Easter holidays begin! (phew)

Yes! Finally a break from university and the crushing workload! We started our Easter break last Friday and I now have a whole month to while away in pure freedom. Well, almost. Apart from a few coursework and revising for exams coming up in May. It's been a stressed out month especially with my left eye going bonkers for a few weeks. I definitely need some time off to unwind my brain!

I've got a few interesting projects to work on and some books-to-read stacked up for the holidays so I'll probably be a lot relaxed once the kid in me comes out to play and has a go at (proper?) learning and experimenting on a (care?)free schedule. I had managed to write a whole extra page for my book on science in Dhivehi over the course of last year so I'm very determined to finish it by June this year. I am also hoping to pick up another dead project from early 2006 where I started on a book in Dhivehi on introductory electronics and managed to write a general introduction, an overview of the components as well as the first experiment, before I felt disgusted by the Dhivehi language and quickly closed MS Word and strolled off to laalaa land. However, despite my aversion to Dhivehi as a language, I will be (finally) publishing one of my completed pet projects around mid April- a Dhivehi Optical Character Recognition program for documents - online and accessible for all, though I am currently very tempted to try make a buck out of it to stuff my emptying wallet.

I will be attending the Maldivian Students' Association-UK Extraordinary General Meeting 07 gathering in Manchester from 30th March to 1st April. Current estimates of attendance, some as high as 90, suggest that this is going to be one massive Maldivian student gathering! Also, word has it that this would be an "interesting" gathering (ahem).

Anyway, I felt compelled to post an entry with my yakking just to give the impression that my blog is updated regularly. Now that it's done, I might as well bugger off and stop with the "khiyaalee folaa" and yakking. :p

Dhiraagu Directory data for download

It's been a while since I updated my copy of the Dhiraagu Telephone Directory data via their e-Directory service but I finally got around to doing it today since my copy was at least half a year old. So after a few minutes of programming and few hours of automatic and courteous (translated: painfully slow) spidering, I had a fresh copy of the Directory which bears 224,353 number entries. That is definitely an astounding achievement for Dhiraagu considering Maldives has a population of around 300,000 and they seem to have achieved selling their service to almost all of them! What more, 194,025 of these are mobile numbers (postpaid and prepaid included).

Anyway, here's the data for ya all. It's a Tab-Separated Values file sized 11.4 MB which I've Zipped down to 3.4 MB for easier downloading. The file can be opened in Excel, OpenOffice or imported into Access or any other database.

- Download edirectory-2007-03-09.zip


The Game of Life

How could life on earth be so diverse? How could earth, the solar system or even the universe be so complex? How could it be so without it all being made, designed exactly that way? Really, how could it?! It's a fair question and makes a lot of people wonder. But there ARE answers - some are definite some not-so-definite. After all, life (and the universe) IS pretty complex. However, the interesting thing with complexity is that, complexity doesn't mean that it is entirely irreducible or that it couldn't have arisen from something less complex.

Enter John Conway's "The Game of Life" - one of the simplest examples of emergent complexity. The Game of Life (hereafter abbreviated to TGOL) is a type of cellular automata. Cellular Automata can be defined as a structure (cell) which has a finite set of states and any transitions from one state to another occur according to a set of predetermined rules. TGOL operates in a universe represented by a 2-dimensional grid - where the state of each cell in the grid is boolean; i.e. a cell is either alive or dead. The rules, in TGOL, simply determine the state of a cell at any given moment in time as per the states of the cells surrounding it. That's as much complexity as there is in TGOL (and many other Cellular Automata)!

It is quite intuitive to imagine this working at small scales for just a few steps in time but it quickly gets a bit too large a problem to work out in the head. In fact, TGOL can only be executed effectively using the massive computational abilities of a computer but even then, after sometime, the problem gets beyond which a computer can handle. What more, it is near impossible to determine the future state of the cells based on the starting states.

First, the "rules" in The Game of Life as defined by Conway.
- Any dead cell becomes alive if it has exactly 3 live neighbours.
- Any live cell with either 2 or 3 live neighbours stay alive.
- Any other case either kills the cell if it's alive or leaves it dead if it's already dead.

You can "play" TGOL on paper or simulate it on the computer. Being the lazy people we are, I have no doubt most of you would choose the latter option - but if you are any bit curious about TGOL, do try working it out manually first. There are many Life simulation programs available for free on the net - some are run online while some are available for download. Try the Java based Life simulator at http://www.ibiblio.org/lifepatterns/ (click the "Enjoy life" button on the page) for a version that you can run instantly without downloading anything. If you want to download and seriously play with TGOL, check out the open-source Life simulation software called Golly. It is available for Windows, Linux and Mac at http://golly.sourceforge.net/. Alternatively, if you are the programmer sort, you might even venture 10 minutes into making a rough Life simulator yourself (like I first did few years ago) :-P

TGOL simulations can be executed by defining a starting pattern. It can be as complex as you want or as simple as you want. TGOL develops many interesting patterns that people have actually named a lot of them. However, new patterns are found all the time and it seems Life never gets boring! A wonderful place to start on the patterns and their details would be the Life page at http://www.math.com/students/wonders/life/life.html. Try the Glider or Spaceship patterns - they move and were among the first simple-yet-complex emergent entities to be spotted in the TGOL!

Here are 3 steps in the operation of a crude smiley pattern in TGOL:

After playing around with different patterns and observing what happens after a few thousand or few hundred thousand generations in the TGOL universe, it becomes apparent that different sorts patterns get created along the way. Some are dynamic (like the Gliders), some are still, some are oscillatory, some go on seemingly expanding and growing, some develop motion to either of the sides. These more complex structures can occur frequently and regularly and even arrange themselves to form even more complex systems and behaviour.

If you are using Golly, look under "Signal Circuitry" for a pattern called "Turing Machine". As anyone whose studied computer science may know, a Turing machine can perform just about any computation. The fact that a Turing machine can be implemented in the TGOL demonstrates the sheer power that a world operated by a few simple rules could posses. More complex patterns are still being discovered within this universe of the TGOL which is dictated by 3 simple rules. The active universe in a TGOL simulation quickly becomes larger than what most computers can currently handle and does limit our ability to further observe the kind of even more complex behaviour TGOL produces.

Like I said at the beginning, The Game of Life is one of the simplest Cellular Automata around. There are many different kinds of cellular automata, each operating with a different number of states and rules. These produce an even richer variety of universes, displaying amazing complexity.

The End
Hopefully this little incursion into emergent complexity was enough to make you think just how likely it is that this "complex" world which we are both puzzled and fascinated by could have arisen from a really really simple set of rules - like the physical/chemical rules that govern everything in the universe.

Maldives on Windows Vista!

Most people who use Windows XP can remember the particular set of pictures that comes bundled with the default install - we see it everytime we open the My Pictures folder. Windows Vista comes with a larger number of photos, some for use as Desktop Wallpapers and some just categorized as Sample pictures. I was setting my desktop wallpaper today when I noticed something I hadn't noticed before - an eerily familiar looking picture. A quick look at the photo's properties revealed why it had set off bells in my head - there it was in the photo title: "A dock at sunset on White Sands Island in the Maldives". It was a picture from the Maldives! Specifically, it was a picture from the White Sands Resort, which I had just been to last year.

As a Maldivian, I think we'd all feel warm and fuzzy seeing this picture distributed with Vista and maybe used as a desktop on Microsoft's new desktop range. ;-)

A dock at sunset on White Sands Island in the Maldives - Photographer: Angelo Cavalli.