Social Networking
Science & Technology
Creating sitemaps and robots.txt files
Being unable to fall asleep again after waking up in the middle of the night is the perfect time to [insert your favorite activity here]. This time I decided to learn more about webcrawlers and search indexing. More specifically, Sitemaps and Robots.txt files, simple files that help make sure crawlers find what they're looking for — or don't find what they shouldn't. Here are a few sites that talk about this.

The robots.txt file is the greeting card for webcrawlers. When an indexing robot, say, from Google, Yahoo or some other search engine visits your website — they start by looking around for the robots.txt file. It's just a simple text file that can contain instructions for the robot — what to index, what not to index, etc... After looking at a few sites claiming that it never hurt to have it — I decided to find out the do's and don'ts of robots filemaking. Here is what I inserted into the robots.txt file I just created and dropped into my website's root directory:

User-agent: *

Disallow:

The User-agent part is for specifying what kind of robot the instructions are for (Googlebot, for example), the asterisk (*) means 'anyone'. Disallow is where you would specify a certain directory or file that the bots aren't allowed to index (if you don't want a certain file to be found). Example: Disallow: /mysecretstuff/. As I wanted everyone to index everything, I didn't put anything there. Simple enough, eh? Next time a robot comes around, he'll see the text file there and be happy — kind of like leaving cookies for santa.

Now, a Sitemap is an XML file containing a description of all the pages on your website. Again, this is for the robots — to help them index everything on your site and make sure they don't miss anything important. The file also contains some simple properties for your page, such as the update frequency (tells the webcrawlers how often they should visit), importance of particular webpages and so on. If you own a site — the many recommend a sitemap. Check out the links below to generate a map of your own site — then upload it to Google through the Webmaster tools.



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Froogling for radioactive materials
The world's ablaze with news of Litvinenko, the former russian spy who died of radiation poisoning. His family has proclaimed that president Vladimir Putin is behind the act.

A very happy man that wants uranium
After Googling around a bit I discovered something interesting: Polonium 210 — the radioactive isotope that killed Litvinenko — is available for purchase online for $69. But that's not all, they're available to the general public. You don't need a license, you don't need a big budget — according to their webpage they "Specialize in small orders" and deliver nuclear materials hot from the reactor to your doorstep. They even have this animated gif on their website (I turned animation off).

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How to use Google to find private webcams
Google (or Uncle Google) is a wonderful tool. But as with all technology, Google can be used maliciously. Do you have a webcam in your house so you can keep an eye on your cats over the www? Well. For your sake I hope that camera is password protected.

Software that allows you to view your webcam over the web works just like a webpage — it stores documents on your computer (or some other computer, if that's the case) and when you enter the URL to view the webcam you're requesting a certain HTML document that incorporates the link to the webcam feed. So, when we know the folder hierarchy of standard webcam software — we can use our dear uncle Google to search for that particular string. If preventive measures haven't been taken, the Googlecrawlers have probably found those documents.

Here's a very nice view of a countrytown in Switzerland:
Swiss Town
Click the image to view the feed.



Of course, that Swiss cam is probably a public feed — but what about something more private? Here's someone's bedroom:
Bedroom Webcam Image


I'm not going to link to this webcam, you can find it yourself. And yes, those controls work. I could pan and tilt the camera. Imagine being on your way to bed and suddenly the camera starts following your moves? A positively unpleasant experience.

So, there are probably a bunch of different search strings you can feed to uncle Google, but here are the two I used:

inurl:/view/index.shtml

inurl:"ViewerFrame?Mode="

All you have to do is search for those strings with Google to get tens of thousands of different feeds. Scary, eh?


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Wireless Energy at MIT
The pile of wires on my floor
After what seems to be many months of studying for the final exams (get it?), they're finally over. The first thing on the to-do list after that: clean up the stuff that's been piling up during those long concessive hours of studying (and stuff does pile up, oh yes ... it piles). But what always gets my mind boggled is how wires get tangled up beyond recognition. Look at that picture I took — a regular wire orgy.

