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Interviews: ESR Answers Your Questions

omar.sahal Re:Great Responses... (117 comments)

ESR = Eric Steven Raymond the third. I'm kidding about the the third bit.

about 4 months ago

UAE Clerics' Fatwa Forbids Muslims From Traveling To Mars

omar.sahal Re: Don't agree with the reasoning (363 comments)

I'm actually a Muslim, who has some interest and self and formal study on Islam. Suicide is not part of the tradition of Islam, it has approximately 30 years of history in Islam. This started with Hezbollah conducting a suicide attack during the Lebanon war. Islam is vast, full knowledge I think is beyond me, and most people. This is because the Qur'an, the hadith (sayings and actions of the prophet) are all sources. The hadith alone represent millions of accounts and sayings, which all have to be verified with the number of people retelling the same events, along the the biographies of these witnesses. Plus some parts of the Qur'an abrogate others, each verse can be a sourse of law. This is because the Quran was composed over a twenty year period of the Prophets life, and times change. These are only the sources mind you, there's a bit more than this that goes into what is considered Islam. I suggest that you learn something about Islam.

about 5 months ago

UAE Clerics' Fatwa Forbids Muslims From Traveling To Mars

omar.sahal Re: Don't agree with the reasoning (363 comments)

I agree with your point, culture is allways an important interpretive element, which is actively embraced in traditional Islam.

about 5 months ago

UAE Clerics' Fatwa Forbids Muslims From Traveling To Mars

omar.sahal Re:Don't agree with the reasoning (363 comments)

Actually in the case of someone recanting ones faith in the face of persecution Islam is ok with that, as long as you don't really mean it and your trying to save your life. What many on Slashdot don't know is it's an imperative to preserve life in Islam, we do have Muslims, with a belief backed by enormous amounts of oil money, that would use suicide in military situations though. The death under persecution argument doesn't support your hypothesis. P.S. it is very possible that there's more to it than I know.

about 5 months ago

A New C Standard Is On the Way

omar.sahal Oh! (305 comments)

Not seen this but looking forward to it!

about 2 years ago

History Will Revere Bill Gates and Forget Steve Jobs, Says Author

omar.sahal Re:The big difference here is (679 comments)

This shouldn't be marked a troll without looking into it. The link below shows evidence of his attending the National Journalism Center, designed by Philip Morris to produce effective contacts within the media in order to feed biased research to, and other wise argue their cause. He also spent time at a right wing think tank, known to push neo-con ideals. I make no claims against Gladwell, how ever there is evidence to support the above comments, that should be looked at to assess the accusation.

more than 2 years ago

Light Table: A New Spin on the IDE

omar.sahal Re:What's new? (137 comments)

Watch this, his lectue and demo and then tell me it's the same as we already have, and that a man charged with designing new forms of human computer interaction at Apple didn't know this. Also please respond with why he wasted our time telling us something that already comonly exsisted in the software world, as well as how the confrence organisor and who ever aproved posting missed all this. I was happy to see my post on slashdot. It's quite heavily edited, but this has improved the post. One question for slashdot, is the reason many posts get rejected due to posters needing heavy editing and this not having been done in the past.

more than 2 years ago

GNOME 3.4 Preview

omar.sahal Re:GNOME 3.4 team (144 comments)

That will sort my problem's out but what about ubuntu being the most popular linux version! People will try it, see the interface problems, think this is linux (they dont know what Gnome is necessarily) and go away thinking its very unprofessional.

more than 2 years ago

GNOME 3.4 Preview

omar.sahal GNOME 3.4 team (144 comments)

Thanks for all the hard work, but Ubuntu will just ruin it, because they have some crappy new interface chages they been working on and they insist that it be used instead of your efforts

more than 2 years ago

Google Leaves App Inventor In Limbo

omar.sahal Google Leaves App Inventor In Limbo (114 comments)

I don't know about other people but I'm quite hopeful about app inventor. This software could be aimed at someone like me and when I used it I liked it, but was thinking it would be much better if I could see the code as well. With the code being open this can be added, It's tough for those using it for now, Google has let them down.

more than 2 years ago

GNOME 3 Wins Linux Journal's Readers' Choice Award

omar.sahal GNOME 3 Wins Linux Journal's Readers' Choice Award (378 comments)

I have a mixed views of gnome, one criticism I have with it the old one of it has been simplified to the point of being un-intuitive. When people accused gnome of this in the past I dismissed it! Now I have noted that to minimize the open application I have to point to the upper left corner, no buttons for this. File, Edit etc are not part of Gnome apps they are in the bar at the very top of the screen. Much of this change is change for changes sake, its unfamiliar (no other desktop works this way). Its a shame because the general concept is good. One area (top left corner) gives you access to all applications and parts of the system.

more than 2 years ago

Andrew Tanenbaum On Minix, Linux, BSD, and Licensing

omar.sahal Andrew Tanenbaum On Minix, Linux, BSD, and Licensi (480 comments)

"I think Linux succeeded against BSD, which was a stable mature system at the time simply because BSDI got stuck in a lawsuit and was effectively stopped for several years."

