The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Smarter than a cat

IBM has created a supercomputer with more cerebral capacity (as measured by neurons and synapses) than a housecat:

The simulator, which runs on the Dawn Blue Gene /P supercomputer with 147,456 CPUs and 144TB of main memory, simulates the activity of 1.617 billion neurons connected in a network of 8.87 trillion synapses. The model doesn't yet run at real time, but it does simulate a number of aspects of real-world neuronal interactions, and the neurons are organized with the same kinds of groupings and specializations as a mammalian cortex. In other words, this is a virtual mammalian brain (or at least part of one) inside a computer, and the simulation is good enough that the team is already starting to bump up against some of the philosophical issues raised about such models by cognitive scientists over the past decades.

...[B]uilding a highly accurate simulation of a complex, nondeterministic system doesn't mean that you'll immediately understand how that system works—it just means that instead of having one thing you don't understand (at whatever level of abstraction), you now have two things you don't understand: the real system, and a simulation of the system that has all of the complexities of the original plus an additional layer of complexity associated with the models implementation in hardware and software.

On the other hand, I've met a number of cats in my day, and as cute as I think they your really need that much computing power to outsmart one? I've seen gerbils do it.

Strange maps, including good beer

Via Tom Hollander comes Strange Maps, a blog I will have to read through when I get a free moment next year. The blog supports Frank Jacobs' forthcoming book, Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities. The blog starts with "Lunatic Asylum Districts in Pennsylvania," moving through "The Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World" and "Heineken's 'Eurotopia'" on its random walk through maps. Very cool blog.

Example: a map showing the best beer in America, based on the number of medals won, with a handy refiguring of the results by population:

The top 10, reshuffled to reflect the number of medals per million of inhabitants, looks quite different, reflecting a dominance by states with a strong micro-brewing tradition:

  1. Colorado – 64.4
  2. Oregon – 42.5
  3. Wisconsin – 38.6
  4. Washington – 16.2
  5. Missouri – 15
  6. Pennsylvania – 13.5
  7. Massachusetts – 12.6
  8. California – 12.8
  9. Texas – 5.6
  10. New York – 5.1

Also from Hollander, a report that Samoa changed sides:

As sirens and church bells wailed across Samoa just before 6am on Monday, drivers obediently stopped their cars. Then, after instructions issued over the radio by the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, they shifted to the other side of the road and ushered in history.

"After this announcement you will all be permitted to move to the other side of the road, to begin this new era in our history," Mr Tuilaepa told his people, warning: "Don't drive if you are sleepy, drunk or just had a fight with your wife."

Good advice, that.

How Americans spend their days

Via The Daily Dish, the results of the American Time Use Survey, in very cool form.


Sunday Business analyzed new data from the American Time Use Survey to compare the 2008 weekday activities of the employed and unemployed. ... The annual time use survey, which asks thousands of residents to recall every minute of a single day, is important to economists trying to value the time spent by those not bringing home a paycheck.

The chart, though, is wicked cool.

How green is your city?

Via Beth Filar-Williams, the National Resources Defence Council has ranked U.S. cities by environmental factors. The study ranks 67 large (population 250,000+), 167 medium (100-250k), and 405 small (50-100k) cities on nine factors, including standard of living, water management, transportation, and environmental participation. Seattle comes out on top for big cities; San Francisco, 2nd; Chicago, 10th.

Other leaders include Madison, Wis. (medium) and Bellingham, Wash. Bottom of the pack: Lexington, Ky., Paterson, N.J., and Pine Bluff, Ark.

Cool mash-up

I sometimes shop at the Book Depository, a British online bookseller, because I'm a nerd. (Also because they have British editions and free shipping to the U.S.)

Today, I discovered their cool Google Maps mash-up, showing who is buying what on their site.

Did I mention I'm a nerd?

Cubs in Detroit

My cousin turned a very large round number on Wednesday, so, being cruel, I took him to the Cubs game in Detroit. I'll have a rare back-dated entry about that in a little bit, with some kvetching about Amtrak; for now, just some pictures of the game.

But first, a non-sequitur: via Paul Krugman, today is the 35th anniversary of the UPC bar code.

Anyway. The game. Yeah, we didn't see this coming:

Unfortunately, that's what happens when you strand 13 baserunners and go 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Sigh.

The park, also, didn't seem to have any character, bad or good. Wikipedia puts Comerica Park in the "Retro Classic" category with AT&T Park and Camden Yards, but somehow it just didn't have the character of those two. Something about the late 1990s just didn't work with baseball parks. I mean, does the baseball park need a merry-go-round? Really?

Even the scoreboard is boring:

And one last thing: I still think my phone is extra-special-cool: