10 fingers and 10 toes

[Ooops! Late again.]

The seed pod of milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

The seed pod of milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most living things come from seeds or eggs. A fertilized egg or seeds has all the information in it to generate the organism that springs from it. All the organs of the organism are implicit in the egg or seed, but minor details, like freckles or fingerprints are not encoded in the egg.

The environment and chance play a part in the final shape of an organism. A seed may fall in a good environment or it may fall in a less favourable environment and the shape of the organism can be totally different in the two environments, to the extent that an unwary botanist may categorise them as two different species.

English: An icon depicting the Sower. In Sts. ...

English: An icon depicting the Sower. In Sts. Konstantine and Helen Orthodox Church, Cluj, Romania. Español: Ícono representando la parábola del sembrador, en la Iglesia Ortodoxa de Helen, en Cluj (Rumania) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This property of plants was used by the writer of the Christian gospel in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-23). Interestingly this comes just before the part where the Gospel writer expounds on Jesus’ reasons for teaching in parables.

Some plants and animals change significantly as they mature. Lancewood is so different as a mature plant from its juvenile form. The juvenile leaves are narrow and spiky while the mature leaves are broader and softer, and while there are competing theories as to why this is, my favourite theory is that the juvenile plants had to discourage browsing by animals, and in particular the extinct bird called the Moa. Since the Moa is extinct this theory cannot be tested!

English: Giant Haast's eagle attacking New Zea...

English: Giant Haast’s eagle attacking New Zealand moa Français : Aigle géant de Haast attaquant des Moas de Nouvelle-Zélande ; l’extinction des moas suite à leur chasse (surprédation) par l’homme a entrainé la disparition de cette espèces d’aigle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Japanese horticulturists have used this feature of organisms to fit themselves to the environment to create miniature trees in a pot. Basically the tree is grown in a small container which obviously can’t maintain a full sized tree and as a result a perfectly formed miniature tree can be formed with care, sometimes over long periods of time.

It would seem obvious that you can’t produce bonzai human beings, but in fact this can be done. Whenever a drought or famine hits a country the children who grow up there are small and underdeveloped (as well as having other deficiency problems.

Medical X-rays. Broadening of epiphysis with e...

Medical X-rays. Broadening of epiphysis with erlenmayer flask deformity. Commonly seen in rickets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When researching this topic I came across an article on the Internet which discusses this topic, and the authors state in part:

Therefore, by coding for proteins, genes determine two important facets of biological structure and function. However, genes cannot dictate the structure of an organism by themselves. The other crucial component in the formula is the environment.

This overstates the role of the environment a little, I feel, as in most cases the organism’s structure is determined in the most part in its genes, so that it looks much like any other member of the species. It is only when the environment is unfavourable (as in the case of the bonzai trees) that the gene expression leads to significantly differently formed individual. Droughts and poor soils will also leads to significantly differently formed individuals, but those are deficiency effects.

Early succession on poor, sandy soil at Øer, D...

Early succession on poor, sandy soil at Øer, Djursland, Denmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is more clearly true in the case of organisms like humans. Unless the environment in which a human grows up is very extreme, there is actually little difference between individuals, and those differences, race, eye colour, hair colour and things like the tendency to myopia are almost certainly genetic.

So I am arguing that genes result in the major characteristics of any organism, except in certain rare cases. Somewhere in the human genome the number of fingers and toes are coded for, and only rare individuals with genetic variations have more or less digits. We don’t all speak the same language, but that is not a genetic trait, though the ability to learn and speak a language may be genetic.

English: Conversion of a DICOM-format X-ray fr...

English: Conversion of a DICOM-format X-ray from a patient of User:Drgnu23, a ten year old male. This is the patient’s left hand, posterior-anterior projection. Identifying tags and such have been stripped. The image is his, released under the GFDL. The image was subsequently altered by user:Grendelkhan, user: Raul654, and user:Solipsist. Français : Radiographie de la main gauche (projection postérieure-antérieure) d’un jeune patient (10 ans) de Drgnu23 présentant une polydactylie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Genes are interesting things. As mentioned in the article, genes can code for structural proteins or for enzymes which affect the chemical reactions in the cell. I suspect that the line between the two is pretty blurred as building the structure of the cell is after all a chemical reaction.

Of course, not only must a cell’s genetic mechanism build and maintain its own organisation, but a cell is part of a tissue, and in, for example, the liver, a cell must maintain itself as a liver cell. Similarly for cells in other organs.

It appears that, as the genetic material is identical across the whole organism, that there must be some way for a cell to “know” that it should develop as liver cell and not as a brain cell. This is done by switching genes on and off, but I don’t understand how this happens in multi-cellular organisms. It seems that there are environmental influences within the organism and within the tissues that determine this.

