Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Smart Swarm by Peter Miller

This is a really delightful and informative book. It is all about how insects and birds act in groups and how these groups get things done.

A single ant or bee isn't smart, but their colonies are. There is a study on Swarm Intelligence. See Wikipedia entry at Swarm Intelligence. What they are looking at is collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems. It is being applied to the development of robots. When applied to robots 'swarm intelligence' refers to the more general set of algorithms used to control robots. There is another good article on this at Carleton on this subject.

The monstrous Orcs in The Lord of the Rings coordinated their movements as a marauding army by following simple rules of interaction. These rules were developed by the study of a flock of starlings. If you saw this movie you would see how complex action was delivered from very simple rules. The rules were:

  • Stay close to other Orcs
  • Don't bump into other Orcs
  • Head in the same direction as the Orc throng
  • If you run into any humans - cut them in half with your sword"

On YouTube, you can see a very short animated video talking about swarms and what they can tell us at

There are a couple of quite detailed reviews on this book. One is at Business Pundit and another good one at Mission to Learn called Lessons from the Swarm by Jeff Cobb

Peter Miller is a senior editor at National Geographic. There are a couple of interesting articles here by Peter Miller. See Field Notes on the National Geographic site. There is also an older article on swarms by Peter Miller on the National Geographic site

There is also an interesting video of how Art Colonies work by Deborah Gordon. See YouTube site. This is rather long at just over an hour.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Miller. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Father of Us All by Victor Davis Hanson

The full title is The Father of Us All – War and History – Ancient and Modern. This book is a series of essays that Victor Hanson wrote on war. He has an entry in Wikipedia. There is a review of sorts on this book at PRODOS Film Study Group.

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Sanford University and a professor of classics emeritus at California State University, Fresno. His web site is at Victor Hanson.com and at VDH’s Private Papers.

He talks how the Greeks had rules for war, they had truces and they had plays on the insanity of war, but still they went on fighting with each other. Thucydides says that wars were fought for reasons of honour, self-interest, fear, anger and pride. Others have said we fight over ideas, perceptions, fear, honour and grievances. Today, we want to give different reasons for war. However, if we were really honest with ourselves I think we would come to the same conclusions that wars today are fought for the same sort of reasons.

There are a lot of people today that think that war has changed. It has appeared to change because we fight differently. However, there is no good evidence that people had changed at all. We like to think that we are more peace loving. We have lots of people pushing conflict resolution. But have we really changed? Are humans today really different?

The Greeks felt that some wars were good and some were bad. For example, the Persian wars were good because the Greeks were fighting for their freedom. The Peloponnesian war was bad because Greeks were fighting Greeks. Today we tend to think that all wars are bad, but is this right?

There is an hour video on YouTube called Conversations with History. This is an interview with See Victor Hanson. There is also a video with Victor Hanson talking about this book. See Book TV for a short version. For a long version at Book TV.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Hanson. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.