Blog 2006

2006 December 31

This week I read a big book on twentieth century history:
The War of the World: History's Age of Hatred
by Harvard professor, Oxford don, and media star Niall Ferguson.
My review of the book

Watch his UCTV interview with Harry Kreisler:
Conversations with History: Money and Power
(#8635, 56 minutes, 2004-06-14)

A topical thought for the day: a Daily Telegraph piece he wrote about a year ago:
The Origins of the Great War of 2007

2006 December 24

Read an excellent book on cosmology:
Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes
by Alex Vilenkin, who is a leading inflationary cosmologist at Tufts University. The book is short, lively and clear, with a nice balance of personal anecdotes, basic explanation and wild ideas. I'd say it was a better text mashup than Stephen Hawking's brief history of time, though admittedly no less baffling for the clueless.

War Nerd Gary Becher has finally lost it (if he hadn't already lost it long ago). His latest blog is a tissue of crudely formulated and simplistic half-truths that add up to no case at all for his main claim that World War 2 is "way overrated".
Excerpts with my comments

 2006 December 14

After 15 years finally liberated my article

The Globall Hyperatlas: A Development Proposal
The Visual Computer 8, 1-7 (1991)

A future hardware system designed to support an interactive geographic database is outlined. The basic system is intended for domestic and educational use and extensions of the system are foreseen as serving a wide variety of professional users. The main physical and functional parameters of the system are presented. Possible problems are indicated and development goals are suggested. The aim of the paper is to initiate a detailed and informed discussion about how such a system may be developed.

PDF: 7 pages, 705 KB

2006 December 10

Read JCS 13(12) containing my article
Will Robots See Humans as Dinosaurs?

2006 December 9

Read some of the eXile blogs of War Nerd Gary Brecher, apparently a loathsome fat slob from Fresno. I found myself both horrified at his primitivism and delighted at his knowledge of war and his insights into aggression.

2006 November 28

Read interesting article in The New York Times:
The Power of Persistence
by SAP Americas CEO Bill McDermott
and (for me) a much more interesting review
Strung Out
by quantum theorist David Lindley of the books by Lee Smolin and Peter Woit on string theory in the Autumn 2006 issue of The Wilson Quarterly. The review ends: "As for string theory, it’s likely to unravel only when its practitioners begin to get bored with their lack of progress. Like the old Soviet Union, it will have to collapse from within. The publication of these two books is a hopeful sign that theoretical physics may have entered its Gorbachev era."

2006 November 27

Visited IBM Frankfurt to lecture on
SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator

Back home, read good article in The New Atlantis:
The Paradox of Military Technology
by Max Boot

2006 November 26

Greatly enjoyed New Scientist 50th anniversary issue with articles on the big questions: Roger Penrose on reality, Pat Churchland on free will, Michio Kaku on a theory of everything, ...

2006 November 25

The Adventures of Doris Lessing
John Leonard

"It is as if some gauze or screen has been dissolved away from life, that was dulling it, and like Miranda you want to say, What a brave new world! You don't remember feeling like this, because, younger, habit or the press of necessity prevented. You are taken, shaken, by moments when the improbability of our lives comes over you like a fever. Everything is remarkable, people, living, events present themselves to you with the immediacy of players in some barbarous and splendid drama that it seems we are part of. You have been given new eyes."
Doris Lessing

The World According to Carter
Alan Dershowitz

Jimmy Carter's ahistorical, one-sided, and simplistic brief against Israel forever disqualifies him from playing any positive role in fairly resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. That is a tragedy because the Carter Center, which has done much good in the world, could have been a force for peace if Jimmy Carter were as generous in spirit to the Israelis as he is to the Palestinians.
AR Carter has fallen into the moral trap that claims many devout Christians. He has let his tolerance of human weakness degrade his ability to tell right from wrong. The struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is not an example of the strong oppressing the weak, as if that were the salient fact of the matter, and it would not be well solved by a Solomonic splitting of the difference. The deeper truth is that Israel is right and the Palestinians are wrong. If leaders in the Middle East could rally enough vision, they would see that welcoming a flourishing Israel in their midst and resettling Palestinians elsewhere with oil revenues instead of buying weapons was the royal road to peace and progress in the region. Arabs can profit from a Jewish presence. All they have to do first is turn away from the anachronistic monstrosity they cultivate as Islamic militancy. Carter should have had the sense to see this.