It’s likely that these environmental influences are based on something like chemical gradients. Otherwise, when a bone is created there would be no way of telling the process of bone creation when to stop. It is evident that it is an approximate influence because fruit flies have different numbers of eye cells between left and right eyes (about 1000). If it were an accurate influence then the number of eye cells would be the same in both eyes.

Apparently scientists do not know exactly how it work either. In this web page, “10 Questions Still Baffling Scientists“, the claim is made that not even the experts know. Of course these Internet lists of things may or may not be accurate, but it is an interesting link.

Of course fractal generation programs can be used to generate pretty good imitations of the structures of trees, and changing a few parameters fed to the fractal generation programs can change the shape of the “tree” from a bushy structure to an extended poplar type structure.

[Fractal]

[Fractal] (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some similar mechanism might be involved here. Fractal programs are simple, can produce a wide range of shapes. The trouble with fractals is that there is usually no way to stop the shape generation, so any stopping mechanism is probably not part of any possible fractal method for generating. Some other method for stopping the growth of an organ once it is the right size and shape most likely exists.

From the link above it is possible that this mechanism is not yet known, but it does appear that organ growth and shape is encoded in the genes, and is effected by switching genes on and off. Some fractal type mechanism might be involved.

English: Apprentice. Man and boy making shoes.

English: Apprentice. Man and boy making shoes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

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Round the Bays

Astronaut's photo of Wellington, New Zealand. ...

Astronaut’s photo of Wellington, New Zealand. North roughly at top of image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, today I took part in the local “Round the Bays” event. Thousands of people gave up their Sundays to run or walk en mass along the roads that circle the bays of this city. Many other cities have similar events. Participants can choose to run or walk or something in between, over distances ranging from 6.5km to a half marathon (just over 21km). I chose the middle 10km option.

As I was walking by myself this year I caught the train to town and therefore arrived before the runners who chose the longer distance had been started off. The start area was filled with people stretching various muscles and sinews, some contorting themselves strangely and probably uncomfortably.

There were groups stretching in synchrony and individuals doing their own stretching exercises. I suppose that these people would be pushing their bodies pretty hard and really needed to “loosen them up”. There were others, like myself, just wandering around, having presumably decided that they would not be pushing themselves that hard and such vigorous loosening up was not necessary!

Since the race bibs were colour coded it was easy to tell which event someone was entered for. Young and old were represented and of course all ages in between. Some were probably even older than me! All frames from skinny to very much over large were represented.

As the half-marathon was about to kick off, all participants were called to the line. Well, actually, the fastest, the “elite” were called to the line, and people were asked to place themselves in order of fastest at the front, slowest at the back. To assist with this some of the organising people held notices on poles with an estimated finish time,  so that slower starters would not impede the faster, or to put it another way, the slower participants would not be trampled by the more speedy.

There was the usual “10, 9, 8,….” countdown and someone fired a maroon, and off they went, disappearing down the road. An event like this causes massive disruptions as roads are closed for obvious reasons.

English: 2007 peachtree road race crowd shot

English: 2007 peachtree road race crowd shot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Each runner or walker has attached to his or her shoe a little tag, which records the time that they cross the start and finish lines. As a consequence of this the participant can delay his or her start if the start line is too crowded. In fact, since the pack of runners and walkers extended 30 or 40 metres back from the start line, the shoe tags meant a participant could cross the start line minutes after the start and still get an accurate time for the journey.

Many people did in fact decide not to be too prompt to cross the line and there were queues for the loos right up to and after the official start. However, eventually everyone was away, though participants continued to trickle through the start for a while.

start line

start line (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A bit later they called for the 10km runners and walkers, and again, the fastest were asked to go to the front and the slower people were urged to stay at the back. Once more the maroon went off and people started passing the start line. I held back because I knew that there was always congestion at the start line, even with the shoe tags helping to spread the rush.

When I came to cross the line there was a slight slowdown, but I’d fortunately judged it quite well, and we were away. I’m always wary of starting too fast and getting tired at the end so I didn’t try to push through the throng too much, but it spread out pretty quickly.

2011 Boston Marathon finishing line pavillion ...

2011 Boston Marathon finishing line pavillion on Boylston Street. Looking west; runners would be coming from the east. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first part of the course is actually a block away from the waterfront, past Te Papa, the national museum, and only joins the waterfront after a few hundred metres. The rest of the course though follows the coast quite closely, first going out to a headland and then back into the next bay around the harbour.

Of course, with thousands of people on the road, it is closed to traffic, but people don’t seem to mind this. Most car parks were empty, both those on the side of the road and those on private properties, so locals seem to have made plans to cope with the road closures.

After a couple of kilometres I put on some pace and started passing a fair number of other walkers. Others with similar plans but fitter bodies were also passing me, I should mention!

