richard dawkins

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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.

Showstopper!

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’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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