That's why I was so relieved to read MIT's recent announcement on their progress in research on wireless energy! They've come up with a new design for beaming wireless energy into mobile devices — here's a quote from the article:

"With the resulting designs, non-radiative wireless power would have limited range, and the range would be shorter for smaller-size receivers. But the team calculates that an object the size of a laptop could be recharged within a few meters of the power source. Placing one source in each room could provide coverage throughout your home."

As it is I'm constantly annoyed by the wires all over my desk and floor, I'll be waiting anxiously for the first commercial products. If anyone has a temporary solution to this in the meantime, please, please for the love of all that's pretty and practical — share it with me!

While we're on the subject of MIT, check out these flying drones — they're really impressive and look awesome. See the picture below (picture credit: Jonathan How's team, creators of the drones).

The Flying drone fleet

Related blogs from all around
:: Nova Spivack has a short article on Nikola Tesla & wireless power
:: The MIT article on wireless energy
:: Videos of the flying drones

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NYTimes on science and religion
Double Helix IconReligious Cross Icon
Just read an article posted by the NYTimes yesterday, titled "A Free-for-All on Science and Religion", available here.

The article is quite good in a gonzo-journalism sense, very fun to read. Some excellent quotes in there, like:

I don’t know how many more engineers and architects need to fly planes into our buildings before we realize that this is not merely a matter of lack of education or economic despair,” - Sam Harris

What concerns me now is that even if you’re as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God and then your discovery stops — it just stops,” - Neil deGrasse Tyson

There's also mention in there of Richard Dawkins' extremist standpoint and behavior, and while I actually agree to a certain extend I'm afraid that without extremists like Dawkins, there will be fewer who listen. Especially considering how many religions nowadays are manipulating people's lack of scientific knowledge and perspective in their favor, treating science like a Rorschach inkblot extravaganza.

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Apple shares reach historical high
"The company's stock (AAPL) closed up 2.46%, or $2.13 at $88.60 during the regular trading session and is now trading at nearly $89 in the after hours session."

I spoke to early ... bonk.
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Virtual worlds becoming real
avatar_onBuilding
I've seen two major news about Second Life lately, one is about Copybot — a bot that's able to copy any object inside SL, regardless of wether the object is copyrighted or not (if you create something in SL, you retain copyright). The other is about a worm that produced a "gray goo" effect, duplicating itself in the shape of rings spreading over the SL world and slowing down the servers.

Now, peoples reactions to these things are generally negative. Of course, the copybot is a form of stealing (and using it can get you sued in real life), and the worm destroys the in-world experience. But ... they just make me want to play SL more often. Even if both of these things are "bad", I think their existence exemplifies the freedom of SL. Imagine the real world without the choice of doing bad things — doesn't seem so exciting does it? Without the freedom of choice, or the challenge of opposition — life wouldn't be as exciting. It's a sad, but true reality that trouble, war and disturbances are an exponent of progress. For me, I think this set of incidences give a deeper sense of reality in the virtual.

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First look at Me.dium
I managed to get a beta-account at a new social-networking-type mechanism called Me.dium. It's a plugin for Firefox (and soon for IE7) which allows you to see other surfers, and what they're looking at.

The Me.dium page contains this description:

"Me.dium gives you a real-time view into your online world, wherever you happen to be. Your online world is created by the activity of everyone using Me.dium and the relationships between their activity and yours. In other words, your activity online – your path throughout the Internet – gets compared to the activity and paths of everyone else using Me.dium. Where your paths intersect and overlap, Me.dium creates relationships between you and those people, as well as the things (web pages, video files, etc.) they’re looking at, and reveals all of that information through the Me.dium window.
"

Medium Login Window
The download process was quite simple — clicked a download button and Firefox took care of installing the plugin. After restart, a login window appeared, splitting my browser window.



















People_look_medium
After logging in which they, oddly, call "crossover" (probably to make this sound like crossing over to the "other side", or something), I got a view of some nice little icons floating around representing the people currently using Medium... and presumably looking at similar webpages across the web. See screenshot here on the side. I think it's a bit annoying that the names of pages are dotted ou...

It also seems as if some peoples names do not appear. On the pic here on the side, only Joanna's name is visible — which has probably got something to do with whether you have selected "Visible for all", "Visible for friends" or "Visible to none", which are all options which appear when you click on your icon above the chatbar.

