, you can clearly see the Sharp brand­ing on the LCD pan­el. Will we buy anoth­er Kodak? I’d recom­mend against them. All the Kodaks we’ve had have died in mys­ter­i­ous cir­cum­stances. I’d like to get anoth­er con­sumer cam­era one day — tak­ing my SLR around is a little awk­ward some­times.

Kodak LS743 front

Kodak LS743 back

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I’m read­ing Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene at the moment, and I’m rather engrossed with it cur­rently — I’m a suck­er for pop sci. One thing I’ll have to say is that his style of argu­ment has def­in­itely reversed my pre­vi­ous opin­ion that bio­logy is a fluffy field of study. I won’t say much more because there are people who are able to make far more cap­able com­ment­ar­ies about the work, but I will say that the use of game the­ory, a cent­ral theme in my hon­ours work, in the study of evol­u­tion has opened my eyes to the wide applic­ab­il­ity of game the­or­et­ic approaches.

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