The reasons may also be more to do with Linux and the way it was run! Early hackers have noted that they preferred BSD, but could not use it due to lack of dual booting, this would have meant deleting windows which may have been needed for work. It was also easier for aspiring hackers to contribute to Linux, you didn't have to be one of the inner circle to contribute. There was also a lack of politics, persons within the rival operating systems had noted and open differences which would have affected work.

more than 2 years ago

Occupy Wall Street Protests Go Global

omar.sahal Re:What's the alternative? (944 comments)

provide a solid alternative.

How abut charging bankers with the crimes they have committed.

more than 2 years ago

Occupy Wall Street Protests Go Global

omar.sahal Re:Excellent article on what's wrong (944 comments)

It gets worse the more you study it. The sub prime housing issue was fraud plain and simple. We then had to pay for this when the assets (read bad debts) went bad. We also have to help the banks with their debts to Greece, Ireland and co, another bailout. So banks can't loose their money we have to give it to Greece, Ireland etc. This is then administered by IMF, ECB etc who help banks pillage countries, This money does not help the people of those lands, it harms them, so that when their economy worsens assets can be picked up cheap by banks, banks debts are paid and there future profits are guaranteed at our expense. It just goes on and on, the big question is will our governments keep bailing them out until our own currencies are ruined?
Don't think that The US, Great Britain etc are safe, we have big issues our selves.

more than 2 years ago

US Blocks Huawei From Building LTE Network

omar.sahal US Blocks Huawei From Building LTE Network (156 comments)

Makes you wonder sometimes why the US gets so suspicions of other nations some times! You need to look at an accusation sometimes and figure out if this is telling you more about the accuser than the accused!

more than 2 years ago

Dennis Ritchie, Creator of C Programming Language, Passed Away

omar.sahal Re:Not just the apps (725 comments)

Most of Windows
Most of Apple's OSX
All of Linux
Java is writtn in C
Python is written in C
Perl is written in C
Ruby is witten in C
Modern lisp I'll leave it to others to tell me what that is written in

more than 2 years ago

Algorithmic Trading Rapidly Replacing Need For Humans

omar.sahal Re:This is bullshit. (331 comments)

Even if this is the case, we'd never know until more research is done and researchers connections with vested interests had been examined. But what we do know is if HFT is very profitable with short term returns, capital will be put here as apposed to other uses. We will be the poorer then as less is invested in our economies and more wealth will be tied up in making money for a small groups. As apposed to being invested in business that employ others and provide incentives to governments to spend on education to remain competitive.

more than 2 years ago



Paint that gives you solar power, and it's cheap

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  about a year ago

omar.sahal (687649) writes " writes about a promising new break through in solar powered paint. Although other forms of solar paint have been developed inhabitat thinks this development has particular promise.

NextGen Solar has announced that their new breed of cheap solar paint is closer than ever now that the company has raised half of the $1 million it needs to move out of the lab and into the real world. The company’s solar paint is expected to provide up to 40% efficiency at a third of the cost of traditional photovoltaic panels. That’s partially because the paint captures more wavelengths of light than traditional cells. The material, which forms small connected solar cells as it dries, can be applied to nearly any surface–windows, walls, roofs, and more.""
Link to Original Source


Light Table Funding Success

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 2 years ago

omar.sahal (687649) writes "Chris Granger's Light Table IDE, covered here previously on Slashdot has been successfully funded by a Kickstarter campaign. 7,317 backers brought in $316,720, obliging Chris to support the Python Programming language with his first release. Chris and his team have also been successful in being funded by xy combinator.