Also, clicking on the icons doesn't do anything but bring you to the page these people are looking at, there's no "View profile" option — which isn't necessarily that big a deal, but it would be in the community spirit if you could. For example, if clicking on a person would bring you to their website.

One terribly annoying thing: You can't open pages directly into a new tab by option-clicking — clicking a person will just load their page in the current window. So you need to open a new tab before you click.






Mouse Hover Over people
Moving your mouse over a person will display the title of the page they are looking at, along with the page's URL.





Picture 14

Picture 15

The chat system is tabbed, which is nice, but I'm not quite sure how it works yet. Seemed to me that everytime I typed something it opened a new tab. Their tutorial wasn't clear on how that worked, either. On my Mac, when somebody typed something the Firefox bounced in my dock, which is nice — but maybe not around over-eager people. Didn't find an option to turn it off either.




In any case, Me.dium is pretty cool — this is of course a beta, and I look forward to seeing future upgrades.







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Do Icelanders Dream of Electric Sheep?
Small Electric Sheep's head.
In a country with more sheep than people, it's obvious that many Icelanders dream of sheep, but my question is whether these sheep are electric ... or plain old organic? Is Iceland moving towards a more digital future? I sure hope so.

In 2005, there were exactly 454.950 sheep in Iceland according to the Icelandic ThingCounter Association (Hagstofa Íslands), but only .... unfortunately their website choked while I was checking, so I can't tell you exactly how many people — but I do remember news about some poor lady recently giving birth to child number 300.000, so that's an approximate. Oh, hold on — here it is: In 2005 there were 299.891. Okay, so we've established that Icelanders are outnumbered by sheep which was supposed to be a 2 sentence joke ... on with the actual article.

In the eyes of many people who don't live here, I can imagine that we're igloo-building, whale killing sheep herders (that's all true, by the way. My igloo has a broadband connection). My concern is whether Iceland is going to continue being an island of sheep herders, or if we're going to embrace the future and become "the glowing island of technology, with so many neon lighted gadgets and robots that it can be spotted from Mars".

Iceland has thankfully adopted a lot of the latest in technology, such as high-speed internet connections (I'll be getting a fiberoptic connection early next year, 20-30mb+ wooha!) and gigantic wi-fi areas — a local phone company recently made a whole mall a hotspot... which, oddly, I've only used once. Shows how often I leave the house.

Large Electric Sheep's Head
A small team of young entrepreneurs decided to start a gaming company called CPP In 1997 — their first product was EVE Online, which nowadays breaks world records on a regular basis (number of players online in a consistent virtual world). Without reading to much into the success of one company — this kind of accomplishment really makes heavy industry plans (dams, smelting, etc.) smell of sheep herding. And there have been more "world" successful software companies back here: In 2004, HEX Software got nominated to Red Herring's list of Top 100 innovators.

We're seeing a lot of exciting stuff happening at Reykjavík University as well, I recently blogged about the world's first A.I. Radioshow Host, for example. Last year Iceland also saw its first A.I. festival, opened the first A.I. lab (which has now grown to be the most powerful research lab at RU) and started Iceland's first society for A.I. — if not all technology, then at least artificial intelligence is catching on.

There's no reason (to my knowledge) to think that Iceland can't become a leading developer of software. The software industry doesn't require foreign workers to move here (it has been reported that Icelanders generally do not care for labor work) — digital connections to foreign workforce would be sufficient. It doesn't require gigantic dams or housing, nor does it attract an angry protesting mob (as the heavy industry does) — and it doesn't require a lot of energy resources for transportation (digital transportation doesn't need oil from the Middle-east). Come to think of it, if the majority of Icelandic exportation was software — this little Island wouldn't need a lot of help from anybody. We'd have heating (Iceland has hot water resources), electricity (hot water again, and ok, a couple of dams) — and with our newly acquired electric sheep, we could just eat the organic ones.

All jokes aside, with decisive measures on behalf of the Icelandic government, I think we'd have a good shot at becoming large in the software development industry.

What do you think? I'd like to hear your comment on the subject! Do You Dream of Electric Sheep?


