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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Living in a Simulation - Some Thoughts from Within

It was about 2007 when I first encountered Professor Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument.

You are well advised to read the original argument rather than my digested version of it, but basically it suggests that, providing it is possible to create a conscious entity in a computer simulation, and if humanity ever achieves the technological ability to run such simulations, and if humanity chooses to, then the overwhelming likelihood is that you are a conscious entity in a computer simulation.

The first condition is still a big IF. However, the second one possibly only involves humanity and our technology continuing on their current path for another few decades. The third condition I would argue is almost a certainty.

Ever since I first met this idea it has intrigued me. If it could be shown to be true, how should that affect the way I live my life? Should I try to be more interesting and entertaining, to decrease the risk of being edited out? Should I try to make contact with my programming overlords?

And might there be a way of working out for sure that our universe was really inside a computer program?

Putting myself in the place of the simulation designers, but using the computer technology available to me today, I tried to imagine what constraints or short cuts might be evident to the inhabitants of my creation, and these three points occurred to me.

  1. The constraints of working in a digital computer would mean it was easier if there was a minimum possible size for such quantities like length, time, etc.
  2. Likewise, it would be nice if it was possible to average the effects of the basic components of the universe, so that a wall, say, could be treated as a surface without needing to calculate the movements of all its component particles.
  3. There would be a largest possible number.

Now as it happens, Quantum Mechanics says that there is a smallest possible value for time and length: the Planck time and Planck length, respectively. They are very, very small: the Plank time is 5.4 x 10-44 seconds, and the Plank length is a mere 1.6 x 10-35 meters. Nevertheless, this feature of the Universe is not intuitive.

And the properties of large objects can be calculated without having to consider all their component particles, which is one of the reasons we could do Physics before the particles were discovered.

The maximum number idea was a non-starter though, as everyone knows about infinity, and some people even know about the many different infinities. It was while hoping to learn more about the fascinating world of transfinite numbers that I recently watched the BBC program To Infinity and Beyond. In the middle of a series of interviews with mathematicians, I almost fell off my chair when one Dr Doron Zeilberger said that he didn't believe in infinity. No, he thinks that if you keep counting indefinitely, you eventually reach a maximum number, after which you get back to zero. The maximum number would be very, very big, but he believes it does exist. I don't know if he is alone in this view, but the fact that any serious mathematician could hold it I find very intriguing.

If Bostrom's Simulation Argument is valid, then its discovery must surely be a landmark in the running of a simulation, perhaps hastening the point when the simulation ceases to be of interest to its creators. I would guess that the 'turn off the program' point is when the bulk of humanity's behaviour becomes influenced by the knowledge of the true reality. If so, publicly speculating on the Simulation Argument might not be quite the good idea it seemed when I started this blog post.

For which I apologise; although if it makes me more interesting...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Getting Spotify to work on my Android phone - Part 2

For a while now my Spotify app for Android has exited abruptly shortly after launching. True, this was only if I was online, but as I needed to be online in order to save music for playing offline, I was effectively stumped.

In a previous post on this subject I described how I briefly fixed the problem, only to have it come back again shortly afterwards. I have now fixed it again, and it hasn't gone wrong again six hours later, so I thought I should describe how I did it.

It seemed to me that the problem was happening when my phone (a Nexus S running Android 4.0.3) tried to synchronise playlists with Spotify Headquarters. I have a lot of playlists, since I create one for every album I like, and these are themselves kept in playlist folders by band and genre. But in a moment of revelation yesterday, I realised that I hardly ever refer to the playlists when looking for something to listen to. If I'm not playing some album I've just found out about, I tend to play something that just springs to my mind. Occasionally I will tell Spotify to randomly play tracks in my playlists.

It occurred to me that I could save a lot of effort by just starring at least one of the tracks in any album I wanted to remember, and could then forget about making a playlist for it. Spotify can play starred tracks in a random order, and the built-in search facility is usually good enough to find music.

So I went through my playlists, checking for one star or more in each album, before deleting the playlists altogether.

The moment of truth: would Spotify for Android now work? No.

So I switched off WiFi and went in again. I opened the settings and cleared the saved data. Then I uninstalled and reinstalled the App. Now it worked.

It's a shame that the app had this bug in it, but I seem to have cleared the problem, and as a side benefit, I won't spend any more time in Spotify creating playlists I never really needed. As with GMail, where I used to make folders and sub-folders galore to store my mail in, I now just stick it all in a heap and fetch it back with Search.

Update - it lasted for two days. Now, once again, the app exits shortly after launching. Looks like I might need to reinstall it every time I want to use it!

Another update (22/06/12) - I've been using the new version of Spotify for Android for a few weeks now, and all the problems seem to have gone away.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Updating a ZoneAlarm subscription

ZoneAlarm e-mailed me last month to let me know they would be automatically renewing our 3PC license. I wouldn't need to do a thing. Two and a half weeks later there comes another e-mail:

Congrats! Your subscription has been renewed.

To verify your subscription has been renewed:

  1. Open your ZoneAlarm product.
  2. Look in the lower right corner of your product for the updated number of days your license is valid.

It may take up to 48 hours for your new date to appear, but, rest assured, your product will continue running and you will stay protected.

A week later, the date is still telling me that the sub runs out shortly. ZoneAlarm begins to get edgy, putting up pop-ups to remind me to renew my sub.

For the record, rather than waiting 48 hours for nothing to happen, this is how to tell ZoneAlarm that you've renewed your license:

  1. Open your ZoneAlarm product.
  2. Open the Tools menu.
  3. Select the 'Enter License' option.
  4. Highlight the license key.
  5. Type Ctrl + X.
  6. Type Ctrl + V.
  7. This will have enabled the OK button—click it.

ZoneAlarm should now be showing the correct expiry date.

Update - April 2013

I'm still having this problem, but now I have to come out of the ZoneAlarm monitor, then go back in and repeat the license key procedure. The second time it works.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

First Stab at Geolocation

Like the blog post title says, I've just had a first go at using a browser's Geolocation abilities. I'd imagined it would be quite involved, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are only three functions in the Geolocation API, and they're almost trivial to use.

This is the nub of it:

    navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(function (position) {
        // Do something with the position data.

I particularly like the way they put it all into the 'navigator' object.

'position' contains your co-ordinates and an accuracy. When I tried it in Chrome on my PC the stated accuracy was 25km, but the co-ordinates did look very much like York's. Of course, this begs the question of how my browser knows where my PC lives, given that it doesn't have GPS in it.