Some more back ground on the concepts developed by Bret Victor found in Light Table

More on Light Table

The previous Light Table story"

Link to Original Source

Richard Stallman – software freedom activist speaks on russia today

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 2 years ago

omar.sahal (687649) writes "Richard Stallman is on Russia today spreading the word of free software. Stallman talks about free software, Linux and Steve Jobs. Also announces that he does not use a mobile, as it's a device for surveillance. Also tells the presenter the differences between free software and open source. He then goes on to explain what the word hacker means."
Link to Original Source

Light Table - a new IDE concept

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 2 years ago

omar.sahal (687649) writes "Bret Victor (covered previously on slashdot) demoed the idea of instant feedback on your code. Victor's concept runs a little like a interpretor on your code, but in realtime. This allows the programer to instantly see what his programe is doing. Chris Granger has turned this novel idea into Light Table — a new IDE designed to make use of the Victor's insights.

Bret Victor — Inventing on Principle —
Update on the project —"

Link to Original Source

Bill Gates new personal web site: the Gates Notes

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 4 years ago

omar.sahal (687649) writes "Since leaving my fulltime job at Microsoft.... people have asked me what I'm working on... I spend a lot of my time learning about issues I'm passionate about.

I'm fortunate because the people I'm working with and learning from are true experts in their fields. I take a lot of notes, and often share them... so I can learn from them and expand the conversation.

I thought it would be interesting to share these conversations more widely with a website, in the hope of getting more people thinking and learning about the issues I think are interesting and important. So, welcome to the Gates Notes."

Link to Original Source

Into the cloud

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 5 years ago

omar.sahal (687649) writes "

If you asked ten random techies to define "cloud computing," you might get twelve or thirteen different answers, but if instead you asked those same ten folks to identify the most overused buzzword of the last year, they'd probably all agree that "cloud computing" was it. So imagine my surprise when, on attending a session at this past summer's AlwaysOn conference, I heard someone on the stage talk intelligently, coherently, and technically about a topic that I had written off as so much noise. That person was HP's Russ Daniels, CTO and VP of Cloud Services Strategy, I had to talk to him in more detail about cloud computing. This interview actually altered the way I thought about the cloud and about software delivery in a networked world.

After a lot of hype this sounds like a common sense approach to assesing cloud computing. This interview is covered on Ars technica."
Link to Original Source


Riding the Caspian Sea Monster

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 5 years ago

omar.sahal writes "

In September 1966 an American spy satellite flew over a Soviet naval base on the Caspian Sea and took a series of photographs. The results created quite a stir among the American intelligence community. Their first guess was that this was a conventional aeroplane, possibly a sea plane, but one that was incomplete and much bigger than any aircraft the US had. But when the pictures were examined more closely, intelligence analysts calculated that, even if completed, it would actually fly really badly. This, coupled with the position of the engines, located well forward of the wing, made them realise what they were looking at was something entirely different.

They had stumbled on one of the most top secret military projects of the Soviet era. The object was soon dubbed the Caspian Sea Monster. What they were looking at was, in fact, an Ekranoplan; a wing in ground effect or WIG craft designed to fly at very high speed a few metres over the top of the sea. The Ekranoplan sits clean above the surface and relies on a well known, if little understood aerodynamic phenomenon called "ground-effect".
The bbc has an article and videos of the Ekranoplan in fight (including what seems to be a huge Soviet Ekranoplan in flight)."

Link to Original Source


Greg Kroah-Hartman's blistering attack on Ubuntu

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 5 years ago

omar.sahal writes "Greg Kroah-Hartman out lines Canonical contribution to Linux with detailed analysis and ends with
  • Canonical does not contribute to Linux plumbing.(a catch all phrase for the kernel, tool chain and various systems programs)
  • Companies who rely on Linux must contribute, or they are at the whim of others.
  • Developers who are not allowed to contribute to Linux should change jobs.

notable others have called into question his motivations while some have been more blunt. While all parties agree Canonical contributions are small Dustin Kirkland, a Canonical employee, comments that Canonical only has 133 staff compared to Red Hat (over 2000) and Novell (over 4000)."
Link to Original Source


Computer program helped find autistic man

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  about 6 years ago

omar.sahal writes "
Computer program helped direct search for lost autistic man After days of futile searching and without leads, Burnett County officials were desperate for any new techniques to find the 25-year-old autistic man who disappeared in dense Wisconsin woods. They turned to a computer program to help guide them. Lt. Rick Slatten, a member of the St. Louis County Sheriff's Rescue Squad, developed the computer program, called Search Tracker. It organizes a search area into smaller units, analyzes terrain, vegetation cover, what searchers have done and recommends which units should be searched more thoroughly. The rescue squad has used Search Tracker for about three years.
more about Lt. Rick Slatten who said he may put the program online for free when more comfortable sharing it. Maybe someone needs to tell him (nicely) about open source and how it could help his work get better.