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Silent Aircraft Design by Cambridge and MIT
Picture of the Silent Aircraft
A CNet photo-article portrays a new and very futuristic design of aircrafts. The new design would reduce noise and spend 25% less fuel than similar aircrafts of today. Check the article out here, and then here's the Silent Aircraft Initiative webpage.
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NYTimes: "Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense"
A couple of days ago the NYTimes.com posted an article with the above title, about the possible future of the www. Nova Spivack, head of Radar Networks is one of the interviewees, which is pretty cool because Kristinn (my brother) was originally the lead inventor & developer for the software Radar Networks is developing.

The article covers issues relating to the concept of a semantic web — i.e. in short: the web + a layer of meaning/metadata so computers can actually understand or make sense of what they're working with. It's a really cool concept and most definitely where we are headed. The article was the fourth most emailed story on NYTimes for two days! Way to go. Really look forward to seeing Radar Networks release their first product — so I've signed up on
their webpage.

I recommend checking out
the article. Also, if you're interested in these things, Spivack has a weblog that he regularly posts interesting stuff on.
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Discussions With A Jehovah's Witness
Double Helix IconReligious Cross Icon
A few days ago I posted my article on the differences between science and religion online. Since then I've received several e-mails varying in quality, but one of which I felt provided an interesting insight into the world of religion.

Tom has been a member of Jehovah's Witnesses for over thirty years and presents his opinions and beliefs in a non-aggressive and sensible manner. Upon reviewing our discussions, I felt that it was a good example of our different outlooks on life. In light of the friendly approach from both sides, I thought it was worth posting here on my weblog and the following is my reply to the second mail he sent. I've made icons and colored the text to make the reading more pleasant; obviously the double-helix represents science and my answers, and the cross represents religion and Tom's answers. At places, I've added [some additional comments to clarify or explain] that were not included in my original response to Tom.

Potential advocates of god and religion be advised: Tom's email was the only one I've received that I felt worth making a real effort to answer. I do not intend to make a career out of posting these kinds of entries. Like I told Tom, I wrote my article not to argue existential issues, or to convince people to take sides, but to point out that science and religion are two different things that can't be mixed.


Double Helix Icon
Hello again.

First of all I'd like to say that I respect your approach, and opinions, and think your letter is very well written.

I'm going to answer each of these points, but would also like to point out that we have now ventured out of my article's dominion — which was that science and religion are opposite approaches to explaining life and that they can't be mixed. I usually leave discussions of which one is "better" or "more true" up to people that are inclined to do so — but on account of your friendly approach and obvious thought you've given to each argument, here is my reply.


Religious Cross Icon
Hello H. T:
“Fatal flaws” are in the eye of the beholder. In the field of science, I have a working knowledge. You are the expert, not I. I would not be so presumptuous to think I have qualifications to instruct you on your own turf.

What I can say is that evidence garnered so far in support of evolution is unconvincing to me. It is insufficient to override my belief in creation.

[In Tom's first letter he talked of the Theory of Evolution having fatal flaws — to which I replied that while there are unexplained aspects to the theory, none are fatal, and that tons of correlating evidence mutually support it]

Double Helix Icon
I can respect and relate to that. It's my exact response to why I don't believe in a god.

Religious Cross Icon
Of course, you might say “that’s because you’re an ignoramus,” which is the answer evolution proponents often give.

Double Helix Icon
I'm sorry to hear that — and apologize on behalf of my colleagues.

Religious Cross Icon
Or you might, more charitably, say that the problem lies in communication….evolutionists have not properly explained their position and its supporting evidence. This, in fact, is what you did say.

By the way, when I use the term “you,” please understand that I don’t necessarily mean you personally, but only generically, as in the typical evolution proponent. And I know there is a challenge in describing who’s typical. There is a bell curve, I realize. But I will do my best.

Double Helix Icon
Of course — thank you for explicitly pointing that out. Please also consider any such remarks on my behalf the same way, and believe me when I say that nothing I write here is supposed to be insulting. If you feel it is, then it is not intentional and I apologize beforehand.

Religious Cross Icon
I have come to view the Bible as a trustworthy, logical whole, and as a source of satisfying answers to vexing questions which are answered nowhere else. Such questions as …why do we grow old and die? and ….why is there suffering and misery? ….are convincingly addressed in the Bible, and intricately linked to the creation account. It’s the strength of these positive things, rather than perceived difficulties with evolution, that accounts for my position.

