Swarm Intelligence: Order from Disorder

Written for my Honors College science colloquium course: Bio Breakthroughs. Based largely on this really cool TED talk, as well as the RadioLab episode “Emergence.”

Taking a few minutes to watch a population of ants might lead one to conclude that they are a very unintelligent species. They move around seemingly at random, appear to have no goal in mind, and sometimes even push one another around. Even though as individuals ants may seem really unintelligent, looking at the colony as a whole reveals just what they are capable of. Ant colonies can efficiently find and transport food, build expansive underground nests, protect those nests from flooding conditions, and more. The intelligence of the group appears to be greater than the sum of its part, a phenomenon known as swarm intelligence.

Generally, “swarm intelligence” is used to refer to the collective behavior of any large system. The term was originally coined by Gerdo Beni and Jing Wang to describe artificial intelligence in robotic systems. However, they note that it can occur in both natural and artificial systems, and modeled many of their ideas off of what has been observed in the natural world. (705) Swarm intelligence arises from de-centralized groups of individuals. That there is no one specific leader giving instructions to the whole and instead, order arises from the decisions and interactions of individual members. Swarm intelligence occurs in a wide array of species including the flocking patterns of birds, schools of fish, and even in bacterial growth patterns.

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Trump’s Wiretap Tweets

President Trump recently accused former President Obama of wiretapping phones in Trump Tower:

These tweets are really bad. For Trump.

Firstly as this article details, the tweets can’t be literally true in any sense. The president does not have the authority to arbitrarily tap the phones/computers of American citizens. Trump is the president now which means that these tweets show he doesn’t understand the powers and limits of his own office.

Next lets say the tweets are true in the sense that their was in fact a federal investigation that involved wire taps on Trump. This would mean that there was sufficient evidence of criminal activity that a court issued a warrant for those wire taps. Again this would then be a terrible admission by Trump.

The final scenario, that I would assume Trump is angling for people to believe, is that there was no good evidence of criminal wrongdoing and the wire taps were authorized anyway. This means that the whole intelligence apparatus is corrupt and violating the constitutional rights of Americans. But the Trump administration has recently advocated for the intelligence community to retain its extremely broad powers! This is Trump’s federal government now. He has to be saying that it is completely broken but he will do nothing to reform it.

All in all there’s just no way that these tweets are not broadly self defeating. Not even considering the usual stuff about the childish unpresidential tone or the connotation that he gets his intelligence from Brietbart. It’s just generally unbelievably embarrassing.

Tonight’s Iron Chef Secret Ingredient: the Popular Press

Written for one of my media studies classes, How to Watch TV – about the ongoing conflict between scholarly work and the popular press.

I’m posting this here because I’ll inevitably lose my original files and copies at some point, and it doesn’t hurt to get the work I’ve done “out there,” even if nobody reads it. Also, there’s always a chance that my publishing it online here will trip up the automatic plagiarism detectors.

The popular press—newspaper journalism, magazine articles, online blogs, and the such—have traditionally been looked down upon and considered inferior to academic work. Scholarly work is elitist and exclusive, limited to professors, researchers, and anyone else who never bothered to ever leave school. Fortunately, this trend of academic work’s superiority over the popular press has been changing. Recently Maria Bustillos wrote an article that clashed with a previous one by Amanda Ann Klein and Kristen Warner; the discourse between them highlights the contentious debate between the work of academics and that of journalists in the popular press. The evolving relationship between the popular press and scholarly work is especially complicated in fields such as television studies, in which aspects of popular culture are analyzed in an academic manner. Publications within this field that address a similar subject underscore the complicated relationship between scholars and journalists. An academic essay by Mark Gallagher and an online TV review by Dana Stevens both focus on the show Iron Chef, and the differences between their styles of writing serves to demonstrate this rapidly changing relationship.