With thousands of people thundering up the road, there were no bicycles or skateboards, but there were a few runners without race bibs who had either not heard about the event or who had decided to run along the course anyway. Along one part of the Parade there is a quite large fountain, and this was playing as we made out way past.

English: Turning for home Runners in the Leeds...

English: Turning for home Runners in the Leeds Half-Marathon 2007 turn from Hawksworth Road onto Abbey Road, the point at which they start to head back to the city centre and the finish – but there’s still 4 miles to go. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second stage of the course winds round some small bays which border much larger bay. We lost the view of the city as we looped through these bays. Quite a few of the local residents were watching from their balconies as we passed. A few had hoses out and offered cooling showers, but the day was not too hot and they had few takers.

And then we were 500m from the finish! But we had only travelled just over 5km! So we took a left and travelled around 2.5km and the same back again. This loop took us past the airport and several flights blasted off as we passed. It can be quite loud and surprising down on the road as the runway is elevated, so you can see or hear them coming until the last minute.

People running at the 2007 20 kilometer road r...

People running at the 2007 20 kilometer road race through Brussels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we went out, we were passing the half-marathoners and the faster 10km runners who were on their way back, travelling the last few kilometres to the finish. The turning point was a great relief and I knew that there was not much left to do. When I finished the out and back the course merged with the course that the 6.5km participants followed (and which we followed up to the point where we followed the loop). Many of the 6.5 participants had already reached that point.

So eventually we all, half-marathoners, 10km runners and walkers and 6.5km runners and walkers, arrived at the finish pretty much at the same time! The result was not chaos though as people were efficiently passed through the channel, given a banana and a drink, and issued into the wider park behind. Oh, and I was relieved of my shoe tag too.

Peeled, whole, and longitudinal section

Peeled, whole, and longitudinal section (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The park was crammed with participants and their “support teams” and various booths set up for participants of various teams, there was a band on stage and much going on. But for me it was simply a matter of catching the shuttle back to the station to get home, having had a great time.

The whole event was smoothly organised by Sport Wellington, sponsored by Cigna Life Insurance, and supported by Wellington City Council and Wellington busses and trains, and many others. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event.

English: Airport Express Shuttle Bus

English: Airport Express Shuttle Bus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Breaking the Chain

An elephant named Neelakantan owned by trying ...

An elephant named Neelakantan owned by trying to break its chain on . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good friend of mine has posted at least one picture a day for a long time now. He has posted for well over a thousand days without a break. It’s a phenomenal achievement and I’m in awe of his accomplishment.

Just recently he has been ill and confessed yesterday that he had been close to breaking the chain, which would have been a real shame. But his predicament led me to consider my own blogging and the drives that make me add a new post every week and prevent me from breaking my particular chain.

Figural sculpture representing 'Introspection'...

Figural sculpture representing ‘Introspection’ at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t speak for him of course, obviously, but I can do a bit of introspection on my own blogging. When it comes down to it one can only speak for oneself and attempts to speak for others are doomed from the outset.

I have tried before to create a blog and failed. I’d get three or four weeks into it, I’d forget and then months would pass before I thought of it again. This time I’m well past the 100 posts and pushing on. To put it another way I’ve been burbling on for around two years and I’m still going.

25 Years – The Chain

25 Years – The Chain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t do it for an audience, though around 100 people have “followed” this blog over the months. I don’t know how many people, if any, actually read this blog on a weekly basis. So although I put it “out there”, I do it mainly for myself, even though I hope that those who stumble across it like it.

So what is different this time? When I started this blog it was intended to be a record of my culinary activities and each entry was just a few hundred words. Then I switched to posting more general stuff and the number of words reached 1000 per post. Early on I decided to post once a week. Now I post pretty much only “general stuff” and waffle on for 1000 words.

English: cooking in desert

English: cooking in desert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I posted earlier on how I choose the subjects that I post on. Roughly speaking something suggests itself to me or I sit down and pluck a subject out the air at the last minute. I don’t generally find it difficult to reach 1000 words – Look! I’ve already typed more than 300 words and I haven’t yet got to where I thought I was going when I started!

I was going to talk about the urge to keep the chain going. Come Saturday I might have an idea in mind, maybe not. If not I might not have even thought about the blog, but come Sunday it is nagging at the back of my mind.

The grotesque nagging wife

The grotesque nagging wife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s no question that I am going to write the blog entry, but my enthusiasm may be low. It may seem a chore, something that is going to take up my time, when I could be slouching around doing nothing. I call that relaxing.

But I may also have thought of something that I want to write about. I may have some idea of the points that I want to make, but I always think that I won’t have enough ideas to bulk out the article to 1000 words, even though I have never failed to reach that limit every time!