Double Helix Icon
Indeed. I can truthfully say that I at least partially understand your stance. Science, at this point, has no answer to those questions. However, to explain my position — I'm okay with not having all the answers. I accept that scientific knowledge is, and will remain for a very long time, a work in progress. Until then, I will continue using the scientific method to support or disprove what I believe or question — until one day all questions will be answered, or we will have answered the question of whether science can really answer all the questions (more on this further below).

Religious Cross Icon
Put the two on a scale, and I see the Bible as weighing more. It’s not that evolution is weightless. Quite the contrary. There is supporting evidence. But the evidence supporting the Bible weighs more, in my view. Put yourself in my place and you can see how such a view would lead to a focus on “fatal” evolution flaws, a project I would never undertake were it possible for the two ideas to co-exist.

Double Helix Icon
I'm not sure we share the same definition of "evidence". Do you mean scientific evidence that godly powers exist, or some kind of different evidence? Or perhaps mainly a lack of evidence on behalf of evolutionists?

I have a question that might seem strange, one that contains a point that allows the two to co-exist: Considering how little is said about god's methods of creation in the bible, or other scriptures — don't you ever consider the possibility that god created evolution? There is nothing to suggest that evolution isn't part of god's methods to create humans.

I'm interested in hearing your take on this; is there something that you feel is wrong or disconcerting about this notion?

To clear any confusion, I don't believe this for my obvious agnostic atheist position. But I do, of course, continually reason with myself — and this is a thought I've been longing to ask someone religious as I've never heard it used as an argument.


Religious Cross Icon
But here is a problem. You are expert in your field. I am expert in mine. I have a working knowledge in your field. But you, I strongly suspect, have not a clue in mine.

A lawyer ought to be able to argue both sides of a case. I can argue your side. Not as convincingly as you, of course, but I can do it. But you couldn’t begin to argue my side. Apologies if I am wrong, but I doubt I am.

Double Helix Icon
Actually — my mother is a christian fundementalist, and she did indeed try to raise me as one as well. My atheism was not brought about by ignorance of religious scriptures — but was the result of many years of learning and thinking during my childhood, and today still. I went to sunday school regularly, and to church. As of yet, none of the arguments I've heard have been convincing enough to change my mind.

On the other hand, you're partially right. Even though I was raised in a christian home — I admit I have not for many years made an effort to study the Bible, Koran or any other religous doctrine. But it isn't what's said *in* the Bible that's my reason for disbelief, please see my next paragraphs.

Religious Cross Icon
At any rate, it would be easy to test. Write me succinctly the Bible’s answers to the two questions I posed: why old age and death; why suffering. I’m not saying you have to believe the answers, just make the arguments.

Assuming that you can’t, perhaps now you see the problem; the playing field is not level. And it’s your fault. (generic “you,” remember.) I know your side. You don’t know mine. Thus, the “ignorance” quote from Isaac Asimov (in your main paper) is most condescending. (but not atypical of him) And misleading. Because he doesn’t know our reasoning, he assumes there is none.

Double Helix Icon
I could attempt to answer these questions, but I do not see how this is relevant. The reason that I don't believe in religious doctrines is not because the arguments aren't convincing, or that they don't make sense in their own way. The reason is that there is no way for me to prove or refute their validity. No matter how much sense it makes that suffering is due to original sin — there is no way to find evidence to support it, we can't investigate the notion. This is what Asimov meant by ignorance: If anyone chooses to decide something without any way to support or disprove it — there is no rational way to make us change our mind, no way that we can embetter our ways or reach new horizons. 

How would you, for example, propose that we decide whether the Bible is the right scripture, or the Koran? While scientists inevitably contradict eachother's theories and hypotheses, they eventually come to agreements through the gradual accumulation of knowledge/mutually supporting evidence (and thereby enter new domains of disagreement). People of religion always depend on the same unprovable scriptures, and hence, can never come to agreement. How do we know or reason which one is right? We will never be able to, unless there's some kind of divine intervention. Even though science today doesn't have all the answers, I can rely on constant development and the possibility that one day it might. And indeed, I am starting to repeat myself because this is a difference implied in my article.

