Transpods and particle swarms?

A logistics provider's warehouse of goods bein...
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Particle swarm optimization is a mathematical/algorithmic mechanism that is used in science to simulate something which resembles the act of bees’ or other insects’ co-operation. Swarms do work. Particle swarms can also be used to describe the animation done for a computer rendered film. Swarm members obey simple rules – this is what makes them so enticing.

There are a lot of swarming in the everyday life. Many times a marketplace is like honey being put on a show: people are swarming around goods, they’re inspecting the “flowers and honey” – and most of the time rejecting buy impulses. Then something perfect comes along, and one buys it.

I started to think about macroscopic and traditional logistics. This is presented to us in the everyday life, not perhaps so evidently but in the background scenes of shops and a lot of any production chain. Goods are transported en masse via railways, seas, or on the roads. The macroscopic logistic is a rigorous science with its paradigms and formulas.

Now imagine that logistics could be augmented or revolutionized by altering the size of an effective transport unit. Instead of large and generally slow transport, we could have small and very fasttranspods“, cargo holders that would somehow travel to the right place, just like those vacuum pipes make medicine easily available to pharmacist clerks. I don’t know how far-fetched the idea currently is. Logistics has indeed benefited humankind, but in the microscopic level the individuals have been losers, and the big shopping chains have been the winners. It’s us, people, that move – not the goods. The last mile is still our responsibility. Parking lots, periodic rush hours, undulation of movement, crashes, swearing, waiting, queues, all that nitty gritty of shopping – it’s the dark side of mass production.

Economics is the science of measuring the large: big companies’ efficiency, indeces that are important to the CEO/CFO and investors; economics also does a lot of research into things like countries’ GDP and a billion other things. It can be both normative and descriptive. Economics and macroscopic finance dictate what is sane; what to produce, how, to whom, how to handle the distribution, etc. It’s a golden science in that some details can indeed be ruled out, and still economists approximately know what will happen.

What I’m interested in, very deeply, is how to make a dream come true. I’m a very hedonistic person in some ways. I like to concentrate on things that I love; thinking, writing, enjoying the day, not the kind of person who likes to be interrupted a hundred times an hour. The society as it is now doesn’t yet quite allow me to indulge in the life style that I’d like to – what lacks is an efficient system of transporting bought goods right down to one’s home door. We’re close, we’re very close. The exterior conditions exist for this near-perfect logistics. We got computers, Internet, electronic commerce, and all that. But tying these together into a really well serving coherent whole is still to be done.

Looking forward to improving this page along with the ideas.


The c, the I, the P – the Internet!

Earth and Moon
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modeemeista ei voi jäädä kiinni

Abstract: introducing the modern telecommunication, a packet-switched network and what kind of physical constraints it has.

Imagine a packet in the mail. You are in a hurry, and want it to be within the receiver in less a second.

The packet first passes in a queue in your room. Then it gets placed in a security appliance, that checks what kinds of content is within the letter. Then the messenger accepts your envelope for delivery. It reads the packet address, and decides which direction it will accelerate. There’s anywhere between 4-30 messengers, each which takes your package, and starts forwarding it into the right direction.

On the receiver end the envelope has to go through again a security check.

Your package will, however, reach the destination in only 0.060 seconds! That’s 60 milliseconds. Pretty good? This is Internet. In fact, if your path is short (meaning that the data passes only two or three special devices called network routers), you might get as low as 6-7 ms lag. So your packets travel from one part of the network to another part in basically one flash.

The TCP/IP working pair, a protocol pair works approximately in this way. It’s a standardized form of an electric signal propagating forward in a connected network, where each IP can reach into any other IP (at least idealistically). IP knows the numbers and directions, whereas the higher level TCP knows how streams are constructed.

Though this 60 millisecond is fast, it is still slow for some very latent-critical applications. There’s thousands of different kind of apps that use TCP/IP. Each have a little bit differing requirements. Gaming and voice transmission are very critical and want very fast lines, even though the width (capacity, bandwidth) doesn’t have to be that large.

What’s the naive way one would get more speed? Well, probably upgrade the gear – put better equipment in the place. In fact, companies spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per branch office to make a “industry grade” network. But not all of those bucks buy actual capacity (speed, bandwidth). Some of it goes to making sure that only the correct packets get through into the company internal network. That’s security.

Some of the latency is inevitable in our world. The limiting factor is very fundamental: the speed of light (or electrons, for that matter) – because modern telecommunications (in fact any telecoms since about 1860s) has relied on the traveling of electrons.