...More Than 1000 Words

…More Than 1000 Words (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I expect that in the early days of my blog, if I had missed a week that would be it. I doubt that I would have picked up the thread again. The chain got longer and longer and it would seem to be a shame if I were to break it now

As it was, I nearly broke the chain when I and my wife went away for a weekend, and I didn’t have the time to write the blog for that weekend. However, I had posted that I was going to catch up, and catch up I did, thank the little gods. Even though I may not have many regular readers, I felt an obligation to any that I might have to keep the chain complete.

English: The M2 missing link, Ballymena See 19...

English: The M2 missing link, Ballymena See 190444. A view of the site for the missing motorway, some eleven years after the M2 had opened. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a period coming up in the future when it will be very difficult for me to post weekly as usual. I will be away from home for a month or so and will not have easy access to my usual computer. I will have to work out a way of getting past this period, either by cutting down my posts in size or just by declaring that I will be skipping a few weeks.

Preparing and planning for a break is a bit different to having difficulties in posting because of illness or some other reason. If illness or other reason prevents one from posting and forces a break there is of course the possibility of making an extra post to re-link the chain. Posting weekly as I do, I have a week to catch up, but my friend does not have that luxury as he posts every day. I’ve been able to catch up before my next post is due, so far at least, so it is less likely that a break in my chain would be fatal.

The missing-link between corset and corselette...

The missing-link between corset and corselette from 1914 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, when we talk about likelihoods, we must take into account the people involved. The blog in question has gone through several versions, including a version on Usenet newsgroups and a web-based version. It started as a newsletter for New Zealand expatriates, but has evolved into a blog featuring my friend’s interest in photography. And birds. So it has survived and evolved, and I hope and suspect that it would continue to survive and evolve even if some event should occur which causes a hiatus.

English: Sgùrr a' Mhaim and the Devil's Ridge ...

English: Sgùrr a’ Mhaim and the Devil’s Ridge Taken just as the ridge drops down to the hiatus in the ridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about mine? Well I’m frankly amazed that I have managed to keep going for so long. My previous efforts have lasted a few posts at the most. Obviously, at some time or other my blog will cease. I just hope that I can keep it going for a long time yet.

I don’t think that I will run out of ideas and if I do I can just take a metaphorical pin and stick it in the Internet somewhere and pull out a topic. After all, Google has an “I feel lucky” button. Pressing that button reveals that 22 January 2015 was Grandfather’s Day in Poland. Hmmm, I could make something out of that, I think.

"The Favorite" - Grandfather and Gra...

“The Favorite” – Grandfather and Grandson – “Ο Αγαπημένος του Παππού” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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All things are connected

English: computer network IP address

English: computer network IP address (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are networks everywhere. Not just the Internet or the LAN at work, but everywhere. A network could loosely be defined as being comprised of a number of nodes and a number of connections between them. A node is a point or thing which is connected through a connection to another node. A connection is what joins nodes together. This rather circular definition will do for now.

A family can be described by a network. Let’s consider a typical average nuclear family with parents and 2.4 kids. Errm, on second thoughts, lets make that 3 kids. If each person in the family is a node, we can’t really have 0.4 of a kid.

A Date with Your Family

A Date with Your Family (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So there are multiple connections between any one family member and another. The father has a connection with his wife, his daughter and his sons. The daughter has connections with her father, her mother and her brothers. One way that this could be shown in a diagram is to draw a pentagon, each vertex of which is a member of the family and lines between the family member showing the relationships.

That’s a total of 15 interrelationships in a small family. Actually depending on the way you look at it, there may be more, as the father is the father of his daughter but the daughter is not the father of the father (obviously). This can be looked at at two relationships, one from father to daughter (A is B’s father) and another from the daughter to the father (B is A’s daughter), or one relationship between father and daughter.

If you consider that there are two relationships between any two family members, then each relationship can be considered to have a direction and a value. “A is B’s brother” and “B is A’s brother”, for example. Alternatively the relationship could be simple viewed as “brothers”, in which case the relationship has a value, but is non-directional.

I’ve described the familiar relationships in detail to hopefully bring out the facts that relationships between nodes and connections can be complex or describe complex situations. It’s entirely a matter of what you want the network to show.

English: Semantic Network with 7 nodes and 6 links

English: Semantic Network with 7 nodes and 6 links (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Internet is what people tend to think of when someone says “network” and it is indeed a complex network with myriads of interconnections across the globe, but in another way it is quite simple. Basically you have a computer, say your desktop or laptop, connected to the Internet. When you request a webpage, your request is sent to another node on the network, which then sends it to another node, and that forwards it on to yet another node and eventually the request arrives at the destination.

The clever part is that you might think that every “node” on the Internet needs to know where all the other nodes are, but in fact all it needs to know is where to send the request next.

English: nodes

English: nodes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems almost magical. Your computer doesn’t know where wordpress.com is, though it does look up its unique address (known as an IP address). It still doesn’t know where wordpress.com is, so it sends the request and the IP address to your ISP. Your ISP looks at the IP address and sees that it isn’t one local to the ISP, so it passes it on.

