Saturday, March 28, 2009

BinInt, finally!

After much delay, I finally got my BinInt GA problem running successfully in ECJ. Part of the issue was setting everything up again on a new laptop, part also was moving to ECJ 18, and part was my own stupidity. But it looks like it is all working now.

BinInt takes the same bit vector as MaxOnes and divides it into several subproblems. Each subproblem is treated as a binary integer, hence the name. The key new feature of this problem is the introduction of exponential scaling. Some bits are worth a lot more than others.

I wrote the fitness function so that it scales the fitness according to the size and number of subproblems. Best fitness is always 1. this way, we can vary the size and number of the subproblems and directly compare the trajectory of different parameter choices in solving the problem.

Watchmen Re-review

OK, so now I've read the complete graphic novel of Watchmen, and I'll try to do the fanboy comparison of the book and the movie.

Overall, the movie is a pretty fanboy-ish production. The dialog, a lot of the visual blocking is taken straight from the panels of the novel. What's changed is the double layer of subtext in the newstand/Black Freighter plot, the chapter breaking texts, and the final plot device. As for the first two, that's the price of going from one medium to another. The final plot device (FPD) is actually an improvement. The material in the book supporting the FPD is weak, tenuous, and undercuts some of the suspension of disbelief. The movie's FPD is a tighter construction that helps motivate the self-exile of Jon Osterman, which is still the major plot problem of the whole story.

Watchmen is a wonderful comic book that is in love with the American comic book tradition and is speaking to it, playing with its conventions, and retelling its history. There is no way a movie can do all of that and still be a commercial success. However, the deep ethical question still shines through. Because they operate outside the law, are vigilantes in danger of becoming outlaws? Do they, in the end, become outlaws necessarily?

Ozymandias subscribes to the "shock and awe" theory that led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To this, Watchmen adds the Big Lie and Orwellian Memory Hole. How many of us would choose that combination over the unflinching stance of Rorshach?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Watchmen review

I watched the film without having ever read the graphic novel, so I've tried to think about it simply as a film. As such, I prefer V for Vendetta, which covers most of the same points.

Nixon's makeup was awful. The initial shot of Nixon from a distance had the best voice impression, from there it went downhill. Even in 1985 we knew Nixon was much more obscene out of the public eye, so his dialogue was as rubbery as his makeup. This Nixon is still the anti-communist cold warrior of the 1960 election, not the President who went to China and toasted Chou En Lai.

I thought the movie was effective at trying to give the feeling of simultaneity of experience that Dr Manhattan felt, by cutting back and forth in time. It also did acheive the effect of convincing me that anyone with God like powers is going to be aloof and apathetic to the human condition, that vigilantism becomes thrill seeking too easily. The other supers were more then Batman-esque characters. I think the movie is pretty clear that Ozymandias is both super-smart and super-fast, for example. They all can take a lot more punishment than the normal folks they beat up.

I enjoyed Rorshach's voice overs and dialogue, but as I said earlier, preferred V doing the same schtick. So V for Vendetta will remain my favorite Alan Moore adaption for a while. until they make a trilogy out of Lost Girls!


I was just listening to some Cirque du Soleil again. I love the voice of Francesca Gagnon, the White Singer of Alegria. It's got that smoky quality that makes the performance very intimate. I wish more of her music was available through iTunes. Does she remind you of Edith Piaf?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Folding Progress

I'm quite enthusiastic about Folding@Home. My own folding just passed a milestone that means something, at least to me.

F@H awards points for finishing work units (WUs) on time. You can sign on with a user name, even join a team, and watch your individual contribution to science grow. Are points really pointless? Yes, but they appeal to our competitive urge, so they help keep people participating.

So my personal milestone - my number of points is now more than my standing on the leader board! Yes, comparing to different quantities, I know. It happened somewhere between 65,000 and 70,000. Since there are more than 1.2 million folders (not all active right now), I'm in the top 5% of contributors to F@H. Yeah, me! Also, Team Deloitte is in the top 5% of all folding teams. Pretty good for only three guys.

Actually, there are two other lessons you can draw from this progress. 1 - most people who do fold, fold anonymously. 2 - a lot of people tried folding, then forgot about it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Wrestling with a superhero origins story

Since joining the SFABC and the excellent Writers of the Weird writing group, I've written two SF stories which I'm quite happy about. I've collected one polite rejection, which is also ok.

Now I'm thinking about a new story that is actually a comic book superhero story! I'm not a real spandex-clad fanboi, so this is something of a departure for me.

All I've got right now is the gimmick that creates Our Hero. Our Hero is actually a mild mannered nobody-in-particular until they die, and then are saved by an emergency heart transplant. The gimmick is that they receive the heart of a dead superhero!

So far the dead hero is named Aurion. I don't know much about him so far, except he has golden blood, psionic powers and he's dead. Oh, he's also from somewhere in the EU, because he's a member of a Euro supersquad. Other members
  • Bruit - think Thing, but French. "Bruit, le smash!"
  • Accelerondo - think Flash, but Italian.

Need more Euros, right?

ps - don't take this too seriously!

The Origami of Life

I just wanted to share my experience with this participatory science project.
Folding@Home is a protein folding research project that is part of Stanford University. While understanding how proteins fold up into their three dimensional shapes is very important, it is also very difficult. The process in the cell takes place in microseconds as the proteins are synthesized from the instructions in messenger RNA (copied from the DNA in the nucleus). Therefore the method of choice today is to simulate the motions of the atoms using computers.
Obviously, this takes a lot of computer power. More than even the largest supercomputer, in fact. So the only alternative is to reach out to thousands of PCs and borrow their spare CPU time. Modern computers are idle most of the time. Even when browsing the web and listening to music through your computer, its processor is just idling away. Distributed computing, also called grid computing, is a way to use those spare cycles to do some good.
Folding@Home is the largest distributed computing project in the world today. Anyone with a PC, laptop, or Sony PS3 and an internet connection can join. The joint efforts of hundreds of thousands of volunteers create a computing engine that is currently five times faster than the biggest supercomputer!
I recently joined, and it is very satisfying to know that for the cost of the electricity to leave my PC on, I am contributing in a significant way to curing Alzheimer's Disease, Mad Cow Disease, Huntington's Disease, studying cancer, and advancing basic science.
To join, I went to the F@H web page to download and install the right F@H client for my machine and operating system. Now F@H just sits in the background while I use the PC normally. Because F@H only uses the spare cycles on the machine, it never interferes with other uses. I can also pause F@H whenever I want.
As you might expect of a grid computing project, the security of the software is a top priority. The software has been downloaded over 800,000 times, and no one has ever gotten a computer virus from joining F@H.
Anyone reading this message probably has all that it takes to participate in F@H. Please try it. It's fun and rewarding to see the molecules your PC is working on, and to earn points for completing work. But the real reward is knowing that you are helping to make life better, one spare cycle at a time.

ps - SETI@Home is a similar project aimed at detecting signals in radio waves collected from the Arecibo radio telescope.
pps - This is not meant to be an internet chain letter, but obviously a volunteer grid computing project grows mostly by word of mouth. If you try F@H and like it, you have my permission to forward this message to your friends, or use parts of it to convince the powers that be at local school districts and college campuses that F@H is safe, fun, and something that can make kids excited about science. PCs in classrooms are exactly the kind of underutilized resource that would greatly benefit Folding@Home.