Now let’s concoct the logic and inspect it a bit more. “Speed of light” sounds something that only has to do with a science fiction space shuttles. But actually the c, a constant that measures or tells us how fast light travels, is very mundane. It’s approximately 299792458 m/s. That’s a large number; approximately 300,000 kilometers per second. But in another context, that of even Earth-Moon-Earth, it is not such a vast number of distance traveled per second.

Think about for example Earth and Moon: the Moon is a ‘c’ away from us. The distance between Earth and Moon varies a little, but currently as of 2011 it is approximately 384467 km. So the round trip time from Earth, to Moon (reflecting), and back to Earth would be around 2500 milliseconds, or 2.5 seconds.

In an ideal world, the packets in the Internet, or any global network, would really travel as fast as ‘c’ allows. But in real world each packet is like a car driving through half the world; it has to stop at some random intersections in the Information Superhighway. These stops are due to queues in the routers and switches, two fundamental devices in telecommunications.

A router inspects and directs the packets towards their likely destination. All of this takes time. A router is, no matter whether it is ultimately a computer or silicon-on-chip (SOC), hardware nevertheless. It is a sequantial processor of bits, the fundamental units of information.

In addition, if the router already has workload, it will put a little pause to the packet and keep it in queue. If the queue gets to be too long, the router simply drops packets – it does this in a manner that is deemed most just: the last packets to arrive are the first ones to be dropped (kind of LIFO principle).


on cybernetics, Ferdinand de Saussure and communication

I have two laptops at home. Many people have several computers for various reasons; redundancy, because of operating system choices, leasing machine from work, a PC for children separate from parent’s. If you use the computers side-by-side, I think it’s a bit like riding a two-animal sled: you get security and power from these. But there’s a downside, too.

Often in computer world, we’d like to do something. This is our primitive, non-primed thought. The thought doesn’t yet consider the real-world – it’s just a naive wish. Then we take heuristics and approach a practical solution. Let’s take an exercise: “I want to bookmark this page on my browser”.

At first we may not recall how a particular kind of browser allows us bookmarking. Bookmarking means that we save the URL of a page, for easy future access. I found that recently bookmark buttons or menus have been quite cleverly hidden away, even too so. I’ve had many times problem remembering how a bookmarking mechanism works, and what kind of hierarchy the actions do – if any.

After a concrete path is found, we still might have certain details to be clarified; Like “It’s a whole page with all subpages that I want to save.”

What the heck does Ferdinand de Saussure to do with this? He was a very well-known, you might call, modern father of linguistics. His construct of a formal system in language is interesting in computer science, because computers are non-sentient and quite context-unaware machines. Saussure’s system had a triangular form, kind of. He separated our language from the real objects that our words or signs point to. This is very interesting, because as of now, 2011 we still use a lot of signs (buttons, displays, knobs, levers) in order to communicate with the computers all around us: cellphones, laptops, desktops, automata in the garage, parking house, at shops, amusement parks. The further we use those machines, the more natural the communication becomes. But, soon enough, the paradigm might change, and we are faced with more or less significantly different machines.

Saussure’s applications into cybernetics means that they must be controlled with a clear language, like turning things on, off, or setting values. This in despite approximately 60 years of development in the field. Cybernetics is a large field that researches exactly the core of communications and presentation between man and machine. There’s a lot that has happened during 1950-2010. First computers did not make much noise; they were programmed with much, much less obvious punch cards and levers. Today’s typical sentence, like print “Hello” required perhaps tens or a few hundred switches of a binary knob.

When you have those two computers side by side, take a look at one particularly curious thing: your attention is needed to control, change path, turn on and off things in the computers. It’s like playing curling, alone. You are doing your best to guide a disk into the goal. At best, you can jump into a nice flow of things: there’s proper music, you can concentrate on your work or whatever you’re doing; but then, sometime within an hour, a computer does something you didn’t anticipate. It might pop out some warning windows, tell you about updates to software – or the music may stop due to a list that didn’t last for longer. So there you go, have fun with the sled and keep your purring beasts happy! 🙂


