Darwin Library, Now Online, Reveals Mind of 19th-Century Naturalist

A portion of Charles Darwin’s vast scientific library—including handwritten notes that the 19-century English naturalist scribbled in the margins of his books—has been digitized and is available online.

Charles Darwin’s Library from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

A portion of Charles Darwin’s vast scientific library—including handwritten notes that the 19-century English naturalist scribbled in the margins of his books—has been digitized and is available online. Readers can now get a firsthand look into the mind of the man behind the theory of evolution.

The project to digitize Darwin’s extensive library, which includes 1,480 scientific books, was a joint effort with the University of Cambridge, the Darwin Manuscripts Project at the American Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum in Britain, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

The digital library, which includes 330 of the most heavily annotated books in the collection, is fully indexed—allowing readers to search through transcriptions of the naturalist’s handwritten notes that were compiled by the Darwin scholars Mario A. Di Gregorio and Nick Gill in 1990.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
in Darwin Library, Now Online, Reveals Mind of 19th-Century Naturalist

 

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Entropy Is Universal Rule of Language | Wired Science

Entropy Is Universal Rule of Language (Wired)
The amount of information carried in the arrangement of words is the same across all languages, even languages that aren't related to each other. This consistency could hint at a single common ancestral language, or universal features of how human brains process speech. "It doesn't matter what language or style you take," said systems biologist…

The research this article is based on is quite interesting for those doing language research.

The amount of information carried in the arrangement of words is the same across all languages, even languages that aren’t related to each other. This consistency could hint at a single common ancestral language, or universal features of how human brains process speech.

“It doesn’t matter what language or style you take,” said systems biologist Marcelo Montemurro of England’s University of Manchester, lead author of a study May 13 in PLoS ONE. “In languages as diverse as Chinese, English and Sumerian, a measure of the linguistic order, in the way words are arranged, is something that seems to be a universal of languages.”

Language carries meaning both in the words we choose, and the order we put them in. Some languages, like Finnish, carry most of their meaning in tags on the words themselves, and are fairly free-form in how words are arranged. Others, like English, are more strict “John loves Mary” means something different from “Mary loves John.”

Montemurro realized that he could quantify the amount of information encoded in word order by computing a text’s “entropy,” or a measure of how evenly distributed the words are. Drawing on methods from information theory, Montemurro co-author Dami??n Zanette of the National Atomic Energy Commission in Argentina calculated the entropy of thousands of texts in eight different languages: English, French, German, Finnish, Tagalog, Sumerian, Old Egyptian and Chinese.

Then the researchers randomly rearranged all the words in the texts, which ranged from the complete works of Shakespeare to The Origin of Species to prayers written on Sumerian tablets.

“If we destroy the original text by scrambling all the words, we are preserving the vocabulary,” Montemurro said. “What we are destroying is the linguistic order, the patterns that we use to encode information.”

The researchers found that the original texts spanned a variety of entropy values in different languages, reflecting differences in grammar and structure.

But strangely, the difference in entropy between the original, ordered text and the randomly scrambled text was constant across languages. This difference is a way to measure the amount of information encoded in word order, Montemurro says. The amount of information lost when they scrambled the text was about 3.5 bits per word.

“We found, very interestingly, that for all languages we got almost exactly the same value,” he said. “For some reason these languages evolved to be constrained in this framework, in these patterns of word ordering.”

This consistency could reflect some cognitive constraints that all human brains run up against, or give insight into the evolution of language, Montemurro suggests.

Cognitive scientists are still debating whether languages have universal features. Some pioneering linguists suggested that languages should evolve according to a limited set of rules, which would produce similar features of grammar and structure. But a study published last month that looked at the structure and syntax of thousands of languages found no such rules.

It may be that universal properties of language show up only at a higher level of organization, suggests linguist Kenny Smith of the University of Edinburgh.

“Maybe these broad-brushed features get down to what’s really essential” about language, he said. “Having words, and having rules for how the words are ordered, maybe those are the things that help you do the really basic functions of language. And the places where linguists traditionally look to see universals are not where the fundamentals of language are.”

Image: James Morrison/Flickr.

Citation:”Universal Entropy of Word Ordering Across Linguistic Families.” Marcelo A. Montemurro and Damián H. Zanette. PLoS ONE, Vol. 6, Issue 5, May 13, 2011. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019875.

via Wired.com

 

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Barnes & Noble Board Would Face Tough Choices in a Buyout Vote | Dealbook

Barnes & Noble Faces Tough Choices in a Buyout Vote by Steven Davidoff Solomon (DealBook)
If Leonard Riggio, Barnes & Noble's chairman, joins Liberty Media's proposed buyout of his company, the board needs to decide how to handle his 30 percent stake before shareholders vote on the deal.
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This story from the New York Times’ Dealbook is a good quick read on some of the details and machinations of the Barnes & Noble buyout. Perhaps additional analysis on it from a game theoretical viewpoint would yield new insight?