As noted above the message is passed on and on until it reaches its destination and then more magic happens as the remote machine responds to the request and sends the response all the way back. It may even travel back by a different route.

The magic is that some of the nodes know around 200,000 addresses on the Internet and where the next step should go. These addresses are in the most part partial in that the address will be like the street address, without the building number.

So although the Internet is a complex network with many many connections between nodes, the basic principle by which it works is simple, based on an address lookup system (DNS) and a simple unique address for each device on the Internet.

(OK there’s more to it than that, but the complexities are mainly at the “edges” of the Internet and mainly spring from the need for security and for organisations to have a “gateway” or single address on the Internet).

When we plan a journey over the road network, we generally have some idea of where we are going or we get out a map. We then scan it for the start and end of our journey and work out what direction we need to travel and the intermediate towns.

1945 map of the Pentagon road network, includi...

1945 map of the Pentagon road network, including present-day State Route 27 and part of the Shirley Highway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But if we travelled like a message travels on the Internet we would first travel to the nearest town and ask someone where we need to go to get to our destination. He or she would point us to the next town to which he or she believes we should go. We would then travel to the next destination and ask again.

It would seem that such a process could result in us going round and round in circles, but eventually we will reach a place where the traffic director knows a large part of the roading network and is able to redirect us to another city which is known to be closer to our destination. Once we are on the right road, the process will eventually result in us reaching our destination.

Road to the A48 near Llancarfan - geograph.org...

Road to the A48 near Llancarfan – geograph.org.uk – 1297530 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another network is the network formed by people we know and the people that they know, and the people that they know and so on. There is a theory that to from you, to someone you know to someone they know and so on, it takes six or less steps to reach any person on the planet. This is referred to as “six degrees of separation“.

Similar numbers can be calculated for smaller sets of people. The Kevin Bacon Number relates movie stars through films that they have starred in with other people. Number higher than 4 are rare. The Erdős Number relates people by the number of scientific papers that they have co-authored.

head of Paul Erdös, Budapest fall 1992

head of Paul Erdös, Budapest fall 1992 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These somewhat whimsical numbers do demonstrate how closely linked the human race is. So far as I know no study has been done of the importance of bridging individuals is. I’m talking about those who perhaps emigrate to a country, thereby directly linking together two populations that may be less loosely connected, increasing the connectivity and reducing the number of degrees of separation.

Six degrees of separation.

Six degrees of separation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Phone amnesia and other things

English: Phone Box

English: Phone Box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Unfortunately I wrote this but forgot to publish it. Which is ironic given the title of this post. I will publish this week’s post shortly]

I suffer from phone amnesia. At least, that’s what I call it. Here’s how it works, or rather, doesn’t work. I answer the phone and talk for any amount of time. I put the phone down and my wife asks me who was on the phone. Often I cannot recall. I literally cannot recall who I was just talking to.

If I mentioned the persons name in my conversation, my wife will ask what “person X” wanted. Very often I will not remember at all what the point of the call was. The effort I make to remember is almost painful.

English: Village Pond and phone box

English: Village Pond and phone box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve noticed that it is often the case people don’t recall what the point of the conversation was, and on the contrary if the person who takes the call wants to tell someone about the call immediately they will have no problems.

So it seems that when we hang up the phone we also hang up our recall at the same time, sort of like filing a letter away. A few minutes later we may remember the call and what it was about. If we’ve trying to remember what it was about, it comes as a great relief!

I appear to have a more extreme version of phone amnesia, but it seems to me that many people have this issue to some limited extent.

This all started me thinking about quizzes and recall. I like quizzes and do them all the time. What constantly surprises me is the answers that I know, in subjects which I have no interest in. I recently knew the answer to a question about women’s fashion, a topic which doesn’t interest me in the least.

Shell Quiz

Shell Quiz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another example was the question about the date of some historical event. I’ve never been good at history. I can’t remember dates, you see. But I knew the correct answer to a history question, the answer to which was a date! Of course I can’t now recall the question or even the quiz. All I can recall is that I was astounded that I knew the answer.

Yet if another history question were put to me, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to answer it. But I could be wrong about that just as easily.

Horn of plenty (4239161486)

Horn of plenty (4239161486) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems that my brain is storing information about things that I have no interest in and I don’t recall even hearing, but for some reason a part of my mind decides to remember stuff.

If I try to memorise something, it means reading and re-reading and re-re-reading the information until it sort of sink in. It’s like parading the information in front of my mind until it can’t help but remember it. We sort of bore the mind into remembering the information.

English: Memories of Friday Wood I am sure the...

English: Memories of Friday Wood I am sure the pool to the right of the photo is where I drank from a spring as a child. The landscape has changed so much with the growth of secondary woodland that one can’t be sure. I remember the water bubbling up through the sand and running down the slope (behind the photographer) into a boggy bit that is still there hidden now among young trees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And all the while the mind is remembering fleeting facts that we barely notice as they flit by. Facts that are of little real interest to us.

