20 June 2010

Weekend Roundup, 20 to 21 June 2010

Geek and Nerd Edition: a self-replicator in the Game of Life; preview of Season 4 of "The IT Crowd"; the evolutionary psychology of losing interest in sex with your partner; David Byrne on architecture and music; Medieval science; the perils of Theory; tweeting the Utah execution; dinosaur civilization? (auf Deutsch)

More geeky goodness: Some of my fellow geek readers will remember the Game of Life, the cellular automaton developed by John Conway in 1970. It never went away; in fact, it has continued to be the focus of research into the many unexpected patterns and actions that the game can spawn.

New Scientist has an excellent article on the topic by Jacob Aron, which provides a lucid summary of the Game as background for his discussion of what purports to be the first self-replicating "creature" ever developed in it (although, if you read the extensive comments to the article, you'll see that not everyone agrees with this claim). The pattern is called Gemini, and was developed by Andrew Wade, a programmer living in Toronto.

But the best part is that you can try it out yourself. Aron provides links (which I'm borrowing) to a good open-source Game of Life simulator called Golly that runs under the Mac OS, Linux, or Windows (I can verify that it runs fine under OS X, 10.5.8), and to the code for Gemini.  Make sure to follow Aron's instructions, though, or you may not see much.  The self-replicating action takes place at either end of the diagonal line, and you'll have to zoom in several steps in order to see it.  And if you want to see it today (as opposed to next week), you'll need to increase the "step" rate in the way that Aron describes, because not much happens until nearly generation 2,000,000.  But then things really hot up.

And speaking of geeky (or, if you wish, nerdy) goodness: Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing points out that Channel 4 in Britain has posted a preview to Season 4 of The IT Crowd. I haven't watched it yet, because it takes (appropriately) a certain amount of nerdy fiddling to see it if you live outside the UK. But if you're a nerd or geek, or count one or more geeks or nerds among your loved ones, you can watch all 18 episodes of the first three seasons of The IT Crowd on Netflix streaming. Just don't plan to do anything else for the next 48 hours.

From geekiness to evolutionary psychology. A couple of weeks ago, I linked to "Ask Carole," the evolutionary psych Agony Aunt column in the Guardian. She posted her latest column on Saturday, "I love her, but the sex has died." The topic is obviously chosen to titillate, but the explanationa of the science are clear, balanced, and serious (no sniggering), and she provides great lists of references to the research literature.

David Byrne gives a TED talk on "How Architecture Helped Music Evolve." Worth watching (via 3quarksdaily).

And for insight into science into the Middle Ages, Mr. Show's "The Limits of Science," an educational film found at Stonehenge (via io9).

A good anecdote (and a true one) about the perils of Theory, at Savage Minds. Yes, that's Theory with a capital 'T'....

Utah attorney general Tweets the recent execution (via io9).

"Gab es eine Dinosaurier-Zivilisation?" (Was there a dinosaur civilization?). A new post this evening at Fischblog. I haven't read it yet, but I didn't want to make you wait.  If there was a dinosaur civilization, here's hoping it was more civilized than Utah.
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