Sunday, December 7, 2008

GSO - goooone

So, the Guided Self-Organisation (GSO-2008) workshop has come and gone.
It was a really interesting week, with a key focus on information-theoretical aspects of self-organisation, plus particular theme days on computational neuroscience and adaptive hardware and robotics.

We also did some nice socialising, with a couple of BBQs (at my supervisor's place and mine), and a trip to the Blue Mountains (west of Sydney) where we did the Evans Lookout walk (at least I think that's the one we did). I found the bushwalk quite challenging, as I was still recovering from a broken ankle some 3 months earlier (I did it while putting the rubbish bins out, the night I came home from ALifeXI!). I never thought one could get such a sense of accomplishment from walking. It was a really interesting day though: obviously we saw some wonderful scenery and the company was great, but we also had the strange experience of (the briefest amount of) snow in Australia, barely two weeks before summer ...

Anyway, for a few weeks before and after the conference, we had several of the participants as guests at our lab. This was a very stimulating time, and I had the good fortune to spend many productive hours with them discussing information dynamics, causal effect, measures of complexity, etc etc. There are several interesting threads of investigation underway ...

Bring on GSO-2009!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Real science

I'm having a frustrating science day here. I'm trying to run a pile of simulations examining the coherence of distributed computation in networks, looking into transient bugs and struggling to work out why the simulations are taking much longer than they should.

I was just chatting to a colleague who's having a similarly frustrating time of it, and this reminded my of one of my favourite passages.
This is from the preface to "Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age", by Duncan J. Watts (of small-world networks fame: 1,2), W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2003:
"But real science doesn’t work that way. As I eventually learned, real science occurs in the same messy ambiguous world that scientists struggle to clarify, and is done by real people who suffer the same kind of limitations and confusions as anybody else. The characters in this story are, one and all, talented people who have worked hard throughout their lives to succeed as scientists. But they are also entirely human. I know that because I know them, and I know that we have struggled and often failed together, only to pick ourselves up to try again. Our papers get rejected, our ideas don’t work out, we misunderstand things that later seem obvious, and most of the time we feel frustrated or just plain stupid. But we struggle on, the journey being every bit as much the point as the destination. Doing science is really a lot like doing anything else, but by the time it gets out into the larger world and everyone reads about it in books, it has been so reworked and redefined that it takes on an aura of inevitability in never had in the making. This story is about science in the making."
I just love that passage. While it captures how frustrating this work can sometimes be, it also really sums up for me how rewarding it can be as well. I read this while I was thinking about going back to do my PhD and it definitely helped to solidify that decision.

Oh, and the rest of the book is a very good read as well.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Guided self-organisation workshop

Today I just want to advertise a call for papers for the Guided self-organisation workshop at CSIRO from Nov 24-27 2008. This is being organised by my supervisor Dr. Mikhail Prokopenko.

From the CFP:
"... In general, self-organisation is a not a force that can be applied very naturally during a design process. In fact, one may argue that the notions of design and self-organisation are contradictory: the former approach often assumes a methodical step-by-step planning process with predictable outcomes, while the latter involves non-deterministic spontaneous dynamics with emergent features. Thus, the main challenge faced by designers of self-organising systems is how to achieve and control the desired dynamics. Erring on the one side may result in over-engineering the system, completely eliminating emergent patterns and suppressing an increase in internal organisation with outside influence. Strongly favouring the other side may leave too much non-determinism in the system’s behaviour, making its verification and validation almost impossible. The balance between design and self-organisation is the main theme of GSO-2008 ..."
"The program will include 4 days of presentations, each day with two keynote talks (one in the morning and one in the afternoon), and six scheduled presentations (30 minutes each). A couple of panel discussions are expected as well. The following topics are of special interest: information-driven self-organisation (IDSO), applications of GSO to systems biology, computational neuroscience and neuroinformatics, complex systems and networks, cooperative and modular robotics, sensor networks, and energy grids."

The workshop is shaping up to be quite productive, so I encourage you to submit if it looks relevant for you. The deadline is imminent, but it shouldn't take you long to whip up an abstract ...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hello World

... and welcome to my blog. Though I don't know who you are, it's nice to have you here.

This is my first attempt at blogging, though I did keep a diary for a while when I was 15. The thought of what I wrote back then makes me cringe so much that I've never opened it since for a stickybeak. I'm hoping this incarnation may be a little more useful and interesting for all concerned.

So what, you may ask, am I planning on writing about?

Mainly I'm planning on writing about my work. I'm a PhD student in Computer Science, studying the information dynamics of computation in complex systems (so no prizes for working out where the blog title came from). This I do full-time, though I spend two days a week as an R&D Engineer at a company providing mobile handset location solutions. It's an interesting mix, being able to do the scientific investigations that I love for most of the time, while still fulfilling my engineering craving to create. (At one stage I thought about calling this blog "Engineer/Scientist and not the other way around", a la Zoolander).
Perhaps more importantly, doing the engineering work part-time satisfies my craving for an income to top-up my student allowance. :)
In any case, apart from writing about juggling the two, I intend to do a fair bit of writing about my science, expanding on my own work and commenting on other things that are out there. This is something that is really gaining popularity in the scientific community at the moment; this is a good example (with self-aware commentary on this topic).

Apart from that, I'll write about a lot of day to day stuff going on. For example, one of the next posts I'll do will be about the mythtv box i've just built and how much I'm loving it. But more of that later.

Unlike that diary I mentioned, I do want this to be something that I can reflect on, particularly to see how my thinking changes as my career progresses. Also, obviously this incarnation is open to the public. I don't think it will bother me if no-one reads it, though it would be nice to think that someone, somewhere was getting some value out of it. Time will tell.

In any case, hope to see you here again soon.