In general, scholarly work has traditionally been characterized by certain features. These features can be found within Mark Gallagher’s essay “What’s So Funny About Iron Chef?” Though this essay was written about a popular media product, it was written in a scholarly style and published within the peer-reviewed Journal of Popular Film and Television. One of these scholarly characteristics is the depth of analysis in the writing. Because Gallagher is not limited to a certain word count or page count, his essay is able to address complex media and cultural theories. Gallagher uses one specific media product, Iron Chef, to begin his discussion of broader issues, such as the flow of cultural products from a subculture to a dominant culture—which is counter to the traditional flow of culture from dominant culture to subculture. (183) To put it another way, a scholarly analysis of the media enables the author to go beyond the text itself. Gallagher uses Iron Chef as background context and a starting point before continuing to his analysis of culture. Another feature of scholarly work is related to the very structure that it exists and operates within. This fact may seem evident, but cademic papers are published in peer-reviewed journals and contain references to the related work of previous scholars. The effect of this is twofold. First, it provides a method for the verification of the paper’s validity. Second, it situates the essay within a related body of work, and offers suggestions of further reading for the audience if they so choose. The last page of Gallagher’s essay contains 16 citations to other sources, which point the audience to further information about Iron Chef and the cultural theories discussed therein as well. (184) However, one potential downside to this scholarly style of work is its overall lack of accessibility. The highly technical and field-specific language notwithstanding, academic essays such as Gallagher’s are not widely available for reading by a general audience in the first place. It was published within the Journal of Popular Film and Television, meaning that someone without a journal subscription would be unable to simply “stumble upon” the essay; it will remain unknown to those who do not specifically seek it out. These features—both positive and negative—are unique to scholarly work and distinguish it from the popular press.

Similarly, writing for the popular press also has unique characteristics, the most prominent of which is its overwhelming accessibility to a wide-reaching audience. Though the Slate article about Iron Chef America was written by a staff critic, it is realistically possible for virtually anyone to publish popular articles. (Stevens) Internet communication and web publishing technologies have nearly eliminated the barriers of entry to publication. No longer is discussion of the media limited to academics writing scholarly papers. Slate’s film critic Dana Stevens alluded to the cultural implications of Iron Chef and Iron Chef America, but it could have just as easily written by someone with no journalistic experience at all. The writing quality may differ, but the discourse of ideas would remain the same. Klein and Warner argue against this openness to authorship, stating that “decades of scholarship are erased by a single, viral essay that is presumed to be the first observation of some ‘new’ phenomenon.” (Klein and Warner) This mistaken crediting of original authorship of ideas within popular discourse is a real effect, but arguably an acceptable tradeoff in exchange for increased access to these ideas. For instance, Klein and Warner admit that academic work is typically “hidden behind pay walls and university libraries,” where few people have access. Especially because media and culture affect everyone—not just academics—accessibility to the relevant cultural and media theories within the popular press is an important endeavor.

The ideal solution, therefore, is one that incorporates features of both scholarly work and the popular press. The two fields are not necessarily as separated as they might seem, and technology such as the Internet makes it possible to erase the barrier between the two. (Bustillos) Online publishing platforms make it simple for anyone with an Internet connection and a keyboard to offer their thoughts to the world, and similarly makes accessible millions of other users’ ideas. Bustillos suggests that the future is in the inclusive, as made possible by the Internet. However, this wide accessibility—a feature of the popular press—can be supplemented by a feature of scholarly work—the use of citations and references. Once again, Internet technology and online publishing platforms make this a trivial task, simple as hyperlinking to related articles and other stories. Finally, the perfect marriage of scholarly work and popular writing will ideally have multiple conclusions that appeal to a wide range of audiences. For instance, an article about Iron Chef could include an academic conclusion such as Gallagher’s reference to theories of cultural imperialism. Yet it could also reference things that are more relevant to a general audience, such as Stevens’ review of Iron Chef America not stacking up to Iron Chef. This is just one possible example, but one aspect remains clear. Scholarly work and the popular press is not as separated as once thought, and it is possible to include the best features of both.

The relation between academic and journalistic work has been contentious and complicated, especially in the field of television studies. Even articles that address the same media text can approach it in vastly different ways, reach vastly different audiences, and make vastly different conclusions. However the advent of new technology such as the Internet has helped bridge the gap between the two. Because culture and media permeate all aspects of life, it is unreasonable to limit discourse to the academics. Scholarly work, the popular press, and a combination of the two all have a unique angle to offer and are worthy of consideration.


Works Cited:

Bustillos, Maria. “Profsplaining, Or, The Internet Is a Classroom, Whinypants!” BLARB. N.p., 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.
Gallagher, Mark. “What’s So Funny About Iron Chef?” Journal of Popular Film and Television 31.4 (2004): 176–84. alliance-primo.com. Web.
Klein, Amanda, and Kristin Warner. “Erasing the Pop-Culture Scholar, One Click at a Time.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 6 July 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.
Stevens, Dana. “Asian Fusion.” Slate 23 Apr. 2004. Slate. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

Wolves in the House

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The wolves are in the house. And we must get them out. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

There is something happening. Something that people really don’t want to face up to. An ugly truth that we must confront.

