a non-linear space for students of chaos and fractals....


Preparing for Chaos: Patently Lame

The Boston Molasses Disaster
It seems tautological that it's impossible to get ready for Chaos. Yet a recent patent application by researchers at IBM claims to do just that. In their System and method for optimizing the selection, verification, and deployment of expert resources in a time of chaos Robert Friedlander, Richard Hennessy, Anwer Mujahid Khan and James Kraemer describe:

A computer implemented method, apparatus, and computer usable program code for finding skills and resources for a chaotic event. Skills data for the chaotic event are organized. A determination is made whether the skills and the resources are available in response to a receiving an identification of the skills and the resources that are required to manage the chaotic event. The skills and the resources are optimized based on requirements and constraints, potential skills, and enabling resources to determine optimized skills and optimized resources. The availability of the optimized skills and the optimized resources are verified. The optimized skills and the optimized resources are reoptimized in response to a determination that the optimized skills and the optimized resources are unavailable.

Pardon my skepticism here - while what is described here certainly seems laudable, it doesn't sound like much more than a nice robust system that links resources with those who need them. The word "chaos" is being (mis)appropriated to add some juice to the patent claim. There ain't no chaos here, at least not in the sense of CHAOS Theory. The word chaos then doesn't convey anything more than a hook for readers and , presumably, patent examiners.

Maybe the authors do better in actually describing a chaotic event. See what you think:

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The Face of Spam

spam_plants07.jpgUugh.. who would want to look at anything remotely representative of two of the most hideously ugly realities of online life?

Alex Dragalescu, that's who. Dragalescu, a Romanian visual artist, often uses analyses of spam and other annoyances to drive visualization schemes, producing highly-organic-looking computer-generated images. (And, in this case, a nice example of meta-imagery: CGI's of nasty things that see their birth, and are spread, via computers.)

For example, Alex uses "the ASCII values found in the text of spam messages determine the attributes and qualities of the Spam Plants."

The graphic in this post is from Spam plants.

His latest series is entitled Malwarez, which is

a series of visualization of worms, viruses, trojans and spyware code. For each piece of disassembled code, API calls, memory addresses and subroutines are tracked and analyzed. Their frequency, density and grouping are mapped to the inputs of an algorithm that grows a virtual 3D entity. Therefore the patterns and rhythms found in the data drive the configuration of the artificial organism.

This is all fascinating, fractal stuff, and is in the spirit of other visualization projects posted on fractalog.


Nonlinear Nabokov

Updated on Monday, April 28, 2008 by Registered CommenterR.A. DiDio


In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote most achingly of the need, for those so called, to write...

ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity;

Vladimir Nabokov - a pre-eminent author of the 20th century, Russian emigre, butterfly expert, author of Lolita - built his life according to Rilke's mandate.

But he shuffled while he wrote.

Nabokov's writing method typically included composing on index cards. Quirkily, he would shuffle these cards daily, allowing him to see different paths to take by looking at the story unfolding in different ways.

This non-linearity in structure was also matched by a non-linearity in focus: he often wrote the middle of the story last.

At several thousand index cards per book, this produces a lot of different paths.

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Van Gogh's Turbulent Period

Starry Starry night,
Vortices swirl around each star,
Eddies within eddies from near and far
With flows that know the darkness in my soul..

OK. Enough Don McClean. This post is about Van Gogh and his uncanny ability to depict reality in an unreal way, raising once again the question: Do certain artists have an ability to capture physical process and /or mathematical truths that can't be mimicked by others? And is there a correlation with this ability and madness?

Where Jackson Pollock's paintings are instantiations of splattered fractals, Van Gogh's paintings have recently been compared to one of the main avatars of chaos theory: turbulence.

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Prescience and Spice and Everything Nice

robot.jpgThere is prediction, and there is prognostication.  And, once in a great while, there is true prescience.

Consider the case of J.C.R. Licklider - a seminal figure of whom, until recently, I had never heard. On reading about him, I am staggered by his dead-on prescience in predicting the ultimate power of social connections via the internet - back in 1960. His Man-Computer Symbiosis has to be read to be believed. In it he touches on the obvious: the need for speed, memory, robust programming languages, and effective I/O.  But he goes much deeper, brilliantly identifying memory and its organization (which leads to necessary "searchability") as necessary developments before the symbiosis can happen:

Man-computer symbiosis is an expected development in cooperative interaction between men and electronic computers. It will involve very close coupling between the human and the electronic members of the partnership. The main aims are 1) to let computers facilitate formulative thinking as they now facilitate the solution of formulated problems, and 2) to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs...Prerequisites for the achievement of the effective, cooperative association include developments in computer time sharing, in memory components, in memory organization, in programming languages, and in input and output equipment.

And note the reference to emergent behavior: to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs.

Man-Computer Symbiosis reminds me of one of my favorite sci-fi books, although pigeonholing it into that genre doesn't do justice to Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future, by Olaf Stapledon. Here Stapledon predicts the fate of mankind from Stapledon's present (1930) through the next two billion years, during which mankind evolves through

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ODE to Dark Matter

Dark Matter may account for the large-scale structures being mapped by Hubble
My dream job: working at The Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario. The latest from this "autonomous" center for theoretical physics is a Teaching tool for Dark Matter - a DVD, Teaching guide, and downloadable activities. The 30-minute video is embedded in this post and is definitely worth watching.