Now, if you ask me why I would want to lead a life of consistent reason aside from what I've already mentioned — I can't answer in a single sentence, but an important point is that I've seen what rationality and science can do to better the world. To rid us of witchburnings, or beliefs that the mentally ill are posessed by devils, or creating better medication based on our knowledge of biology, for example. Also, as I noted before — I have no problem with accepting that at this point we can't answer everything. But there is no logical reason to believe continued scientific research will one day stop providing answers or improving our lives. I'd like to point out that the theory of evolution was conceived of around 1840, which makes it's lifespan very short in terms of research, development and substantiation — but I'm sure you realize that.


Religious Cross Icon
Now, two caveats.

First, the “playing field” only has to be level if you want to “play.” And you may not. I can respect that. After all, I read your article and contacted you. Not the reverse.

Second, when I say the fault is yours, that is not to imply any deficiency on your part. Your prior e-mail lamented that proponents of evidence for evolution have insufficiently explained their case. That argument is a thousand times more true in the field of religion than in science.

Double Helix Icon
If I understand you correcly, it seems to me that we are very close to having the same approach to these matters — just on opposite ends.

Religious Cross Icon
It’s also not unexpected, by the way. The Bible is full of these type statements:

I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves…….Acts 20: 29

For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories……2 Tim 4:3

Suffice it to say that, if you do not know my position, it is religion’s fault, not yours.

Double Helix Icon
I don't like assuming when it comes to people's opinions.

Religious Cross Icon
As to “fatal” flaws, I won’t discuss any, at least for the time being. You know what points I would likely raise, and you have answers to them all. It often boils down to…..is this or that impossible (my view) or simply astronomically unlikely, (yours) though it has nonetheless come to pass since any other outcome has been culled by natural selection.


Double Helix Icon
Excellent position. Regardless of if I would have had answers to them all — I probably wouldn't have ventured into those discussions. My argument provided in the article still stands: that religious beliefs and scientific beliefs are uncomparable. The existance of god, at this point in time, is something that can't be explored through scientific means, and hence — any attempt at arguing it at this point eventually leads nowhere if we restrict ourselves to scientific reasoning.

Religious Cross Icon
Well, okay, here’s one I’ve already written about.

Double Helix Icon
Baring in mind that I've acknowledged that scientific knowledge is a work in progress — here is some information that might be of interest to you. [The link leads to information on Macroevolution]

Religious Cross Icon
Lastly, so as to make my views somewhat more palatable to you, I have no issue with micro-evolution: fruit flies, bacteria, finches, and the like. It is similar to animal husbandry, and has been around forever.

Double Helix Icon
I can understand how the uniqueness of the human species can make one think that we have come to exist differently than fruit flies and bacteria, even though I don't believe it.

Religious Cross Icon
I also agree with you - and not with the fundamentalists - that it is nonsense to suppose all was created in literal 24-hour days. The Bible doesn’t insist on this. There is no reason “day” can’t be viewed more broadly, such as an old-timer talking about life “in his day.” Scientists speak of millions, even billions of years, in life’s origin. In general, I have no issue with this.

I don’t count myself a fundamentalist, nor does the faith I am a part of, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Double Helix Icon
As I've noticed, you do like being informed on scientific issues as well as religious ones, so here's a bit of information: 

You mentioned mathematicians using the disproving of one hypothesis to prove another [Tom mentioned this in his first email]. This is possible when we are talking about an hypothesis and it's null-hypothesis. For example, we state the hypothesis that 1+1=2, then the null-hypothesis is that 1+1 does not equal 2. If we can prove that the null-hypothesis is true, then we have proven that 1+1=2 is not true. This is usually only applicable to very simple hypotheses and not to complex systems such as human existance or the theory of evolution — as they are complex theories built on hundreds or millions of smaller hypotheses and subsystems.

[Scientifically, I think the existence of a god
can't be evolution's null-hypothesis, see my article]

Religious Cross Icon
Does this address the points you raised in your e-mail?