2006 November 21

My edition of an interview from The Observer with Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

2006 November 12

Gödel and Einstein
Paul Yourgrau

AR Most of the story was familiar to me but I was gripped by the tale of the ongoing neglect of Gödel's philosophical gloss on his discovery of a solution of Einstein's cosmological equations that corresponds to a rotating universe including time loops. Naturally, I am not surprised, given the professional arrogance of philosophers, but I am happy to find that Gödel's conclusion tends to support my own ideas about time. It confirms the view that the dimensionalization of time in general relativity does not do justice to the experience of an ever-changing present moment moving from past to future. That experience is not an "illusion" but it may reasonably seem secondary to a cosmologist for whom psychology is of no great interest.

2006 November 6

Finally posting here an SDN blog I posted on SDN a few weeks ago. There it drew no reactions, I think because it was far too chatty for the propeller-heads who usually post on SDN. Maybe more people will appreciate it here.

2006 November 1

Reading the proof of my next JCS article:
Will Robots See Humans as Dinosaurs?
A reply to Claude Pasquini (blog June 23-26)

Also read first novel by Petra Theunissen:
Alien Genes 1: Daughter of Atuk
(Whiskey Creek Press 2006)
Classic story, charming fantasy engagingly realized, and very readable too

2006 October 29

Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism?

Journal of Consciousness Studies 13(10-11)

AR Galen Strawson starts with a target article "Realistic Monism" and ends with a reply to critics including a wonderful metaphysical thesis (the last of 36 such theses) called Equal-Status Fundamental-Duality (ESFD) monism: Reality is substantially single. All reality is experiential and all reality is non-experiential. Experiential and non-experiential being exist in such a way that neither can be said to be based in or realized by or in any way asymmetrically dependent on the other (etc.). The metaphysical-epistemological framework culminates in five variants of a Revelation thesis asserting that "I am acquainted with the essential nature of" various kinds of experience. All this is offered both as a contribution to science ("physics is psychics" and real physicalism must embrace at least micropsychism) and to modern philosophy (as a version of what Chalmers calls "Type-F monism") as well as a gloss on some central views of Descartes and Spinoza. Bravissimo!

2006 October 22

Among the Dead Cities
A.C. Grayling

AR Graying questions the morality of the Allied bombing of German and J apanese cities in World War 2. Of course it is easy to moralize from an armchair decades later, but the issues are troubling.

2006 October 21

The God Delusion
Richard Dawkins

"Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don't believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding."
Terry Eagleton

2006 October 16

Why do some of my colleagues at work insist on finding the prospect of driving a Hummer to work each day exciting? If they want to intimidate other road users, why don't they forget about soft-skinned vehicles like Humvees and go for a Cougar (as the U.S. army calls them; the British army calls them Mastiffs), even if they do weigh 12 tons and have diesel motors?

2006 October 10

Read interesting article by Robert D. Kaplan: When North Korea Falls

2006 October 8

The End of Faith
Sam Harris

AR Good brisk argument, overstated, mixed tone and topics

2006 October 3

Baur au Lac Club, Zurich, Switzerland
Dinner with old boys from Exeter College Oxford
and College Rector Frances Cairncross

2006 September 24

After the Neocons
 Kenneth Anderson

Review of America at the Crossroads by Francis Fukuyama

AR Fukuyama's internationalism may not be as ineffectual as Anderson makes it seem. The global order imposed by liberal democracies has as much to do with economic clout as political ideals. The globalization of business and the resulting tight integration of supply chains and consumption models demands an international political order. The windfall oil revenues that support the resurgence of Islamism are a potential choke point where we can apply pressure to return to the agenda of ending history. We need a "BP" energy policy.

2006 September 21

Group photo with (most of) the TREX team

Not an official logo: I invented it!

2006 September 17-20

Read new book
The Trouble with Physics
by Lee Smolin
Smolin says what needs saying and offers a wealth of ideas and opinions: string theorists should reflect on his argument

2006 August 26

Granted blogging rights in SAP Developer Network

2006 August 19-23

Enjoyed pleasant days with Lynn, visiting from California

2006 August 14

Inspired by New Scientist cover story:
"Out of the Void" by Davide Castelvecchi
Topic: loop quantum gravity

2006 August 7

SAP Labs Palo Alto SVP for research Ike Nassi explains in Computerworld that integration of the real world and the IT world will accelerate

2006 August 3

PTG Summer Summit, Holiday Park, Hassloch
A large number of SAP employees met there with their families. I enjoyed a multisecond free fall from the Free Fall Tower

2006 August 1

British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered what was billed as a major foreign policy speech on the Middle East to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council

2006 July 8

Royal Naval Air Station, Yeovilton, UK
International Air Day

2006 June 23-26

St Annes College, Oxford, UK
From the subsequent conference report:

An Opening Reception Amidst Dinosaurs
"Just like these guys" — Andrew Ross pointed to the giant skeletons of the dinosaurs — "are now the remnants of our distant past, we humans will be the remnants of the distant past of robots which will replace us humans. From the point of view of those future machines the world as we know it will be their primeval soup and humans will have been some biological dirt one could dispense with." Was it a sacrilege to talk like that in the University Natural History Museum ...?
Claude Pasquini, A (Mostly) Sunny and Sober Anniversary, JCS 13(6), 79-100 (2006)

This is a not an exact quotation of my words, though I admit the general sense is accurate.
I am preparing a more extended and systematic defense of my position.

