Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watson's run on Jeopardy.


I found this game to be rather interesting.  It certainly is a remarkable leap forward for current computer technology to even begin to understand natural language.  Really though, not too much should be made of the final score.  The challenge for Watson was to comprehend language, he had all the answers stored in a ~16TB database.  The challenge for Jennings and Rutter was to answer the questions.

This series tickled me for a couple reasons.  I like computers, I am by no means a professional or overly capable, but I like to tinker with them.  I am doing my Honours project in computational/theoretical chemistry and have taken classes on the subject.  It's a process that got me hooked on Linux.  I have become a ridiculous fan-boy of Ubuntu and the Linux kernel in general.  I enjoy that when computers are used for what computers were built for (that is to say, calculations we humans would rather avoid), they run Linux.  Watson, for the record, ran SUSE during his run.  As a result, I also have a hate on for Mac/Apple.  They preach the stability of their wonderful operating system, which appears to borrow heavily from open-source resources, and give nothing back.

I also enjoy programming.  I went to competitions in high school and took classes, but never got serious about it.  My entrance to a computational lab made me stop and learn the basics of Python, however.  I have used it to write a program to pick a salary-capped fantasy hockey pool team.  I very much enjoy watching the team's progress, it is currently first out of about 45 teams, though it is struggling with one opponent, and may finish second.  This is, however, much better than my non-computerized performance last year, which saw me finish near last.  At the very least, it allows me to appreciate the difficulties in understanding natural language.

I suppose that's about it.  I sure do like computers, and I sure was impressed by Watson.

Edit: The team finished second overall.  I wonder if a different algorithm would serve me better.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Faith and Equations


It seems that sleep continues to elude me.  No matter how tired I feel when I enter the bedroom, my head hitting the pillow seems to spark an endless flow of ideas.  This latest flow of ideas seems to involve religion.  You see, I am a chemist, but I also self-identify as a Christian.

I realise that the two may seem at odds with eachother.  Many would accuse me of being a bad Christian or a bad chemist, depending on where they're coming from.  The specific "flavour" of Christianity that I subscribe to is best represented by the United Church of Canada.  They allow same-sex marriage, understanding that the LGBT community is fully capable of forming devoted and faithful couples.  They also aknowledge that there are other religions in the world, the UCC thinks that we're probably all worshipping the same entity, just in different ways.  Probably most importantly, for me anyway, is that the UCC believes that the Bible, while divinely inspired, was written for a different time and a different place.  It is possible to get good meaning out of some of the stories, but it is impossible to reconcile things like slavery with our current paradigm.

As a chemist, I was taught to believe in what I can test and what I can measure.  I am supposed to base all my decisions on reason.  But is religion all that unreasonable?  What was behind the Big Bang?  Why can something like prayer or meditation evoke such a real, physical response from people?  Why is it that there exists in every man, woman and child a centre within the temporal lobe that is stimulated by religious activity*?

Of course, I must admit that I might be wrong.  There is always, always a chance that whatever I do or say might be wrong (unless I quote physical laws or those of thermodynamics).  At the same time however, every time I attend church I take home an overall message from the sermon that you are not alone in the world, so don't be a dick.  I like that.  You shouldn't be an asshole to others, because if everyone did that, life would suck.  Frankly, disregarding all else that the church says or does, I think living according to that principle would make the world a better place.  Christian, athiest, or whatever.

I feel as though I'm somewhere in between Bill O'Reilly and Richard Dawkins.  I don't think that the bigoted, hate-spewing fundamentalist Christians are right, nor do I agree with the closed-minded and short sighted athiests (who are also deeply religious, as their religion believes in the lack of a god).  I suppose I can live with that, and try to get some sleep.


P.S.  My view of the ideal Christianity:

P.P.S. "Christian Science" is just awful.  Science seeks to understand and describe phenomena, and no further.  Science doesn't decide whether Buddha or Ganesha or Jesus or Thor guides the atoms, just what the atoms do and how they do it.

*Edit: In my psychological studies, I have found that the temporal lobe is the main spot for auditory processing, as well as setting meaning for speech and vision.  It would then logically follow that religious ceremonies, full of symbols and music, would stimulate said lobe.  Perhaps I was overzealous in quoting an anthropology text on world religions.

Friday, February 4, 2011



The name of this blog originates from a story.  I went to a party at the apartment of a friend of mine, I had brought booze in a backpack and I, in an inebriated state, left them at her house when I departed.  The next day I received a text message saying "I think I have your backpack at my place, I looked and it had vodka and equations in it."  Ultimately, it represented two of my passions in a single statement.  Vodka and equations.  That's how she knew it was me.  I study chemistry currently, and it causes me to admire both vodka, beautiful in its simplicity, and equations, beautiful in that they describe the world we live in.  She had, of course, discovered an empty bottle of vodka, and an equation sheet for one of my quantum chemistry midterms.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently enjoying the former of the pair.