Double Helix Icon
In part, yes. You have a very sensible approach to these matters and, like I said, I appreciate that. I hope my arguments have come across as well as you conveyed yours. As I mentioned at the beginning of this letter — I try to avoid these discussions. My article on scientific- and religious beliefs was one that I felt compelled to write, not to argue existential issues, or to convince people to take sides, but to point out their differences.

In final word, I'd like to emphasize that I am not inclined towards trying and convert you to atheism, or to belittle your beliefs. I consider our conversation a general exchange of information between two humans in a complex world.

Thank you for challenging us, and providing an insight into your world.

Sincerely,
-Hrafn Th.



Links


:: You can find Tom's website here.
:: Wikipedia's page on
Evolution
:: Wikipedia's page on
Jehovah's Witnesses
::
My article that sparked these discussions

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The Difference Between Science and Religion
A picture of Charles Darwin
Charles
Darwin
Last semester I wrote an article on the difference between science and religion for Reykjavík University's school paper, the spark of which was my perceived increase of people mixing the two. I've decided to put it up here on my website for the universe to enjoy (or protest, depending on what social universe you adhere to).

The article discusses the senselessness of using the shortcomings of scientific theories, or even scientific arguments to support the existence of a god or gods. It's not intended to support or refute that there is a god — but to show that science and religion can't mix — there is an underlying difference between the two. Best let the article speak for itself, it is written in english.


Click here to read about The Difference Between Science and Religion

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The Concept and Status of 'Metaverses'
357px-Snowcrash
The Fascinating Cover of Snow Crash
Illustrated by Bruce Jensen
When I was 11 years old, I read, and was absolutely taken by Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. The book (roughly) revolves around the protagonists quest for the cause of a computer virus which causes users of a virtual world called the Metaverse to turn comatose.

Since then, the concept of online, large-scale virtual worlds have always mesmerized me. It has also inspired the creation of many such worlds: Blaxxun (the name derived from a private club in Snow Crash called Black Sun), There, The Palace and Active Worlds, for example. — but about two years ago I discovered one that I was exceptionally impressed with: Second Life, in which players can create (almost) anything they can imagine with the use of in-world 3D editing tools, a scripting language and XML-RPC networking with the real world. Perhaps the world is best described by a typical experience:

I fly up into the air (all users can fly, as the SL world is very large, horizontally and vertically). My overview shows a lighthouse, calmly beaming in the distance. I can hear the rustling of the leaves of the trees below me. A butterfly passes by, I move the mouse over it and a small info-pane appears showing it was created by a person that's not even online. I decide that I'd like to watch a movie. I pull up the search menu and select a preferred movie theater. I get teleported there in an instant. I enter the theatre, find the correct room, press play — and Blade Runner a non-copyrighted film from the 60's starts playing. The theatre was built by a regular user, the movie is streaming from that user's server.

In the above example, I try to touch on the essential features that give the world it's depth and contribute to making it intriguing to explore and spend time in. The following are the points that I find really interesting:

What's Interesting

1. Everything in-world is created by the world's residents.
In short: There are no objects, houses or magical monsters who have been created by the developers through means unaccessible to the regular users. Everything in-game is created through the use of the tools available to everyone (except for landspace, clouds and sky).
2. What you create in-world — you retain the copyright of.
This means that whatever you create, it's yours. For a real example; a 'player' of Second Life invented and constructed an in-world game similar to Bingo. This in-world game became so successful amongst the SL community that a real-life boardgame company heard about it and offered him a business deal to manufacture it.
3. In-world currency (Linden Dollars) can be exchanged to real-world currency.
For example. If you create something that becomes a popular commodity in-world (clothes, or a jet-pack, a car, or a spaceship, for example), you can exchange it to real-world money. There are examples of SL users whose main real-life income comes from selling virtual objects. At the time this article is written, 296 Linden Dollars (L$) is worth $1 USD. Absolutely techtastic.
4. Residents can own their own land, houses and islands.
5. Second Life (SL), and other Metaverse-like worlds are not games.
Metaverses are universes with no specific goal, no levels reached by gaining experience points — the 'living' experience depends on your ability to create or otherwise find interesting things to do.This fifth point is an immensely fascinating concept and in my opinion, the core of the Metaverse concept: A world in which you are not limited by game-like artificial boundaries (decided for you by developers), but only the boundaries of human imagination and certain laws (instead of spatial limits, we have bandwidth issues; instead of gravity, we have user interface considerations).