2006 June 19

University of Trier, Germany
Presented invited guest lecture to Diploma students in department of business informatics:
SAP NetWeaver and the Business Intelligence Accelerator

2006 June 14

Data Mining with the SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator
Thomas Legler (TU Dresden), Wolfgang Lehner (TU Dresden), Andrew Ross (SAP Walldorf)
Proceedings of the 32nd VLDB Conference, Seoul, Korea, 2006
VLDB 2006

Abstract. The new SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence accelerator is an engine that supports online analytical processing. It performs aggregation in memory and in query runtime over large volumes of structured data. This paper first briefly describes the accelerator and its main architectural features, and cites test results that indicate its power. Then it describes in detail how the accelerator may be used for data mining. The accelerator can perform data mining in the same large repositories of data and using the same compact index structures that it uses for analytical processing. A first such implementation of data mining is described and the results of a performance evaluation are presented. Association rule mining in a distributed architecture was implemented with a variant of the BUC iceberg cubing algorithm. Test results suggest that useful online mining should be possible with wait times of less than 60 seconds on business data that has not been preprocessed.

PDF: 10 pages, 543 KB

2006 June 5


Life, the Universe, and Everything
PDF: 24 slides, 171 KB
Omniscience is the science of everything. Starting from logic, the scope of omniscience extends to embrace life and the universe. But the aim is not to reach a final formula, in the style of theoretical physics, that one could print on a teeshirt. For omniscience that aim is clearly utopian, or rather trivial. As Douglas Adams said in his hitch-hiker's guide, the answer is 42. Now what exactly was the question again? One formulation is due to William Arntz et al., and goes approximately like this: What the Bleep do we know!?

2006 May 28

Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett
Not Even Wrong by Peter Woit

2006 May 23

A leading global company, Switzerland
Lecture on SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator (based on TREX)

2006 May 18

Received my copy of Journal of Consciousness Studies 13(4) containing on pages 6-38 a symposium on what consciousness means based on an article by Christian de Quincey, Professor of Philosophy and Consciousness Studies at John F. Kennedy University, followed by responses, including mine

2006 April 28

SAP team TREX colleagues Gerhard Hill and Thomas Peh and I are preparing an academic article on the use of virtual pairs for outer join resolution, which was recently the topic of a patent application from our team. It is now my task to set the raw draft in LaTeX and to polish the language and presentation for submission to a journal.

2006 April 24

An SAP team TREX colleague and I recently submitted a U.S. patent application. It discloses a method for implementing fast access to business objects in the SAP Enterprise Services Architecture as well as fast update of the data used for the objects. The method is based on multi-join indexes and extended join indexes, and is several times faster than previous approaches.

2006 April 3-8

Sad but true: did not attend
Tucson VII - Toward a Science of Consciousness 2006
Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

2006 March 18-19

Enjoyed mystic epiphany with DVD and book:
What the Bleep do we know!?
(William Arntz et al. 2005)

This is the glorious collapse of my ten-year quest to relate quantum theory and consciousness. Numerous people whose books I'd read were in the movie confirming my boldest ideas. All that remains for me now is to work out the details and tell the world. That may take a while ...

2006 March 11-12

Schönes Buch gelesen:
Skurrile Quantenwelt
Autorin: Silvia Arroyo Camejo
(Springer 2006)
Wahrlich ein Paradebeispiel, wie man mit subtilem und teilweise paradoxem Stoff unterhaltsam und doch rigoros umgehen kann.

2006 February 21-22

Lectured on the SAP NetWeaver BI accelerator at
IBM SAP University 2006 EMEA
Palatin Congress Center, Wiesloch, Germany

2006 January 29

The Moral High Ground

A secular answer to fundamentalism

We humans are not as separate from each other as we may like to think. Each of us is not only an individual and a member of various groups but also part of a natural order that locks all life on Earth into one ecosystem. Our striving for separate goals is bound by our need to fit smoothly into the natural>
Nowadays the natural world includes the fruits of technology. A world cluttered with machines and cities does not need to be worse than one filled with trees and animals, but we do need to plan it carefully. Managed incompetently, it can turn sour and push its human parasites to extinction. Part of the planning we need is a policy toward ourselves.