Truth and lies

I do not know what is “usual”, or common practise – regarding wits, intelligence, the suitability and social acceptance of one’s message, use of language, and so on. I do know that my own vocabulary and the extend of my use of swearing, especially when I’m disappointed in some facet of life, has burned bridges down. But I firmly believe in that vocabulary is like the stringsof a violin; if you never use alternative frequences, “modes”, then your music is flat.
I had a row with my loved one. I was out of money as usual. My rent was due, and I had approximately “6 months salary” worth of debt. My frustration carried on to our discussion, which was clearly a fact that turned her completely off. She had been disappointed to herself also, and I couldn’thonestly back up in this situation. I was being way too honest. You know, it sounds so strange when I say it here; being honest is bad, but it can be. Read on.
She was, in counter, upset and disrespectful of me, and we separated. I was soon sorry about the things, and sent her a message of apologies, and asked her not to drive wickedly – if she still felt upset. We sometimes have this strangeknack of being so distant, even though we are close soul mates. If time has separated usfor a week or so, we become something almost “uninitiated”, and need again time to accomodate with each other.
It’s dangerous to drive under an emotionalstress. I was already feeling so bad about having been so blunt – I could’ve put my words to be more positive, even though the message would have remained (I think).

Well, no problems there, she was home soon, and I was relieved and happy.
First lesson: if you tell your opinion of a truth in a way that “sinks in” to your counterparty, you will get an angry and defensive counter-offense; or, worse, an invisible poison dart. The poison dart means that the person doesn’t show that he was hurt, but carrieson a grudge. The angry counter-offensive you will identify easily, but the poison dart can be sent in a very quiet mode, or with delay – or both.
What really bothered me, was the fact that she made half a dozen small lies during thevery brief encounter we had – it was maybe 30 minutes, or even less. If you count that a person makes 6 lies in 30 minutes, it means that during 16 hours of awake within a day, the person will make around (2*16*6) = 128 lies. One hundred and twenty-eight lies!! This is quite close to the phrase that I’d heard before: an average person lies 200 times a day.

Lies are interesting
And please, don’t let the background story get too much in the way. It’s only to be an example. I trust her 100% and I know it was under this tense atmosphere of argument that also makes one lie.
We use lies all the time. They are within our language, its constructs, its capability to make nuances and weighs. Proper and highly educated use of language can even enable speaking so, that you make impressions, but never carry any responsibility. It’s on the verge of being a diplomat or a pathological liar.
Why do we lie?
This is my primary question, and my topic and focal point of interest. Why do we lie?What exists behind lies? What are assumptions, what is fact? How can we probe into themechanisms of lies?
Psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of the mind; reading fiction, reading biographies, reading a lot. I think these are the methods to understand liars. And of course – liars can tell a lot about their own motivations.
Lying can be a hard-to-quit habit. It can become a lifelong friend, and indeed, onlywhen a person starts the road of getting rid of lying the truthful life becomes liberating.
What I mean by “truth” is not something like this:
“Look mom and dad; I bought a pristine Truth statue from Plast’o-Mart, only $19.95I’ll put it in top of my shelf! YES!”

Truth is not always appreciated. Being truthful may seem being blunt, disregardingother people, being emotionally unskilled; there’s a whole array of things that a truthful person can be blamed about.

Logic can lead a good way in showing one’s skillfully crafted sentences. But logic ishard to follow. Without proper education, on both ends, logic becomes illogica andpartial – and partial logic is quite useless indeed. And when we do get to the bottomof a sentence, there’s “temporal” logic – logic with time dependency. A sentence truetoday, may not be true at all in a couple of days. In a temporal logic statement theobjects of the sentence depend on time, somehow. For example: “it rained” is true, always, because we understand that at some point in history, it did indeed rain. Butif you add “it rained yesterday” to the sentence, now the timeframe is limited toa 24-hour period, namely day before current day. The truth value of the sentencethus varies with when it is presented.

It is my quest to the human mind; our social mind, our weaknesses, our fears of retaliation – of humiliation, and a few words about Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann’s theory called “Spiral of Silence“.

The pre-Nazi Germany of 1930s and probably also the post-Nazi 1945 onwards, fascist / Nazi Germany was a special atmospheric environment. In a totalitarian attitude environment people are especially cautious, and wary of expressing an attitude or belief that would be against the supposed majority.
Note; we cannot — god help us! — even in the year 2011 count the “absolute” opinion of a mass of people.

