2006-02-22

Optimization vs. Adaptation

A word on optimization. This is feasible for static problem domains, like airplane wings, since the problem domain (laws of aerodynamics) doesn't change. In dynamic problem domains, such as traffic or societies, you can't really optimize, because the "optimum" is changing constantly (if it is knowable). In these circumstances, indeed the system tries to find the "best" solution for the current situation (optimize), but since the optimization process neither reaches an optimum nor stabilizes, it would be better described as an adaptation process. Like this you can understand why short term decisions lead to long term failures.

More on my paper: Self-Organizing Traffic Lights. Complex Systems 16(1): 29-53. [preprint]

2006-02-18

Everybody's Hive

After more than two years of being "too busy", I finally did another painting...

"Everybody's Hive"
Carlos Gershenson
2006.
Acrylic on canvas, 65x80 cm.
Merelo Guervós collection.

Mathematical explanation: This painting uses ideas of self-organization. Even when the tiling is periodic, the colouring patter isn't. I used local rules to determine which of the five colours to use in each tile, leading to an irregular, yet not random, colouring pattern. Each new tile to be coloured has a colour chosen randomly, constrained by the colours of its neighbours, not to have two tiles of the same colour touching each other. Since the minimum number of colours that could be used is four (leading to a regular colouring), adding a fifth colour allows nonperiodicity, yet constraining the choice of colours that result in local regularities. I say that the colouring is self-organizing because it would not be possible to determine the pattern globally, i.e. without actually doing it. With this method, certain harmony emerges from the local rules, without me having a design of the complete colouring scheme beforehand. Notice that the irregularity of the tiles (each one being distinct) also constrains the shape of its neighbours. Just like with the colouring, it could be possible to have a complete scheme for the painting beforehand, in this case making regular divisions in the plane. However, it was my intention not to do this, in order to have also self-organization of the tile shapes (e.g. the head of one tile determines the shape of the legs of the tile above it).

Ideological explanation: I use the tiling as a metaphor of our condition, where there is no space left between individuals, and stating that everything lies inside a social context. The colouring and shaping by local rules is a metaphor of how we affect each other: we are what we are depending on the people around us, who also are what they are depending on us. The percise shape and colouring of each tile is distinct, illustrating our imperfection and uniqueness. Still, all tiles are similar, finding a balance in the paradox of "all humans are equal, but all humans are distinct". This paradox is not contradictory, because we are equal in a human rights context, but distinct in many other contexts. The painting tries to capture both aspects of this duality.

I was inspired by Moorish patterns after visiting the Alhambra.


You can find more of my works here...

Four things...

JJ Merelo got me into this... memetic experiment???

4 jobs

I've been enjoying the benefits of the graduate shcolarship since 2001, so these are old...
  1. Teacher at the Fundación Arturo Rosenblueth (Introduction to Computing)
  2. Teacher at the Diplomado en Informática Médica in the Facultad de Medicina,
    UNAM. (Artificial Intelligence course)
  3. Development Director of Principia Informatica (coordinating graduate studies in Mexican universities, teaching...)
  4. Consulting for Tecnología, Medios y Aplicaciones (Tecnomedia) (Worked as
    developer for the project Astra of TELMEX)

4 movies I can watch over and over and over

  1. The Lord of the Rings (all three)
  2. Peter Greenaway films...
  3. Woody Allen films...
  4. Monty Python films...

4 places I've liked

(4 is too few, so some of these are a bit random...)
  1. St. Petersburg, Rossija
  2. Siena, Italia
  3. Sydney, Australia
  4. Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

4 TV shows I like

  1. Fawlty Towers
  2. The Simpsons
  3. Monty Python's Flying Circus
  4. Futurama

4 places I've vacationed

Suppose they should be different from the above...
  1. Oaxaca, México
  2. Xalapa, México
  3. Ixtapa, México
  4. Cancun, México

4 favourite dishes

a tough one... I devour what my wife cooks, what my mother cooks, what my father cooks, what my brother cooks, what my mother-in-law cooks, what my father-in-law cooks, what both my grandmothers cook... and also what I cook... so it will be a bit of a random selection...
  1. Chiles en nogada (prepared by my father, brother, and I)
  2. Shashlik (the way my father in law makes it in the forest...)
  3. Homemade berry jam (made by my wife or mother-in-law... better if you picked the berries...)
  4. Black forest cake (family recipe)

4 sites I visit daily

well... not daily but frequently... and I suppose that Google doesn't count...
  1. La Jornada (Mexican newspaper)
  2. BBC News
  3. Complexity Digest
  4. arXiv (Preprint repository)

4 poor souls to tag (sorry guys...)

These people should also make similar lists of four things, linking to this post...
(and people reading this should visit their great blogs!)
And the winners are...
  1. Dan Steinbock
  2. Cosma Shalizi
  3. Vitorino Ramos
  4. Nadia Gershenson

2006-02-11

Land of the Free?

No, this is not a post concerning that great Gamma Ray album. It sparked from a conversation with Nadia, who was born in Leningrad in Soviet times, and lived the crumbling of the USSR.

Well, the thing is that the Soviet regime was criticized, among other things, by a lack of freedom of expression. In Stalin's times, if you were a dissident, or plainly if three people didn't like you and told you were a dissident, it was enough to declare you "enemy of the people". Millions were sent to Siberia, repressed, or simply dissapeared. Certainly, that was hell. After Stalin, during the "thaw", there was much less repression. People still wouldn't tell jokes about the government in the open (though many, many people did in their kitchen). OK, so there wasn't ideological freedom (Now there is, but there's no certainty in the future...). A similar situation persists now in Cuba. Nevertheless, there is an active political oposition in the island. Anyway, "free" countries, especially USA, pride themselves of ideological freedom. Indeed, compared to repressive regimes, there is more ideological freedom. To a certain extent, of course. If your ideas are deemed a danger to the homeland, your human rights can be easily suspended, and off you go to Guantanamo... Not to forget about McCarthyism, where if you were suspected of being a Commie, blacklisted you go, and no job you'll find. OK, that's enough about ideological freedom.

What about other types of freedom? In the Soviet Union, and still in Cuba, there was/is freedom of choosing a good doctor, going to a good university, having all kinds of hobbies. In a capitalist country, if you don't have the money, you cannot choose a proper doctor, a proper school for your children, etc. In capitalist coutries, there is almost no economical freedom. If you are born in a poor family, your chances of improving your life expectancy, education, and life quality in general are much lower than in socialist countries.

Freedom of choice? Is this a real advantage? I mean, I don't need 50 types of ketchup... (especially when I could use political diversity and the only two parties represent the same ideals). Well, a certain diversity is always good. But I think this is not dependent on the political regime of countries, but on their markets.

Now, could we have all the types of freedom at once? Well, of course. Socialist policies do not contradict a capitalist economy, as countries such as Belgium and Sweden have shown (China is another example, but there the ideological freedom still leaves much to be desired). Good news: this is spreading, especially in Latin America: Venezuela, Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Bolivia... and hopefully Mexico will soon join the list. The silly thing is that some conservatives in the States see this as a new "axis of evil"... Just because they are against their interests? Even so, socialist countries with ideological freedom do better economically in Latin America than neoliberal countries... USA would be better off with healthy markets down the continent: less conflicts, less illegal immigrants, and more markets to exploit and offer services to. Everybody wins...