Of course memories are not reliable. I “remember” something that happened to one of my sisters when she was small. Her push chair rolled down a small slope and crashed into the barrier round a small flower bed in the park. Over the other side of the barrier was a pond, I was worried that she would fall into the pond.

English: Burton Agnes Ornamental Pond

English: Burton Agnes Ornamental Pond (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I visited the spot many years later I was astounded. The flower bed was there and so was the pond. The distance between the barrier and the pond was such that she could never have fallen into the pond after hitting the barrier unless she was moving at a huge speed. Also there were no paths sloping down to the flowers and pond. The paths were all definitely up the hill.

It’s likely that there were some real events which led to me having this “false memory”. It may be that my sister’s push chair did roll away some time, or maybe my parents suggested that the push chair might roll away if I didn’t hold it tight. My mind could have turned the memory of the suggested event into a memory of the event as if it really had happened.

My mind obviously built a worst case scenario around the event and associated it with somewhere that I knew. It altered a few details, the long hill down to the barrier and the pond, the narrow distance between the barrier and the water. It’s much more exciting that way, and “exciting” seems to be more memorable.

Back to the phone amnesia. When I do remember what the phone call was about (may be hours later), I can recall most if not all of the conversation, not word for word, but in general gist. It seems that the information was stored in memory, but the links to it were missing.

This is similar to old feeling that something is “on the tip of your tongue”. You know (or believe) that the information is there, but you can’t access it. I expect that much of the time the memory is not there, and we only remember the times when it is recalled at a later time. That “tip of your tongue feeling can be very strong though.

It appears that our minds have memories of events (or pseudo-memories of events) and also memories of memories of events. The links between the two can fade out or maybe not be created properly in the first place, so that we can remember that we have a memory of something but we can’t access that memory, and the memories of memories of events are more easily accessible. It’s like a sort of unreliable index to the rest of the book that comprises our memories.

The rest of the memory book, the actual memories, can be fact or fiction or both (like any biography or history book), which makes life interesting in so many ways. Every couple have had conversations about events that have happened to both, and in some cases the two people might be talking about different events, so different are their memories of it.

The Phone

The Phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Computers and cells

English: "U.S. Army Photo", from M. ...

English: “U.S. Army Photo”, from M. Weik, “The ENIAC Story” A technician changes a tube. Caption reads “Replacing a bad tube meant checking among ENIAC’s 19,000 possibilities.” Center: Possibly John Holberton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Oops! One day late this week!)

A computer has some similarities to living organisms. Both produce something from, well, not very much. A computer program has data input from various sources, and produces output to various sinks or targets. A living organism takes in nutrients from various sources, and produces branches, leaves, fur, bones, blood and other organs.

Of course there are differences. A computer is much, much simpler than a living being, even single celled organism. A computer in general only has a relatively small number of parts, but the “parts” in a living organism number in the billions. And of course, living organisms reproduce, but that may change in the foreseeable future.

English: The heterolobosean protozoa species A...

English: The heterolobosean protozoa species Acrasis rosea Olive & Stoian. Photographed at the Biology of Fungi Lab, UC Berkeley, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some animals are sentient, but I’m not going to discuss that here. Maybe in another post.

A computer has hardware, software and operates on data. The data is either part of the software or read from buffers in the hardware. It stores its calculations in “memory”, which is special hardware with particularly fast access speeds.

English: 1GB SO-DIMM DDR2 memory module

English: 1GB SO-DIMM DDR2 memory module (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The computer produces results by placing data into buffers in the hardware. This results in things happening in the real world, such as printing a letter or number on paper, or more frequently these days, on some sort of screen. It may also do many other things, such as control the flow of water by moving a valve or other control mechanism.

Computers communicate with other computers, by placing data in an output piece of hardware. The hardware is connected to a distant piece hardware of the same sort which puts the data into a buffer accessible to another computer. This computer may be a specialised computer that merely passes on the data. Such computers are called routers (or modems, or firewalls).

Railway network in Wrocław

Railway network in Wrocław (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Computers, specialised only in their usage, are found in washing machines, cars, televisions, and we all these days have multi-functional computers in our pockets, our cellphones. It would be hard to find a piece of electronic equipments these days that doesn’t have some sort of computer embedded in it. Very few of these computers are completely isolated – they chatter to one another all the times by various mechanisms.

Internet

Internet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Incidentally, I came across a bizarre example of connectivity of things the other day – a wifi teddy bear. Say you are sitting in the lounge and you want to send a message to your child who is in her bedroom. You pick up your tablet and send a message to a “cloud” web site. This sends a message to your child’s tablet which is in her bedroom with her. The teddy bear, which is connected to the child’s tablet by wifi, growls the message to the child. No doubt scaring her out of her wits.)