The fact is that the United States has elected someone who truly does not care about the rule of law. This is something about Trump that became clear during the primary season, and it is the one thing that really sets him apart from other Republicans. Trump doesn’t even pretend to care about civic virtues. He has never extolled the values of democracy, freedom, law, and the Constitution in general. He has never said anything good about these important American principles because he does not care about them.

And that’s incredibly unusual in American politics. Even the politicians whose ideas I strongly disagree with—such as Ted Cruz or Rand Paul—genuinely care about law and the Constitution. They are fundamental American ideals to refer to. Sure, they can be used as the basis for controversial policies and political strategies, but the simple fact remains that they were present. Think back to Mitt Romney, who was mocked for his pastoral homilies to the virtues of American goodness, and about the blessing that was our law and Constitution. It was funny, but it underscored the fact that Romney at least cared about the rule of law as an idea. Even George Bush cared about it—the White House Counsel’s office would write memos describing that torture was legal. Even though many Americans saw this as appalling, the Bush administration at least acknowledge the importance of the law. If they wanted to do something immoral or controversial, they had to at least justify it in the context of the law. Because the law, the Constitution, and our civic norms are foundational American principles.

Trump is a complete aberration here, and an incredibly dangerous one.

He has waged a war on the free press and media, accusing any unfavorable reporting as “fake news.” He has refused to resolve his countless conflicts of interest. He has issued wide-reaching executive orders that undermine American values. He has brought along with him the neo-nazi Steve Bannon to infiltrate the White House as well. And both have no respect for the office, this nation, or any of its principles.

Law is not something that just happens; It cannot simply run on its own. A legal system can only exist if the people in charge of it actually care about it. Historically, Democracy has successfully fostered a process wherein the people in charge of its institutions have respect for the rule of law. They are bound by it at both an institutional level, but morally as well. However, this doesn’t work if you elect people who simply don’t care. If the people in charge of the police, the military, or the other organs of state power simply do not care about the rule of law, then the rule of law no longer matters. There is nothing a judge or a legislature can do. Many Americans don’t seem to recognize the magnitude of the extraordinary danger that now stares them in the face.

The wolves are in the house. We have had a process set up for centuries that aimed to keep the wolves out. But we let them in. And now we must get them out.

Donald Trump’s Laundry List

President Andrew Jackson was criticized for his “Kitchen Cabinet,” a group of advisors and friends separate from the official cabinet that he turned to for policy advice and decisions. Jackson was heavily criticized for his kitchen cabinet, and it was a large factor in Martin Van Buren defeating him in the next election.

In a similar vein, President-elect Donald Trump has similar problems surrounding his administration. Trump has a “Laundry List,” a lengthy list of all the controversies, scandals, non-sensical statements, and questionably legal actions and positions that he has taken. Normally, this magnitude of issues would be enough to completely destroy a president’s credibility. However, Trump has somehow avoided this, possibly due to the sheer volume of controversies. Nonetheless, maintaining a list such as this is important in ensuring that these issues are not forgotten or overlooked.

I found this list originally created by Reddit user /u/MaximumEffort433 as a comment on a post about Trump’s ignoring the Government Ethics Office and requests to divest his assets. (Original Comment). I took that original list and have added to it and updated it as Trump continues to make news.

Donald Trump’s Laundry List

How Long Until Trump is Out of Office? (.com)

Not soon enough...


Damn, I really am getting the most out of my incredibly basic HTML/CSS/JavaScript skillset. Had I been coding in the 80s, I could have created a killer website. Or MySpace page.

I was considering putting advertising on the page in order to bring in a bit of revenue, but my initial reaction was that it could be a conflict of interest to make money off of this page, which is clearly serving a public need. However, based on the leadership and example of the President-Elect, I guess conflicts of interest just aren’t important anymore…

Catching Hackers in the Act

Per our President-Elect, there is no good way to catch hackers. He tweeted this statement in response to FBI and CIA allegations that Russian intelligence agencies influenced the US presidential election.

He’s right though, just a simple search on The Google for images of hackers shows us just how difficult it is to conceal hacking activities:


I’m glad we have someone so competent and qualified to serve as leader of the free world.