I wrote some time ago learning and briefly discussed how important it is for one to be continually learning. Along the same topic I recently stumbled across a posting by Ben Rockwood regarding knowledge, wisdom, and information. He wrote a very nice summary of the ideas of Russell Ackoff and W. Edwards Deming, Ackoff’s “Wisdom Hierarchy” being my favorite of the two. I won’t go into detail here, please read his excellent post for the juicy tidbits but it basically outlines the progression of things: from the low-level raw data, climbing up through information to knowledge, then understanding and finally (hopefully) arriving at wisdom.
It’s definitely something you can gloss over at first and think “yeah that’s obvious” but I highly recommend you read it and check out his second post with embedded videos from Dr. Ackoff himself on the subject. It’s very thought provoking and I think hits home the core reason behind a large amount of problems in the world around us today. One of the things I love the most is when he says there is a fundamental issue with our system of education; it’s not effective – who in the classroom learns the most? I’d have to agree with his answer – the teacher. We learn by teaching, not by being taught. This is definitely true and reminded me of recently watching a wonderful video on TED by Salman Khan of the Khan Academy, where he came to the same conclusion. The Khan Academy is an online compendium of educational videos which are helping to revolutionize the classroom and Salman is seeing the changes video teaching is bringing to students – peers are able to teach each other and therefore get a better grasp on the material themselves.
All in all, some very interesting ideas. I just wish this was more widely known among the general public.
I’ve been a fan of Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science when I first heard about it maybe 5 years ago. The book was a very interesting read but I didn’t dive too much deeper into the material at the time. CA (cellular automata) were interesting from the perspective of my CS background, and I still find it fascinating that complex systems such as fluid flow can be modeled with a set of simple equations rather then beast that are the Navier-Stokes equations. But if I was a physics major I probably would have played with Mathematica substancially more and studied the concepts further, rather then let them sit in the back of my mind as mere curiosity. Regardless, I kept an ear open for any more projects Steven was working on and when I first saw an glimpse of Wolfram|Alpha, I was seriously impressed. (overview video)
Since then I’ve been patiently waiting for the public launch, and last night I spent watching the live webcast and finally playing around with the engine. It is still very much in a beta stage as it can only understand certain branches of knowledge. But for what it can do, wow. I’m extremely interested to learn how Wolfram exactly accomlished all this, I understand it uses Mathematica as a backend but just the idea of expressing that depth and breath of data in a computing language is fascinating. There were a few clips of the engineers talking about the infrastructure. Hardware geeks would get their fill at the supercomputer they build to run this thing (44th largest @ 10,000 cores using Dell quad Xeon’s and nearly an exabyte of storage). Oh, and they’ve opened up an API for developers!
There are lots of example queries to browse through, but here are some simple ones:
Weather on a particular date – http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=weather+november+5+1955
…no thunderstorms predicted that night at 45 F and overcast (uses your current location).
The natural-language parser is fairly flexible. You can enter queries like “weather day obama was born”. It’s far from perfect and chokes on more complicated strings but useful nonetheless.
Playing around with the knowledge engine for a few minutes, I’ve learned that:
- A 5 earth mass body orbiting a 10 solar mass star with a semi-major axis of 2.5 AU has a period of 1.251 years.
- A 50 megaton explosion (TNT) is:
- 1.2 times the total energy that hits earth every second from the sun
- 1.0 times the energy released the Krakatoa eruption and the amount of energy
- Has the same energy as a relativistic mass of 2.3 kg
- Hurricane Andrew lasted 4 days longer then Katrina, but had the same maximum wind speed of 150 mph (on dates 5 calendar days apart)
You can also get nice visual representations of chords. Or checkout the blackbody spectrum at the temperature of the surface of the sun.
Go give it a shot! You can also download W|A toolbars, firefox search engine add-ons, gadgets, and more.
Learning. A subject of much interest, for those who respect it’s power. Something that can absorb you completely and spit you back out nearly a new person. I’ve always loved the process of learning and strived to prioritize it above all things but have never put it so wonderfully as my friend Matt over at Standalone Sysadmin. A brief quote:
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “autodidact”, you’re not alone. An autodidact is an individual who takes the initiative to teach themselves, rather than go through the formal process of education and studying under a professor. Autodidactism, as it is known, has a long history and includes such luminaries as Socrates, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Edison. Even Samuel Clemens once famously wrote as Mark Twain, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”. Indeed.
I don’t believe autodidact sounds familiar, but definitely something I’m familiar with. The way I see it, it’s the only way to truly know a subject. Maybe you will catch some inspiraction reading the rest of Matt’s posting.