So in the current technological world everything is connected to everything else. Much like all the cells in a living being are connected to all the other cells in the organism, directly or indirectly. So how far can we take this analogy, where the organism is the network and the individual cells as the computers. (Caveat emptor – I am not a biology expert, so don’t take what I might say from here on as gospel).

A computer consists of hardware, software, and operates on data. A cell is sort of squishy, so “hardware” can only be a relative term, but a cell does have a relatively small number of organelles, such as mitochondria. The nucleus, which contains most of the genetic material, acts as the control centre of the cell, much as the CPU is the control centre of a computer.

The function of the nucleus is to maintain the integrity of these genes and to control the activities of the cell by regulating gene expression—the nucleus is, therefore, the control center of the cell.

In the cell, the genetic material is in some sense the software of the cell. It contains all the necessary information to create the cell itself or more interestingly the information needed to cause the cell to split into two identical daughter cells. This information is generally encoded in the DNA of the chromosomes.

Information flows between DNA, RNA and protein...

Information flows between DNA, RNA and protein. DNA -> protein is another special transfer, but it is not found in nature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cell also contains, within the nucleus, an organelle called the nucleolus. This organelle (which is part of the nucleus organelle) seems from my reading to mostly relate to RNA, while the rest of the nucleus mostly relates to DNA, very roughly. RNA and DNA perform a complex dance called protein synthesis in organelles called ribosomes.

Cells produce chemicals, which can be consider analogous to computer outputs and receive chemicals from other cells, and so cells communicate, in a sense, with each other. Since all cells are equal genetically, it follows that a cell’s type, liver, skin, lung or brain neurone is determined by factors in its environment.

The model of an artificial neuron as the activ...

The model of an artificial neuron as the activation function of the linear combination of weighted inputs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This only loosely true as each cells is the daughter of another cell and inherits its type, but in the early days of an organism’s life, before organs are formed cells do differentiate. Just as when computers were new, they were all very similar, keyboard, monitor, and beige case.

As the computer-sphere evolved, special types of computer evolved, such as routers and modems, and firewalls. Not to mention phones. Computers became specialised. Similarly cells become differentiated, some going on to become liver cells for example, and others brain cells (neurones).

English: Front side of a Juniper SRX210 servic...

English: Front side of a Juniper SRX210 service gateway Deutsch: Vorderseite eines Juniper SRX210 Service Gateways (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When an organism is young and a cell divides both cells are the same type, but when the organism is very young there is no differentiation. The DNA in the cell contains the necessary information to determine the cell type and tissues and organs are created in the more complex animals.

This process obviously can’t be random, otherwise cells of the various tissue types would be all mixed up. It seems to me, maybe naively, that while the “program” for creating cells is in the DNA, some factors in the environment convey such information as how old the organism is, and what type of cell needs to be created.

an example of a Program

an example of a Program (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We know from investigations into fractals that a simple equation can result in the creation of an image that looks very much like a tree or grasses and that small changes to the equation can lead to different tree or grass shapes. It is tempting to think that a similar process takes place in organisms – a general rule is given which results in the right sort of cells being produced in the right places.

The problem with the fractal idea is that it only creates simple shapes. An arm with fingers, skin and so on is beyond the capabilities of a fractal process so far as I know. Fractals don’t stop. Again, so far as I know there’s no way to iteratively create a tree structures with leaves.

So the “software” of the cell, the “program” embedded in the DNA doesn’t appear to be analogous to a simple computer program that draws fractals. Of course that doesn’t mean that we can never describe a simple organism completely in fractal terms, and create analogous distinct individuals.

It seems that a long as the analogy is not pushed too far, computers in a distributed network are reasonably similar to living organisms. Please note I am note referring to the fractal type computer programs, but am talking about the way that computers themselves in a network are somewhat analogous to living organisms. Primitive ones!

Sample oscillator from hexagonal Game of Life.

Sample oscillator from hexagonal Game of Life. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Technolust

I’m going to define technolust or technophilia as the almost uncontrollable urge to snap up the latest or most novel technical gadgets. I succumb to this disease frequently, although I do try to keep it under control. I do! Honestly!

I’ve been vaguely wondering about these selfie sticks, the ones where you stick your cell phone on the end of a pole and trigger it by using a bluetooth connection, so when I saw a bluetooth camera trigger in a local shop, I had to buy it. I had to buy it. I had no choice.

Having got it home and played with it for a bit, I now have to find a use for the darn thing! I don’t particularly like selfies and you can only take so many of them, because essentially they are all the one picture with different backgrounds. You could essentially take one photograph against a “green screen” and chromakey in any background you desire.