Even though there is now some agreement that Dark Matter has been observed (see my earlier post on this topic), there is still much debate about its reality. For an interesting take on matters dark, consider the position of artist/author Anton Sevcik, who, in a private e-mail to me some time ago suggested that

On a really simplistic level, I'm wondering if we've over theorized the subatomic realm, creating too many particles to explain too few things. Just because something is tiny, we seem to presuppose it can only have one property, so we've created a particle for every property. The reason I'm thinking about this is the dark matter myth. I say myth, because dark is a particularly uncomfortable word to anglo saxons, suggesting evil (say, film noir), and anything inexplicable seems by its nature unsettling to our minds.

Sevcik has since expanded on this theme, and I highly recommend The Fallibility of Perception on his View From the Studio blog.

While we're getting all literary here, a web search for Dark Matter poetry yields way too many hits to be a coincidence, and indeed suggests something dark, impenetrable, and slightly creepy, (if not necessarily "evil") at play in the universe. For example, look no further than Musicman's free verse:

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Me Data? No, You Data

data-lore.jpgIn The Bush Tragedy, a recently published, depressing view of the Bush presidency, author Jacob Weisberg writes that

Bush thought examining evidence was beneath him. 'The President of the United States is not a fact checker,' as one aide put it...

A flashback of "I'm a uniter, not a divider" was clanging around my brain pan , morphing into "I'm a decider, not a diviner" as I read and tried to assimilate this. It's one thing to have difficulty seeing the logical connection between a large amount of disparate experiments and a complex argument such as occurs when considering climate change. It's quite another thing to act as if the data doesn't exist - a truly irrational, scary denial for any POTUS.

In a more- than -chance occurrence, just around the same time that TBT was released, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued a position statement titled Human Impacts on Climate , which begins

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Art and the Event Horizon Effect

Horizon Event, by Anton Sevcik
In a wonderful MASM (meeting of arts and science moment) a few weeks back, Anton (John) Sevcik - an old friend I had not seen in almost 16 - years had an art opening at the Fleisher Art Memorial in Phila. In his show Myth and Landscape, Anton displayed a number of paintings that featured a horizon as part of the story and inspiration for the piece, including one titled Horizon Event.

Anton has read and talked about physics for as long as I've known him. His work is often influenced by the ideas that affect him deeply. In Horizon Event, Anton conflates two ideas - The Event Horizon, and the Horizon Effect.

The event horizon is the boundary of a black hole, a region of space-time from which light cannot escape. Anything passing the horizon will vanish into oblivion.

The Horizon Effect arises from a non-physical situation. This effect is usually used to describe a situation where something that is out of sight - just beyond the horizon - is assumed to either be benign, or not exist. Often the horizon is not a physical one, but rather a demarcation point in a process. Artificial intelligence software, e.g., often suffers from the effect. Using look-ahead trees for decision making (as in, e.g. a chess program), the trees must be truncated at some point, possibly before revealing a fatal error about to occur.

Both event horizon and horizon effect then describe a knowledge/lack of knowledge interface. One is physically defined because of a singularity in spacetime, while the other arises from algorithmic expediency. In both cases there is tension at the boundary between information and chaos, knowledge and incoherence.

Anton's paintings, many of which are dark and brooding (just what is on the other side of that horizon?) suggest a cleft unbridgeable by science but traversable by canvas, oil, and artistic creation.

Anton/John has just started his own blog, View From the Studio, where you'll find more pictures from Myth and Landscape Show.


Chaords, Credit Cards, and Complexity

Framework Complexity - the Pater Noster Lighthouse
In the I-don't -know-how-I-missed-this department, I was quite surprised, but not-shocked , to hear that someone had coined a term to try to capture the world's uncanny ability to present both chaos and order. Dee Hock, former CEO of VISA coined the term "chaordic" to describe conditions that are either present and/or needed in organizations and their leadership in order to maximize the potential for success. For more detail, check out a review of Hock's book Birth of the Chaordic Age. Published in 1999, Hock defines both chaords and chaordic. I'll just go with the noun here:

(kay'ord) 1: any autocatalytic, self-regulating, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously exhibits characteristics of both order and chaos. 2: an entity whose behavior exhibits patterns and probabilities not governed or explained by the behavior of its parts. 3: the fundamental organizing principle of nature and evolution.

Coming from the CEO of one of the most successful enterprises of all time, I guess he can call "it" - that special stuff that made VISA what it is -  whatever he wants.

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Systems Chemistry

The B-Z reaction underway...
Recently, R. Frederick Ludlow and Sijbren Otto, both at Cambridge, published a paper in Chemical Society Reviews calling for a new type of chemistry. Titled Systems Chemistry, their approach "deals with the emergent properties of interacting chemical systems or networks. In other words, properties that result from the interaction between the components in a network, rather than any one species acting individually."

Systems Chemistry is a different way of looking at patterns that emerge in space and time because of the complex interplay among/between constituent reactants and reactions. (Not surprisingly, the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction is a canonical example of the complex results of a complex system.)

Complex chem systems are either under thermodynamic (equilibrium) or kinetic control.

The authors point out that chemical systems are good models for certain biological systems, and make a rather bold prediction:

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