But even with all these excellent and futuristic features, I still only 'lived in' SL for about a month.
The question of why becomes very interesting from a certain perspective:

If The Metaverse is based on the same principles as reality — creating, communicating and learning — surpassing reality by being free of disease and giving us instant capabilities to create such things as airplanes single-handedly, then why should we not want to inhabit that world?

avatar_onBuilding
My current avatar in SL,
on the top of a skyscraper in a
user-built city. That's my insignia
on the chest
My answer: I still feel it's a game. Besides making real money and meeting new people it's not that practical. I felt as if I was wasting my precious time. We can't escape the real world, it's the top-layer — but in Metaverses we have a choice, and when put in context with real things like 'dying', spending your time in a virtual reality seems quite petty.

Through this argument, I've reached the conclusion that to escape the 'game-feel', a Metaverse must have very tight coupling with the real world. It must offer practical incentive to actually make spending time there worthwhile.

I've identified a few main points that might make a Metaverse more practical, or at least incite a longing in me to try again:

Suggestions for Improvement

i. Make it open-source and standardize the protocols
Allow the residents of the world full control over what's possible. Allow everyone who wants the possibility of hosting a 'grid'; a land that people can visit, like the websites of today. I envision, for example, a Metaverse integration with Wikipedia — in which users can explore Wikipedia entries like "Vostok 1" in 3D
ii. Emphasis on fusion with reality and practical usage.
With the standardization of the Metaverse protocols, it could compel companies and establishments to create virtual models of their workplace — allowing students to virtually tour potential universities in another country, or online shopping by actually walking through a store. Imagine for example customizing your avatar to match your real-world body — wouldn't that make it a bit easier to find a shirt that fits and suits you online?

Open up more possibilities for teleconferencing and online collaboration. For example, when working on papers or projects with people from different continents. E.g. streaming your computer screen onto a big-screen in-world, allowing everyone to help you edit that text, source-code or graphics file.

Marvin_(HHGG)
Marvin was originally
designed in SL
Integrate interfaces to allow Metaverse users to create in-world programs with languages like Java, C++, C# or LISP. I've seen and heard of very interesting experiments with Artificial Life within the SL world; user-groups creating virtual ecosystems of fish, experimenting with swarm-behavior and growing plants. The potential of these kinds of experiments would grow enormously if we could incorporate the use of more powerful programming tools.

Improve upon the 3D modeling tools, allow integration with other 3D programs; a virtual world is a great platform for concept-designs. There is a great example of this already. Marvin The Paranoid Android from the movie The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, was originally modeled in Second Life (see SL newsletter 2006/03/22).

Unfortunately, I think more fusion with reality can prove exceedingly difficult without open-source efforts and established standards.

iii. In-world VOIP (voice over IP, like Skype) to allow audible conversations
Bandwidth issues currently prevent this. While I usually prefer text-based communications, it seems wrong to have extremely detailed avatars capable of facial expressions — but no voice. This is besides the obvious advantages of voice-communications, like speed and more efficient turn-taking.


march1806_flying_001
A Close-up of my SL avatar
My Design
In relation to the last point; I'm worried that a Metaverse's full potential will never be realized until we can make cheap and high-rez head-mounted displays, or VR Glasses, along with gloves or other kinds of mechanisms to allow us to use our hands to manipulate in-world objects. In other words: Tighter reality coupling and a more immersive experience.

In summary: While we are certainly on the right track to a high-level Metaverse, we're still some way from getting rid of the game-feel. Practical usage is essential for making a Metaverse as described in
Snow Crash, and to appeal to everyone.

hoverbikeAndMe
My old SL avatar and a Hoverbike I created
Despite of my criticism, I recommend trying out SL to know where we stand in the evolution of Metaverses. It's free — and I would definitely like to hear your opinion and take on it.





Apple Mac Comment, from Wikipedia's Snow Crash page
appleX_blue
The title of the novel is explained in Stephenson's essay In the Beginning...was the Command Line, as the term for a particular software failure mode on the early Apple Macintosh computer. About the Macintosh, Stephenson wrote that "when the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set—a 'snow crash.'"



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