Publicly available developer edition of Ubuntu

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  about 6 years ago

omar.sahal (687649) writes "
Canonical on Tuesday released its first publicly available developer edition of Ubuntu for mobile Internet devices. Ubuntu MID works on two devices at present, the Samsung Q1U and the Intel Crown Beach development station for building devices using the company's Atom processor. It also can be run on ordinary computers through the KVM virtualization software. Custom options may include licensed codecs and popular third-party applications.
  • Full Web 2.0/AJAX fidelity, with custom options of Adobe Flash®, Java, and more
  • Outstanding media playback so you can enjoy videos, music and photos with superior quality and easy navigation
  • A suite of applications that work seamlessly to meet every need of a digital parent, student or anyone who is on-the-go
  • Facebook®, MySpace®, YouTube®, Dailymotion®, 3D games, GPS, maps, in short, the full Web 2.0 experience delivered into your hands as a compact and powerful device that's easy and fun to use
also covered by cnet"

Kernel Driver Statement

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 6 years ago

omar.sahal (687649) writes "A Position Statement on Linux Kernel Modules has been released!The developers of the Linux kernel are trying to push against hardware manufacturers that don't want an open source code driver associated with their product. The 135 kernel developers who urged a halt to proprietary drivers represent the bulk of active kernel maintainers. They included Andrew Morton, Alan Cox, Kroah-Hartman.
also reported at information week and zdnet blogs"



The Big Takeover (Rolling Stone Magazine)

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 5 years ago The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution rollingstone


Brightnets are Owner Free File Systems

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  about 6 years ago slashdot link "OFF, or the Owner-Free Filesystem is a distributed filesystem in which everything is stored in reference to randomized data blocks, as opposed to a 1:1 copy of the original data being inserted. The creators of the Owner-Free Filesystem have coined a new term to define the network: A brightnet. Nobody shares any copyrighted files, and therefore nobody needs to hide away. OFF provides a platform through which data can be stored (publicly or otherwise) in a discreet, distributed manner. The system allows for personal privacy because data (blocks) being transferred from peer to peer do not bear any relation to the original data. Incidentally, no data passing through the network can be considered copyrighted because the means by which it is represented is truly random."


RMS and Clipperz Promoting Freedom In the Cloud

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  about 6 years ago "Clipperz and Richard Stallman recently launched a joint call for action to bring freedom and privacy to web applications. 'The benefits of web apps are many, but quite often users lose their freedom to study, modify and discuss the source code that powers those web apps. Furthermore, we are forced to trust third parties with our data (bookmarks, text documents, chat transcripts, financial info ... and now health records!) that no longer resides on our hard disks, but are stored somewhere in the cloud.' Clipperz and RMS urge web developers to adopt the new AGPL license and build their applications using a 'zero-knowledge architecture,' a framework for web services that has been derived from Clipperz online password manager. A smooth path toward web apps based on free software that know nothing about you and your data."


Professor gives Cisco manual away for free

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  about 10 years ago Cisco manual Computing instructor Matt Basham's suggestions for improving Cisco Systems' official training manuals fell on deaf ears for years. But he appears to have the networking giant's attention now.


e voting scam

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  about 10 years ago Activist: E-voting to be a 'train wreck' SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Ambushing registrars and tracking down executives at their homes and offices, a literary publicist has uncovered conflicts of interests and security flaws inside the companies that make electronic ballot machines. Searching the Web and poring over newspaper clippings, Bev Harris has unearthed obscure arrest records, ties to conservative political groups and other embarrassing secrets of senior executives at voting companies.



omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 10 years ago article here The results he got were that Java is significantly faster than optimized C++ in many cases. "They also show that no one should ever run the client JVM when given the choice," Lea adds. ("Everyone has the choice," he says. To run the server VM, see instructions in the Using the Server JVM section below.) Using the Server JVM Every form of Sun's Java runtime comes with both the "client VM" and the "server VM." "Unfortunately, Java applications and applets run by default in the client VM," Lea observes. "The Server VM is much faster than the Client VM, but it has the downside of taking around 10% longer to start up, and it uses more memory." Lea explains the two ways to run Java applications with the server VM as follows 1. When launching a Java application from the command line, use java -server [arguments...] instead of java [arguments...]. For example, use java -server -jar beanshell.jar. 2. Modify the jvm.cfg file in your Java installation. (It's a text file, so you can use Notepad or Emacs to edit it.) This is located in C:\Program Files\Java\j2reXXX\lib\i386\ on Windows, /usr/java/j2reXXX/lib/i386/ on Linux. You will see two lines: -client KNOWN -server KNOWN You should change them to: -server KNOWN -client KNOWN This change will cause the server VM to be run for all applications, unless they are run with the -client argument. He can be contacted at



omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  more than 10 years ago Chemical, Printable RFIDs
The RFID Journal says that CrossID, an Israeli startup, has developed an RFID system that can be printed using an inkjet printer.