The policy must be based on a conception of what we are and what humanity represents for life on Earth. Are we beings who maximize our consumption of manufactured products in the process of pleasing ourselves to death? Are we embodied souls whose highest goal is to return at death to the realms of glory from which we emerged at birth? Answers at this level carry ideological baggage that we need to check carefully.

For a person in a stable community, such questions can often be answered in humble terms. A person naturally strives to live a decent and productive life that leaves the community better than he or she found it, and to enjoy some happiness along the way. Practically speaking, what precedes birth or follows death is only meaningful in terms of the life of the community. And happiness is a by-product of a good life, not an end in itself. A person who fulfils dreams and plans in a supportive community achieves happiness and has no need of glorified visions of birth and death.

The human community as a whole can scale up an answer along these lines to glimpse the role of humanity in the bigger story of life on Earth. If our species sinks into extinction in a world that seems better than it was when humans first appeared, the last humans may be able to die happy. If we can realize our human projects effectively and without too much strife, we can hope to achieve fulfilment as a species before our descendants in the great flowering of life replace us.

So what is it that humanity as a species will add to the universe? To answer that, we can look at what life has achieved so far on Earth. It is hard not to be self-serving. Humans are the latest and most efficient products of an evolutionary development toward the increasingly organized exploitation of natural resources for functionally defined goals. Previous species had limited horizons, but we have broken through to global organization. Previous species were mostly limited to genetic transmission of information between individuals, so they adapted only slowly to changing circumstances. In our global civilization, information flows and organization exceed all previous bounds by orders of magnitude.

Our machine-based civilization is the primordial soup for life-forms that have the potential to transcend us in the ways that matter most. As people with dreams and plans, we work hard to do what we can. With the help of machines, our ability to do so has leaped massively forward. Our ancestors dreamed of conquering continents but we dream of reaching the stars. More to the point, our ability to realize our new dreams is unthinkable without increasingly sophisticated machines. Human outposts in the solar system will be dwarfed in scale and practical importance by the robot infrastructure we set up to sustain them.

Here on Earth, a human life is a drop in an ocean of living and lived activity that is transforming the surface of the planet in a process whose end we cannot expect to understand. We need no more understand it than birds or fish understand what humans are doing to the world. But it is organized human activity that has started this process. By leveraging our best ideas we can glimpse the long view.

Our most refined ideas come from science and technology. Here we can see the fuller picture, not only the physical universe and the biological world of genes and neurons but also the infrastructure of cars and computers and businesses and burocracies that shape modern life. Here we can see too the evidence of global warming and resource exhaustion that constrain our future. Further, we can see analogies and symmetries to inform our moral judgments, such as the equivalence of different races and sexes or the similarities between species. We can even judge the logical strengths and weakness of various traditional ideologies that still hold many people in thrall.

The traditional ideologies that loom largest in any 2006 plans for how to pursue life on Earth are the Abrahamic monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All share a vision of a transcendent reality that gives meaning and purpose to the human drama between birth and death for all who have faith. Many believers conceive this transcendent reality to be quite separate from the practical world of everyday life, but this is a mistake. A reality can only be relevant to life on Earth if its transcendence is a matter of perspective. We can see our lives from a higher perspective without losing our roots in the here and now. And here and now we have practical issues to address.

The practical issues that should not be held hostage to Abrahamic ideologies include questions of governance, administration and morals. For many of them, good secular strategies have been developed that leverage science and technology and fit harmoniously in a world of personal and political freedom. To follow these strategies, we need to put religion in its proper place. It is a plain fact that human beings are embodied as psychic agents implemented in biological structures living in a physical world. Any real meaning we can find in our lives is immanent in that fact. So militant fundamentalism based on any Abrahamic foundation is a posture rooted in obsolete philosophy. It has no rightful place in any worldview with healthy roots in psychophysical reality.

2006 January 1

About Time

PDF: 16 pages, 175 KB

This essay is an exercise in scientific metaphysics. Its aim is to sketch a unified account of time that both works in modern physics and makes sense in psychology. The raw materials for the sketch come from elementary logic and set theory. The experience of time flow is seen as a direct manifestation of a fundamental physical process. The ontology and epistemology of this experience can provide a foundation for psychology. If the physical sciences in their present form depict “the view from nowhere” onto reality, the new foundation can depict the view from anywhere.