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Bob Frankston on Communications

Triangulation 4: Bob Frankston from TWiT Network
Computer pioneer who helped create the first spreadsheet, Bob Frankston, is this week's guest.

On a recent episode of Leo Laporte and Tom Merrit’s show Triangulation, they interviewed Bob Frankston of VisiCalc fame. They gave a great discussion of the current state of broadband in the U.S. and how it might be much better.  They get just a bit technical in places, but it’s a fantastic and very accessible discussion of the topic of communications that every American should be aware of.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Book Cover The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes, #3
Arthur Conan Doyle
mystery, detective
The Strand Magazine
1892
Kindle e-book
Amazon

Comprising the series of short stories that made the fortunes of the Strand, the magazine in which they were first published, this volume won even more popularity for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Holmes is at the height of his powers in many of his most famous cases, including The Red-Headed League, The Speckled Band, and The Blue Carbuncle.

The original “procedural”, but in fiction form and focusing on logic instead of high tech science.

Read between January 02 – May 09, 2011

Quotes and Highlights:

You may remember the old Persian saying, ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’ There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.

Singularity is almost invariably a clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult it is to bring it home.

Well, moonshine is a brighter thing than fog, …

…as I said then, that a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.

“My God! It’s Watson,” said he. He was in a pitiable state of reaction, with every nerve in a twitter.

41% Note: An interesting early use of @Twitter…

I should be very much obliged if you would slip your revolver into your pocket. An Eley’s No. 2 is an excellent argument with gentlemen who can twist steel pokers into knots. That and a tooth-brush are, I think, all that we need.

magnifying lens.

87% First reference to Holmes with a magnifying lens in print that I’ve seen.Like

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Synthetic Biology’s Hunt for the Genetic Transistor | IEEE Spectrum

Synthetic Biology's Hunt for the Genetic Transistor (spectrum.ieee.org)
How genetic circuits will unlock the true potential of bioengineering

This is a great short article on bioengineering and synthetic biology written for the layperson. It’s also one of the best crash courses I’ve read on genetics in a while.

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Dictionary: A Malevolent Literary Device

Ambrose Bierce (), American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist
in The Devil’s Dictionary

 

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IPTV primer: an overview of the fusion of TV and the Internet | Ars Technica

IPTV primer: an overview of the fusion of TV and the Internet by Iljitsch Van BeijnumIljitsch Van Beijnum (Ars Technica)

This brief overview of IPTV is about as concise as they get. It’s recommended for entertainment executives who need to get caught up on the space as well as for people who are contemplating “cutting the cable cord.” There’s still a lot of improvement the area can use…

Profound as it may be, the Internet revolution still pales in comparison to that earlier revolution that first brought screens in millions of homes: the TV revolution. Americans still spend more of their non-sleep, non-work time on watching TV than on any other activity. And now the immovable object (the couch potato) and the irresistible force (the business-model destroying Internet) are colliding.

For decades, the limitations of technology only allowed viewers to watch TV programs as they were broadcast. Although limiting, this way of watching TV has the benefit of simplicity: the viewer only has to turn on the set and select a channel. They then get to see what was deemed broadcast-worthy at that particular time. This is the exact opposite of the Web, where users type a search query or click a link and get their content whenever they want. Unsurprisingly, TV over the Internet, a combination that adds Web-like instant gratification to the TV experience, has seen an enormous growth in popularity since broadband became fast enough to deliver decent quality video. So is the Internet going to wreck TV, or is TV going to wreck the Internet? Arguments can certainly be made either way.

The process of distributing TV over a data network such as the Internet, a process often called IPTV, is a little more complex than just sending files back and forth. Unless, that is, a TV broadcast is recorded and turned into a file. The latter, file-based model is one that Apple has embraced with its iTunes Store, where shows are simply downloaded like any other file. This has the advantage that shows can be watched later, even when there is no longer a network connection available, but the download model doesn’t exactly lend itself to live broadcasts—or instant gratification, for that matter.

Streaming

Most of the new IPTV services, like Netflix and Hulu, and all types of live broadcasts use a streaming model. Here, the program is set out in real time. The computer—or, usually by way of a set-top-box, the TV—decodes the incoming stream of audio and video and then displays it pretty much immediately. This has the advantage that the video starts within seconds. However, it also means that the network must be fast enough to carry the audio/video at the bitrate that it was encoded with. The bitrate can vary a lot depending on the type of program—talking heads compress a lot better than car crashes—but for standard definition (SD) video, think two megabits per second (Mbps).

