Monday, September 17, 2007

Conversation with Viviann

Viviann is the bot replacing customer support at
I got bored waiting for my electric stove to get warm, so I chatted a bit with Viviann.

Are we going to win the game on Saturday?
You have asked a question which is not in the database...
Do you know anything at all?
I don't know if I do.
Why are you smiling?
Unfortunately I don't know why, try to reformulate the question.
You aren't so smart, but you are pretty anyway
It is nice that you think I'm pretty!
Shall we meet?
You have asked a question which is not in the database...
What do you mean?
Unfortunately, I cannot put it more clearly.
That was not very nice
I don't understand what you mean.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


There is an ongoing controversy about the limits of freedom of speech in Sweden. Lars Vilks made a drawing of Mahomet as a "rondell"-dog, i.e. a statue of a dog used to decorate circular road crossings. Circular crossings are popular in Europe, I don't know about other parts of the World. About "rondell"-dogs, if you don't understand the concept, then we are two. As far as I know, we don't decorate "ronds points" in France with statues of dogs.

As you may have guessed, Muslims around the world are angry and burning Swedish flags. Now that I think about it, I can only think of one picture showing a session of flag-burning, so the correct sentence would probably be "20 Muslisms somewhere burnt a Swedish flag". Actually, the flag that got burnt was green with a yellow cross, when it should have been blue with a yellow cross. Maybe these guys are normally busy burning American and Danish flags, and they were out of blue paint.

One of the reason Swedish peaceful protesters gave for their protest was that it is written in the Koran that no representations of the Prophet shall be made. That such a representation was made hurt their feelings.

I don't understand that explanation, since hopefully Muslims in Sweden are tolerant enough to accept that non-Muslims do not follow the Koran.

Finally, I find it surprising that many Muslims are called after Mahomet the Prophet. Wouldn't that be a more serious offense than making a drawing of him?

There are no rules

I'm reading "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. It's taking me a long time to read because it sparks all kinds of reflections on the origin of the universe.
I think Man (or more likely Woman, Man was too busy hunting to think) came up with the idea of God as an explanation for its origin, and by extension, for the origin of the universe. The problem with this explanation is that we don't know what's responsible for God's existence. Really, it's not much of an "explanation".
But why do we assume there are explanations for everything?

Let's play a game. I give you sequences of 0 and 1, and you have to guess the rule I used to generate the sequence.


All these sequences can apparently be generated by more-or-less simple rules: "Only 0", "Only 1", "Alternate 0 and 1", "Read the sequence aloud and concatenate the result to the sequence".
But how do we know the unseen parts of these sequences (the dots) follow these rules? If I want you to lose the game, I can always add a 0 or a 1 to a sequence in such a way that your guess will turn out wrong.

Scientists look at the universe, the way you look at the sequences. They guess a rule that is consistent with the universe as observed so far, then check if the rule continues to apply. But how do we know the universe will continue to obey the rules?

The fact is that if you consider the set of all infinite sequences, there are sequences which follow rules, and sequences which do not follow rules. What's more, there are many, many, many more sequences that do not follow rules.

If we continue the analogy between universes and sequences, what are the odds we live in a universe that follows rules?