Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Monday, September 20, 2004day link 

picture Hm, a whole week without saying anything. As usual it is then really hard to pick anything to write about.

This week I incidentally answered e-mails from three good friends in California who hadn't noticed I had moved to France. I guess I forgot to mention it. Well, really I didn't. But there are still lots of people who don't know what a blog is or what to do with it. The Blogital Divide. Should I have forwarded my blog postings to everybody in my address book? Probably not. But it might be worthwhile to think of overlapping the different media more. Lots of people I know are not going to read what I write here, even if my blog URL is in the signature of my e-mails and in my profile in various places. At least my mom has stopped asking for a printout of my blog, and resigned to reading it here.

But if a blog is a personal communication portal, it might of course do a better job at somehow reaching the people who aren't coming looking for it, because they don't have the idea that they're supposed to. And they aren't really supposed to, because there are different styles of communicating, and it probably doesn't work for everybody to go to a webpage and see what's new for somebody, or to run an aggregator that shows what's new for a bunch of people. Some of those probably would like getting an occasional summary of articles, even if they didn't ask for it. Like a mailing list reminder. "Remember Flemming? Well, this is where he is and what he's doing and what he's said and how you can reach him. And if you don't want to hear about this any longer, click here."

[ | 2004-09-20 23:11 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Database Optimization
picture Don't know why it was exactly today, other than that it is Monday, but my MySQL server suddenly decided that there was way too much to do. Oh, of course it didn't, but sometimes things reach a certain threshold. I had been wondering why it took my blog so long to load recently, and the server started being really busy all the time. And mysql has this optional log of queries that take too long, which provided the answers I needed. On a server that is doing many things at the same time, anything that takes longer than a second is taking way, way too long, if we're talking about database queries. And now I realized that the queries used to produce the lists of recent referrers and search engine questions which show in the sidebar of some of the blogs took, like, five or ten seconds, which is horrible. Even if just one were running at a time, but there are only a few seconds between each time somebody views a blog page, so that can quickly become bad. So I had to quickly rewrite it so that it figures this out every hour, rather than in real time, and I optimized the indexes a bit.

From past experience, things are much more likely to bog down in MySQL once there's 3-4 million records in a table. Not just gradually worse, but like that things suddenly are taking orders of magnitude longer. And, well, the table that keeps track of blog pageviews has about 4 million entries, for the last four months or so. Anyway, all seems better now, and the server is humming along normally.
[ | 2004-09-20 23:28 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Evolutionary Triggers
picture Strange, there's only two pages of matches right now in Google on the term "Evolutionary Triggers". I didn't think it was such a well-kept secret. Anyway, it is a term that appears in evolutionary biology, like here talking about the surprising explosion in complex lifeforms in the Cambrian era, a little more than 500 million years ago:
The appearance of such a large range of body plans and life strategies at the base of the Cambrian in an apparently short space of geological time has intrigued palaeontologists for many years. There is still a great deal of speculation as to what caused or triggered the metazoan 'explosion', and why it happened when it did after 3 billion years of potential evolutionary time. It seems obvious that something must have changed or reached a critical level favorable for the building of large, complex bodies and the construction of hard skeletal material. The theories of what such evolutionary triggers may have been can be split into extrinsic or external environment factors, and intrinsic or internal biotic factors.
So, something happens which maybe breaks a previous equilibrium, and suddenly it becomes advantageous for new things to develop. Of course something needs to be present in the first place which is capable of evolving. But then a trigger event or circumstance might inspire or influence it into suddenly evolving a whole lot.

I'm not sure if it is an idea that is necessarily popular with the kind of evolutionary biologists who believe that evolution is blind and random. But I don't really care. What I find most fascinating is the use of the meme in systems in general, including human systems.

I've noticed it time and again with people. If we're stuck in the same familiar routine, in the same familiar circumstances, in the same self-consistent worldview, we have a hard time changing. But if we're pulled out of those circumstances, or something drastically changes around us, or something goes over a threshold, change is suddenly much easier. And that is often what at first glance seems unpleasant circumstances that facilitate it. We get thrown out on deep water, or our world falls apart, and suddenly we might discover that we can change quickly, and sometimes for the much better. But we wouldn't have chosen it consciously from within our familiar old frame of reference. It takes a trigger. Sometimes that's somebody yelling at us. Sometimes it is a wise person who doesn't buy into our worldview who knows exactly where to put their finger. Sometimes it is something unexpectedly wonderful that happens that shakes us out of our skull.

Some systems thinking stuff from a page by Paul Herbig:
Systems evolve when they reach a sufficient level of complexity, have flexible feedbacks between their components, are exposed to a sufficiently rich and constant energy flow, and when their normal functioning is disturbed. ( Laszlo 1985)

It is this factor of disturbance that is the evolutionary trigger for systems. If it is below the critical level, the systems normal feedback buffers it out and a return to stability with no evolutionary change occurring. If it surpasses the critical level, the feedback cycles are disrupted and the previous system vanishes and decomposes to more strongly bound components to another stable level. But just at that critical level, it is moved out of normal flow to another level. When that critical level is reached, a freedom of choice occurs, a bifurcation, and a new system diverges from the old.
The evolutionary change I'd be most interested in would be some rapid positive changes in the collective consciousness of humankind. You know, the kind of changes that might make us suddenly realize we can live in peace and work together and have a great time at it. The kind of change that would henceforth make it impossible for a few misguided wackos to mess things up globally. Because the rest of us would actually be working together. Doing what is needed, what we're inspired to do, what is fun to do, and what works.

Could happen. Not terribly utopian either. Incremental change isn't going very well. The world, however off kilter it is, is trying hard to continue on the course it is on, and will tend to resist reasonable gradual attempts of changing it. There's just too much invested in the status quo, and so many reasons why it can't be any different. What is needed is a whack that is hard enough that it knocks us into a different space, where we actually notice we have the freedom to choose something different. Hopefully it can be a whack that isn't too devastating. It could very well be something obviously wonderful. No reason it shouldn't be. But it has to be a trigger that tips a lot of scales, and makes it impossible to remain the same.
[ | 2004-09-20 23:59 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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