To get a sense just how significant this 2Mbps number is, it’s worth placing it in the context of the history of the Internet, as it has moved from transmitting text to images to audio and video. A page of text that takes a minute to read is a few kilobytes in size. Images are tens to a few hundred kilobytes. High quality audio starts at about 128 kilobits per second (kbps), or about a megabyte per minute. SD TV can be shoehorned in some two megabits per second (Mbps), or about 15 megabytes per minute. HDTV starts around 5Mbps, 40 megabytes per minute. So someone watching HDTV over the Internet uses about the same bandwidth as half a million early-1990s text-only Web surfers. Even today, watching video uses at least ten times as much bandwidth as non-video use of the network.

In addition to raw capacity, streaming video also places other demands on the network. Most applications communicate through TCP, a layer in the network stack that takes care of retransmitting lost data and delivering data to the receiving application in the right order. This is despite the fact that the IP packets that do TCP’s bidding may arrive out of order. And when the network gets congested, TCP’s congestion control algorithms slow down the transmission rate at the sender, so the network remains usable.

However, for real-time audio and video, TCP isn’t such a good match. If a fraction of a second of audio or part of a video frame gets lost, it’s much better to just skip over the lost data and continue with what follows, rather than wait for a retransmission to arrive. So streaming audio and video tended to run on top of UDP rather than TCP. UDP is the thinnest possible layer on top of IP and doesn’t care about lost packets and such. But UDP also means that TCP’s congestion control is out the door, so a video stream may continue at full speed even though the network is overloaded and many packets—also from other users—get lost. However, more advanced streaming solutions are able to switch to lower quality video when network conditions worsen. And Apple has developed a way to stream video using standard HTTP on top of TCP, by splitting the stream into small files that are downloaded individually. Should a file fail to download because of network problems, it can be skipped, continuing playback with the next file.

Where are the servers? Follow the money

Like any Internet application, streaming of TV content can happen from across town or across the world. However, as the number of users increases, the costs of sending such large amounts of data over large distances become significant. For this reason, content delivery networks (CDNs), of which Akamai is probably the most well-known, try to place servers as close to the end-users as possible, either close to important interconnect locations where lots of Internet traffic comes together, or actually inside the networks of large ISPs.

Interestingly, it appears that CDNs are actually paying large ISPs for this privilege. This makes the IPTV business a lot like the cable TV business. On the Internet, the assumption is that both ends (the consumer and the provider of over-the-Internet services) pay their own ISPs for the traffic costs, and the ISPs just transport the bits and aren’t involved otherwise. In the cable TV world, this is very different. An ISP provides access to the entire Internet; a cable TV provider doesn’t provide access to all possible TV channels. Often, the cable companies pay for access to content.

A recent dispute between Level3 and Comcast can be interpreted as evidence of a power struggle between the CDNs and the ISPs in the IPTV arena.

Walled gardens

For services like Netflix or Hulu, where everyone is watching their own movie or their own show, streaming makes a lot of sense. Not so much with live broadcasts.

So far, we’ve only been looking at IPTV over the public Internet. However, many ISPs around the world already provide cable-like service on top of ADSL or Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH). With such complete solutions, the ISPs can control the whole service, from streaming servers to the set-top box that decodes the IPTV data and delivers it to a TV. This “walled garden” type of IPTV typically provides a better and more TV-like experience—changing channels is faster, image quality is better, and the service is more reliable.

Such an IPTV Internet access service is a lot like what cable networks provide, but there is a crucial difference: with cable, the bandwidth of the analog cable signal is split into channels, which can be used for analog or digital TV broadcasts or for data. TV and data don’t get in each other’s way. With IPTV on the other hand, TV and Internet data are communication vessels: what is used by one is unavailable to the other. And to ensure a good experience, IPTV packets are given higher priority than other packets. When bandwidth is plentiful, this isn’t an issue, but when a network fills up to the point that Internet packets regularly have to take a backseat to IPTV packets, this could easily become a network neutrality headache.

Multicast to the rescue

Speaking of networks that fill up: for services like Netflix or Hulu, where everyone is watching their own movie or their own show, streaming makes a lot of sense. Not so much with live broadcasts. If 30 million people were to tune into Dancing with the Stars using streaming, that means 30 million copies of each IPTV packet must flow down the tubes. That’s not very efficient, especially given that routers and switches have the capability to take one packet and deliver a copy to anyone who’s interested. This ability to make multiple copies of a packet is called multicast, and it occupies territory between broadcasts, which go to everyone, and regular communications (called unicast), which go to only one recipient. Multicast packets are addressed to a special group address. Only systems listening for the right group address get a copy of the packet.

