Matt Reusswig's Weblog

Month: January, 2008

Speaking of Black Boxes

The excerpt (below the fold)  is from an interview with an anonymous hedge fund manager in n+1: Read the rest of this entry »

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Black Boxes and Engineering

Agronomists, biologists, engineers and technologists make and accomplish many useful and interesting things with living stuff. These can be broken down into broad two categories:

  • Commodities–e.g. food, textiles and energy;
  • Services–e.g. cleaning water and soils, detecting pathogens.

What’s sort of amazing isn’t that we have taken biological systems and made them do all this–it’s that for much of human history up until the mid-twentieth century we have made them do it without always understanding how plants and microbial communities really work! Read the rest of this entry »

Synthetic Biology and Biofuels

Check out Rob Carlson’s post titled “High yield biofuels production using engineered non-fermentative pathways in microbes“.  Also, see Juan Enriquez’s TED presentation.

Third Culture Watch: Mandelbrotian Art Show

Its very cool that Benoit Mandelbrot has an art contest featuring fractal art. Here’s what the man himself has to say:

“What distinguishes fractal geometry within mathematics is an exceptional and uncanny characteristic. Its first steps are not tedious, hard, and unrewarding, but playful and extraordinarily easy, and provide rich reward in terms of stunning graphics. To the mathematician, they bring a bounty of very difficult conjectures that no one can solve. To the artist, they provide backbones around which imagination can play at will. To everyone, a few steps in about any direction bring extraordinary pleasure. Nothing is more serious than play. Let’s all play.”

Svelte Information: Charts

Via Jason Kottke, this Economist piece reviews the history of three influential charts from the 19th century.

Edge Question 2008: What have you changed your mind about?

Here.

Some highlights dealing with the question of Theory & Practice:

Brian Eno:

Maoism, or my disappointment with it, also changed my feelings about how politics should be done. I went from revolutionary to evolutionary. I no longer wanted to see radical change dictated from the top — even if that top claimed to be the bottom, the ‘voice of the people’. I lost faith in the idea that there were quick solutions, that everyone would simultaneously see the light and things would suddenly flip over into a wonderful new reality. I started to believe it was always going to be slow, messy, compromised, unglamorous, bureaucratic, endlessly negotiated — or else extremely dangerous, chaotic and capricious. In fact I’ve lost faith in the idea of ideological politics altogether: I want instead to see politics as the articulation and management of a changing society in a changing world, trying to do a half-decent job for as many people as possible, trying to set things up a little better for the future.

And Aubrey de Grey:

…A curiosity-driven sequence of experiments is useful not because of the sequence, but because of the technological opportunities that emerge at the end of the sequence. The sequence is not an end in itself. And this is rather important to keep in mind. Any scientist, on completing an experiment, is spoilt for choice concerning what experiment to do next — or, more prosaically, concerning what experiment to apply for funding to do next.

The natural criterion for making this choice is the likelihood that the experiment will generate a wide range of answers to technologically important questions, thereby providing new technological opportunities. But an altogether more frequently adopted criterion, in practice, is that the experiment will generate a wide range of new questions — new reasons to do more experiments. This is only indirectly useful, and I believe that in practice it is indeed less frequently useful than programs of research designed with one eye on the potential for eventual technological utility.