Knowing the absolute perception of truth state of all people would require a) total knowledge of brain functions combined with b) mapping of hundreds of thousands of brain signals with an individual variance of the signal meaningsand c) add to the soup the variability of the already varying signals. The brain is malleable, or as in neuroscience people say, it’s “plastic” – it has plasticity.
So, in other words,people want to gang up with the winners as much as possible. This situation reminds of the processof voting MPs (members of the parliament) into the House of Parliament. Some MP candidates havebeen ultra honest all the way in. Some have more to hide; it’s also like the beauty pageant contestsin Finland; some girls are suddenly turned into media fiascos, because – yes, they’d had a lifebefore the contest, and weren’t daddy’s little angels anymore.
Reasons that people do lie:
– to feel better
– to cover things up
– because it’s an easy way out
– “because we can”
– a habit
– staying out of trouble
– lying out of being afraid
– not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings
– being ashamed of something
– anticipating future outcomes, often punishment
– we simply cannot handle the truth (even country-wide consensual lies)
– to entertain others

What does the theoretical communications studies say? Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann was a German researcher and professor of communications that specialized in one area, among others: that of publicly expressed opinion. This has relevance to lying in at least one aspect; with modern society, we have basically less and less private rooms – places where we can be sure that our opinions are not somehow recorded, written, or video-taped. Noelle-Neumann essentially said that people want to be on the side of winners – even at the cost of truth. Think about it!


Automaation paradoksi – huolto

Lähikaupassa silmiin osunut automaatti pisti mietteliääksi. Olin palauttamassa tyhjiä pulloja Tomraan. Laitteen viereen oli laitettu noin reilu metrin korkea pönttö. Aika pian selvisi, että se on käsihuuhteen annostelija. Laite antaa muutaman tipan hygienisoivaa nestettä, kun kädet laittaa annostelijan “sisään”.

Laitteessa oli kaksi pientä LED-valoa: Error ja Working. Ajattelin: “Voi ei! Pitääkö käsihuuhdelaitteessakin olla vikatiloja?”

Myöhemmin aloin hahmottaa yhteiskunnan ja automaation suhdetta seuraavasti: on olemassa ns. perusrakenteet, jotka eivät muutu. Näihin kuuluvat kalliot, rakennukset pääsääntöisesti, ja yleensäkin kiinteät rakenteet, joita esimerkiksi yksi ihminen ei helposti viitsi, pysty, tai jaksa siirtää tai hajottaa.

Näiden perusrakenteiden luoman kehikon sisälle automaatiota voidaan sirotella täydentämään asioita; on liukuovia, hissejä, maksuautomaatteja, otto-automaatteja, valokuvakoppeja, tupakka- ja makeisautomaatteja, kondomiautomaatteja jne. Melkeinpä kaikelle hyödykkeelle on oma automaattinsa. Sen lisäksi on automaatteja, joiden tarkoitus on mahdollistaa yhteys virtuaaliavaruuteen, siis esimerkiksi matkalipun ostoautomaatti tai Facebook-automaatti (näitä on molempia esimerkiksi Helsingin päärautatieasemalla).

Mutta palataanpa takaisin huoltokysymykseen. Automaatti on siis hyvä renki, mutta huono isäntä. Automaatti melkein aina tarvitsee kylkiäiseksi huoltoa, eli firman, joka pitää automaatista hyvää huolta. On ikävän näköistä ja välillä automaatin funktion estävää, jos siitä ei pidetä huolta – esimerkiksi pankkiautomaatit ovat joskus hävyttömän pahannäköisessä kunnossa; ruudulle on yrjötty tai syljeskelty, tai siinä on muuten niin paljon töhnää ettei monitorin kuvaa tahdo millään nähdä.  Automaattiin liittyy siis jokin keskimääräinen huoltokustannus.

Huolto vaatii partiointiin kykenevän porukan, tai vaihtoehtoisesti alihankintana ostettuja palveluita. Alihankinta monesti nostaa kokonaispaketin hintaa, eli käytännössä: tekee epäsuorasti jonkin palvelun kalliimmaksi kuluttajalle. Ei tosin aina – tämä on vain takapuolituntumani kaikesta näkemästäni.

Entä tämä käsihuuhteluautomaatti? Paljonko se maksaa, ja paljonko sen huolto maksaa? Ja kuka tämän maksaa?

Ennen kaupassa oli vedettäviä kertakäyttöpyyhkeitä. Ne toimivat mielestäni mainiosti. Mutta automaatille voi olla syynsä; ehkäpä pyyhkeet ehtivät kuivua, vähäisestä käytöstä johtuen? Voi olla, että ihmiset kaihtivat pyyhkeen ottoa, alitajuisesti – ajatellen sen epähygieenisyyttä. En tiedä. Syitä voi olla monia. Voi myös olla, että joku yksinkertaisesti puhui näppärästi johdon ostamaan tällaisen automaatin – näinkin joskus käy. Mutta, ehkäpä pelkästään nestemäistä substanssia eli tuota puhdistusnestettä sisältävä automaatti on helpompi ja halvempi huoltaa kuin kastettuja paperiliinoja sisältävä?

Jäämme mielenkiinnolla seuraamaan tilannetta.