My particular area of technolust is things related to or containing computer technology. It’s been with me all my life though I didn’t know it until I came across computer technology at home and at work. I had a Commodore 64 computer at home, and at work I worked on the old huge mainframes, mainly IBM ones. But it really blossomed when I came across mini computers, and the early PCs. I had one of the first portable PCs, like the one in the picture.

English: The IBM Portable PC 5155 model 68

English: The IBM Portable PC 5155 model 68 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One mainframe computer I worked on had 256kB of memory and we agonised over how we should divide the address space up between three or four “domains”. Another had a staggering 2MB of memory.

Then at the other end of the scale one PC we had we also upgraded to 2MB of memory, which came on a plugin card which was around 30 – 40 cms long and 10 – 15 cms high. We had to leave the top of the case off to use it!

English: Sun 2/50 1 MB Memory Expansion Board ...

English: Sun 2/50 1 MB Memory Expansion Board P/N 501-1020, with SCSI Controller P/N 501-1045 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not always physical things that trigger technolust or technophilia. Before all printers came with network connections they were connected (via a parallel cable usually) to a PC. It could then be shared to others over the network. HP produced a “JetDirect” device which connected the printer to the network either via a cable or a card inserted into the printer itself. I still remember the thrill that I got when I connected over the network to a JetDirect device (which is about the size of a small paperback book) using FTP as if it was a small computer in its own right, which in fact is what the device was.

{| cellspacing="0" style="min-w...

{| cellspacing=”0″ style=”min-width:40em; color:#000; background:#ddd; border:1px solid #bbb; margin:.1em;” class=”layouttemplate” | style=”width:1.2em;height:1.2em;padding:.2em” | 20px |link=|center | style=”font-size:.85em; padding:.2em; vertical-align:middle” |This file was uploaded with Commonist. |} Category:Uploaded with Commonist Deutsch: HP Druckserver Jetdirect 600N mit Ethernet und BNC für den Einbau in Druckern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve got altogether too many computer-related devices in the house. Some I use all the time and others are gathering dust. If I was truly obsessive I could fill the house with devices and possibly go broke, but I haven’t gone to those extremes. So I have a “server” and a “workstation”, and my wife has a laptop. Strictly speaking I have a laptop, but I don’t boot it up very often. It is my wife’s old laptop which I fixed and rebuilt.

Some time ago we got an iPad, which I found amazing – something the size of a magazine, which was able to do much of what the other more conventional computers were able to, and which was run by the touch of a finger (or two!). I also got an Android phone and I fell in love with the thing, so I had to have an Android tablet. Had to. No question!

I love my Android tablet! It’s a rare day when I don’t use it two or three times and often it is more than that. I investigated programming for it, though I don’t have a “killer app”, so most of my programming efforts are uncompleted. I mostly use it for reading ebooks, getting the latest news and to a lesser extent for email and other online web browsing.

I also use it for games. When I go to bed I take the tablet with me and complete a couple of Sudoku puzzles or similar before I go to sleep. Experts advise against this, but it works for me.

English: IRex iLiad ebook reader outdoors in s...

English: IRex iLiad ebook reader outdoors in sunlight. Electronic paper. Electrophoretic display. Français : Bouquin électronique iLiad de Irex dehors à la lumière du soleil. Papier électronique. Ecran électrophorétique. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many people these days appear to be afflicted with technophilia or technolust. When a new Apple device is released queues form at the Apple stores worldwide as people try to slake their desire for latest gadget. This is strange as their old devices, which used to be the latest devices at one time, are not rendered useless by the new devices, and transferring personal information to the new device can be challenging, in spite of attempts to make it easy.

English: iPhone 4.

English: iPhone 4. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Technolust also extends to software. Some people just have to have the latest apps, the latest operating system. The usual justification for such an upgrade is usually justified by the user as a desire for the new features in the new software or bug fixes in the new software.  While I would not advocate never upgrading software, I find such justifications a little weak.

There is a danger that a software upgrade may “brick” a device, that is, it might stop the device from booting up and being used, which is why many people shy away from upgrades. While this is a real concern such happenings are rare and most upgrades go OK. Nevertheless, most users of technology have a horror story  about how things have turned to custard during an upgrade.

I’m what I would classify as a cautious early adopter. For instance, when the new software was released for my phone and tablet, and these devices informed me that the update was available, I waited for a few weeks and followed the news on the upgrade on the Internet. This is almost always a bad idea as long conversations between people who have had trouble (interspersed with odd rare comment “It went OK for me”) doesn’t encourage one to upgrade!

IPod touch with software upgrade and web clips

IPod touch with software upgrade and web clips (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who grow up with technology tend to use that technology without giving it much thought. Televisions are part of the environment. Cell phones are part of the environment. Maybe soon 3-D printers will be part of the environment. Smart phones and tablets, while desirable, are not quite so novel to the kids of today. They will no doubt direct their technolusts to other technologies.

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