Tag Archives: Ted Chiang

Interesting links

I’m leaving on holiday to Taiwan soon and will be leaving my job after that. This means that this blog will probably be updated only intermittently while I’m a in transition phase. In the meantime, here are a few links to some of the most interesting things I’ve read recently.

  • As everyone knows by now, the Rapture did not in fact arrive on schedule. Or perhaps it did but no one, including the folks from Family Radio International who so hyped up the event, was judged worthy. The station’s owner and preacher Harold Camping has since come out with a statement claiming that he’d made a mistake. May 21st was merely the spiritual Judgment Day during which God evaluated everyone’s souls. But the judgment will actually be executed only on October 21st, five months from now, triggering the end of the world.
  • Thankfully Malaysian high schools are nothing like the hellholes that public US high schools seem to be but thanks to American shows and movies, we have a decent idea of what they’re like. One aspect of the US high school experience is how students are segregated into different groups that are organized into a hierarchy that revolves around popularity. This extended essay examines why nerds in school, who are consistently found to be smarter than their peers, are consistently among the least popular students and comes up with some interesting insights.
  • Many vegetarians don’t eat meat because of the perceived moral issues involved in killing an animal for food. What if meat no longer had to obtained by butchering animals? What if you could simply grow the meat in a test-tube? This article looks at how meat could be grown by immersing stem cell samples in nutrient-filled petri dishes, and then moving them into scaffolding platforms to get them to grow into muscle tissue. If this gets off the ground, not only will it dispense with the moral issue of eating animals, it will also be a far cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to farm the meat that we so crave.
  • When I mentioned on QT3 that Ted Chiang had never published a novel, a fellow fan was quick to correct me. Actually, it’s more like a novella than a novel, but you can judge for yourself since The Lifecycle of Software Objects is now freely available to be read online. To be honest I find it to be the weakest of Chiang’s works I’ve read and it’s really more of an essay presenting many different insights and ideas about conscious software as pets and children than a novel. The central thesis is that you can’t create an artificial intelligence by writing an algorithm and running it iteratively until it reaches sentience. Instead, you need to nurture it just as you would a pet or a child, patiently teaching it and allowing it to have a variety of different life experiences to enable it to grow.
  • Finally, just for Malaysians, here is a link to the latest report on house price indices for Malaysia, updated for the first quarter of 2011. Some very tentative conclusions are that overall house prices in Malaysia are still increasing and especially prices for terrace houses in the Klang Valley are still holding up. But prices for high-rises in the Klang Valley is stagnant and has dropped for Malaysia as a whole. Condo prices in Penang in particular seem to be dropped significantly and the index has dropped to 2009 levels. This is especially illuminating since I’ve heard many people complain about very low occupation rates for condos in Penang despite the high prices. As always, a single quarter’s worth of data is not proof of a developing trend and should be taken with the usual grain of salt.