RFID Tags For The Rich Greedo writes "While reading this piece about designing 'experiences' in the Globe and Mail, I came across this interesting tidbit: If you're a frequent Prada shopper (and who on /. isn't?), the loyalty card in your wallet or purse contains a RFID tag that announces your arrival in the store. When you encounter a saleswoman, her handheld computer brings up your tastes, buying history, vital statistics and personalized suggestions from in-stock and coming inventory; the handhelds also place orders and book change rooms. Every item for sale bears an RFID tag.

RSA Keeps RFID Private
RSA Security Inc. will unveil a finished version of its RFID "Blocker Tag" technology that prevents radio-frequency identification tags from being read.
PARC's New Networking Architecture
PARC's New Networking Architecture named Obje, to establish a device-independent networking system. Essentially, it allows two devices to teach each other how to talk amongst themselves. It does this by sending actual code over the network."
It's About Connectivity Not The Internet I've been trying to avoid writing about the Internet as such. With as "At the Edge" I'm looking at larger issues but can't escape writing more directly about the Internet.

The 'Pervasive Computing' Community "Most of us are using computers,but also PDAs and cell phones. And this trend is accelerating in our increasingly networked wireless world. We might use hundreds of computing devices by the end of this decade. Still, we are slaves to our machines. With every new device, we have to learn new commands, languages or interfaces. The Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI), a strategic alliance between the University of Cambridge in the UK and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S., has enough of it and wants to give back control to the users.


Genetic algorithms

omar.sahal omar.sahal writes  |  about 11 years ago

DISCOVER Vol. 24 No. 8 (August 2003)

Table of Contents

Darwin in a Box
Are you ready for computers that speed up the process of evolution and teach themselves to think?
By Steven Johnson

Illustration by Leo Espinosa

On the screen, an animated figure takes a step forward and tries to walk. Instead it collapses immediately, falls on its back, and flails its legs helplessly. Then it reappears at the left of the screen, takes a few delicate baby steps, and falls again. Returning to the screen, it raises its knees, takes six or so confident strides, and drops on its side. After trying over and over again to walk, the figure finally marches successfully across the screen as though its motions had been captured directly from videos of a human walking.

This little film won't win an Oscar for Best Animated Short, but the software that generated it stands as a small miracle of computer programming. The figure was not taught how to walk by an offscreen animator; it evolved the capacity for walking on its own. The intelligence to do so came from some clever programming that tries to mimic nature's ability to pass along successful genes.

The idea is called a genetic algorithm. It creates a random population of potential solutions, then tests each one for success, selecting the best of the batch to pass on their "genes" to the next generation, including slight mutations to introduce variation. The process is repeated until the program evolves a workable solution. Originally developed in the 1960s by John Holland at the University of Michigan, genetic algorithms are increasingly being harnessed for real-world tasks such as designing more efficient refrigerators.

Genetic algorithms make it possible for computers to do something profound, something that looks an awful lot like thinking. And that little animated figure learning how to walk showcases some design developments that permit computers to make their own decisions--without guidance from humans.

The payoff is immediate and obvious for creators of popular entertainment. Most big-budget Hollywood movies or action-oriented video games are teeming with walking (and running and jumping) computer-rendered figures. For these characters to seem believable, they have to move in convincing ways, which means that somehow they have to be taught how to walk. Until recently, filmmakers either had to instruct each limb to move in a particular way or they had to map in three dimensions a real person's movements and apply that information to a virtual character. You can see the approach in the way the character Gollum moves in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. That laborious approach creates convincing results, but they're notoriously inflexible. If animators record someone walking downhill for one scene, and then decide later that the character needs to trip over a rock along the way, they have to go back and choreograph the whole sequence all over again.