Multicast is already used in some private IPTV networks, but it has never gained traction on the public Internet. Partially, this is a chicken/egg situation, where there is no demand because there is no supply and vice versa. But multicast is also hard to make work as the network gets larger and the number of multicast groups increases. However, multicast is very well suited to broadcast type network infrastructures, such as cable networks and satellite transmission. Launching multiple satellites that just send thousands of copies of the same packets to thousands of individual users would be a waste of perfectly good rockets.

Peer-to-peer and downloading

Converging to a single IP network that can carry the Web, other data services, telephony, and TV seems like a no-brainer.

Multicast works well for a relatively limited number of streams that are each watched by a reasonably sized group of people—but having very many multicast groups takes up too much memory in routers and switches. For less popular content, there’s another delivery method that requires no or few streaming servers: peer-to-peer streaming. This was the technology used by the Joost service in 2007 and 2008. With peer-to-peer streaming, all the systems interested in a given stream get blocks of audio/video data from upstream peers, and then send those on to downstream peers. This approach has two downsides: the bandwidth of the stream has to be limited to fit within the upload capacity of most peers, and changing channels is a very slow process because a whole new set of peers must be contacted.

For less time-critical content, downloading can work very well. Especially in a form like podcasts, where an RSS feed allows a computer to download new episodes of shows without user intervention. It’s possible to imagine a system where regular network TV shows are made available for download one or two days before they air—but in encrypted form. Then, “airing” the show would just entail distributing the decryption keys to viewers. This could leverage unused network capacity at night. Downloads might also happen using IP packets with a lower priority, so they don’t get in the way of interactive network use.

IP addresses and home networks

A possible issue with IPTV could be the extra IP addresses required. There are basically two approaches to handling this issue: the one where the user is in full control, and the one where an IPTV service provider (usually the ISP) has some control. In the former case, streaming and downloading happens through the user’s home network and no extra addresses are required. However, wireless home networks may not be able to provide bandwidth with enough consistency to make streaming work well, so pulling Ethernet cabling may be required.

When the IPTV provider provides a set-top box, it’s often necessary to address packets toward that set-top box, so the box must be addressable in some way. This can eat up a lot of addresses, which is a problem in these IPv4-starved times. For really large ISPs, the private address ranges in IPv4 may not even be sufficient to provide a unique address to every customer. Issues in this area are why Comcast has been working on adopting IPv6 in the non-public part of its network for many years. When an IPTV provider provides a home gateway, this gateway is often outfitted with special quality-of-service mechanisms that make (wireless) streaming work better than run-of-the-mill home gateways that treat all packets the same.

Predicting the future

Converging to a single IP network that can carry the Web, other data services, telephony, and TV seems like a no-brainer. The phone companies have been working on this for years because that will allow them to buy cheap off-the-shelf routers and switches, rather than the specialty equipment they use now. So it seems highly likely that in the future, we’ll be watching our TV shows over the Internet—or at least over an IP network of some sort. The extra bandwidth required is going to be significant, but so far, the Internet has been able to meet all challenges thrown at it in this area. Looking at the technologies, it would make sense to combine nightly pushed downloads for popular non-live content, multicast for popular live content, and regular streaming or peer-to-peer streaming for back catalog shows and obscure live content.

However, the channel flipping model of TV consumption has proven to be quite popular over the past half century, and many consumers may want to stick with it—for at least part of their TV viewing time. If nothing else, this provides an easy way to discover new shows. The networks are also unlikely to move away from this model voluntarily, because there is no way they’ll be able to sell 16 minutes of commercials per hour using most of the other delivery methods. However, we may see some innovations. For instance, if you stumble upon a show in progress, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go back to the beginning? In the end, TV isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the Internet, so they’ll have to find a way to live together.

Correction: The original article incorrectly stated that cable providers get paid by TV networks. For broadcast networks, cable operators are required by the law’s “must carry” provisions to carry all of the TV stations broadcast in a market. Ars regrets the error.

Bill Davenhall at TEDMED 2009 on Geomedicine: How Your Environment May Affect Your Health

TEDMED 2009 on Geomedicine: How Your Environment May Affect Your Health from TEDMED
Does where you live have an impact on your overhall health? Bill Davenhall believes that the location of our homes is critical to our medical history.

 

This is a great thing to think about the next time your doctor asks for your medical history. Perhaps with more data and a better visualization of it, it may bring home the messages of pollution and global warming.