Instead, Torsten Reil, an Oxford researcher turned animation entrepreneur, decided to borrow a page from nature and use the power of evolution to solve the problem of making a digitized character move convincingly. "First, we created a simple stick figure: It's got gravity; it's got joints," he explains. "Then we put virtual muscles in and a neural network that controlled the muscles. The problem is: How do you get the network to do what you want it to do? If you just have a randomly assembled neural network, it will send quite complex signals to the muscles, but that's usually not walking--it's more like some random twitches." The muscles all work, and they're wired up to the central nervous system, but the character still doesn't know anything about walking.

The character's body plan involved 700 distinct parameters that needed to be optimized to teach it how to walk like a human. "If you look at that system with your human eyes, there's no way you can do it on your own, because the system is just too complex," Reil says. "That's where evolution comes in."

Reil and his team created a genetic algorithm to explore the potential ways that the figure's control system could be refined. The ingredients of a genetic algorithm are actually relatively simple: a population of "organisms," each with a distinct set of "genes"; rules for the mutation and recombination of those genes; and a "fitness function" to evaluate which organisms are the most promising in each generation. In this case, the fitness function was "distance traveled from origin without falling over."

The algorithm generated 100 animated characters, each with a randomly assembled neural network controlling its muscles. Then the algorithm let them all try walking. Predictably enough, the first generation was almost completely inept. But a few figures were slightly better than the rest--they took one hesitant step before crumbling to the ground. By the standards of the fitness function, they became the winners of round one. The software made 20 copies of their neural networks, introduced subtle mutations in each of them, added 80 new participants with randomly wired networks, and started the next generation walking.

        Like organic life, genetic algorithms come in two primary flavors: those that feature sex and those that don't. Some algorithms "mate" fitness-function survivors, recombining genes in the process. Others clone the most successful solutions and introduce variation purely through mutations.

Genetic algorithms invariably have surprises. Reil's animations rapidly advanced in their ability to travel without falling, but they didn't always walk. "We got some creatures that didn't walk at all but had these very strange ways of moving forward: crawling or doing somersaults." The creatures were playing by the rules of the game, so Reil had to change the rules. "We had to put in a few exceptions: It's not just distance traveled, it's distance traveled without the center of mass going below a certain point."

Eventually, Reil optimized the procedure to take only 20 generations and a few minutes of computation time. The team created a short time-lapse video that shows sample clips from several generations along the way, including the best walker from generation one (the initial figure flailing on the ground) and ending with the successful striding figure in the 20th generation.

This is one of those situations in which reinventing the wheel is a good thing. Watching the time-lapse video clips, one can't help but marvel how this virtual evolution is roughly analogous to the real-world evolution of our ancestors millions of years ago when they first began to walk upright across the savannas of Africa. The stick figure strides convincingly not because someone engineered it to do so but because an evolutionary process allowed the figure itself to find its way to that distinct pattern of movement and muscular control.

The genetic algorithm doesn't make the computer self-aware in a HAL 9000 kind of way, but it does make the computer genuinely creative, capable of imaginative leaps and subtle connections that might elude the minds of human engineers. And the end result is a useful product, now incorporated into an animation software package called Endorphin.

Reil and his team are not alone in unleashing genetic algorithms on practical tasks. Bill Gross and his team of inventors at Idealab in Pasadena, California, are using genetic algorithms to develop a new solar energy device (see "Catch the Fire," page 52). Gross believes genetic algorithms have the potential to revolutionize engineering. Instead of using software as merely a visualization tool that helps draw a contraption, he envisions genetic algorithms that can handle the entire design process. You define your organism, your genes, and your fitness function and let the software do the hard work of actually figuring it out.

"I think this is the way engineering should be done: Instead of defining your part or your circuit board, define your objective and let the software evolve the answer. Let's say I want a table. Instead of drawing out a table, you say, My constraints are these: I want a plane at this height, with this sideways rigidity, and so on. And then you tell the software, OK, you've got bars, beams, screws, bolts--make the best thing you can at the lowest cost."

Genetic algorithm advocates often talk about their software in the language of ecosystems: predators and prey, species and resources. But Gross has another idea--less rain forest and more assembly line. "Let's say you give the software access to the entire McMaster-Carr industrial supply catalog. They have 400,000 parts in stock: screws, bolts, hinges, everything. So you've got the whole gene pool of those parts available." Somewhere in that mix is the machine you're dreaming of, and simulated evolution may well be the fastest way to find it.

"You state your objectives, let the thing evolve with the optimum combination of parts at the lowest price, and the machine will be there this afternoon," Gross says, his voice rising with excitement. "That's an extreme exaggeration--but not that extreme!"

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