by David Brunton <dbrunton@plusthree.com>

*Warning:* I'm on page 201 of a 1200 page book, so this is still preliminary.

*Overview:* This book is about three things:

* Stephen Wolfram's tremendously large ego

* Cellular automata

* (mis)applying a (mostly) new method of science
to a variety of fields

*Details:*

Stephen Wolfram's ego is like the state of Alaska- if you split it in

two, then Texas would be the third largest. It's quite remarkable,

actually... he has absolutely no deference to anything or anyone.
By

his count, he invented all of the tools that can be used to analyze

cellular automata, then he then used the tools to discover everything

that is interesting about them, then he published the only book that
has

ever correctly applied them to any field of study (ranging from

Sociology to Nanotechnology).

Cellular automata are, in brief, simple rules that may yield complex

results. So far, he has mostly discussed discrete cellular automata

(meaning that the simple rule is aplied iteratively rather than

continuously- e.g. it's like a trumpet, not a slide trombone).
There

has been one short section about continuous automata, which I am mostly

incapable of distinguishing from integral calculus. This is probably

because I am not quite smart enough, not because they are the same
thing.

That being said... it is quite clear to me that the application
of

cellular automata is not math. It is /genuinely/ something new,
and I

appreciate the fact that Wolfram has brought this to my attention.

Cellular automata can be used to analyze a lot of the same problems

that we use math for: fractals, numbers, equations, etc. They
can also

be useful for modelling problems for which math is ill-suited: some

aspects of physics, social sciences, and perhaps most interesting-

biology. Simple cellular automata yield complex results, much
in the

way that simple chemistry yields complex ecologies.

*Stuck at a Boring Cocktail Party?*

The question that we're all asking right now is: "When I'm stuck at
a

boring party, what witty comment can I make about cellular automata
to

liven things up?" I know that's what I'm thinking. So I
have taken the

liberty of providing some witty one-or-two-liners below that you can

feel free to reuse as long as you don't attribute them to me.

/In reference to nice poetry:/

"You know, simple syntactic rules can generate a
variety of complex

and beautiful semantic forms when applied in a judicious
manner...

if that poem were a one-dimensional discrete
cellular automaton, it

would definitely be Wolfram's rule 82."

Note: rule 82 is a very simple eight-part rule that explains how black

and white squares should be placed, based upon how the squares in the

preceding line are placed. It yields a repetetive pattern that
is

pleasing to the eye. For a non-rhyming poem, substitute rule
149- it is

semi-regular, but has some irregular complexities as well (once again,

only black and white squares, but a very complex pattern, and not

altogether un-pleasing to the eye for the true connoiseur). If
the poem

sucked bigtime, use rule 128. It yields only a single black dot
on a

plane of white.

/In reference to a tasty beverage:/

"You'd be amazed how easily this _____ goes straight
down. Of

course, it's not too surprising, since rules 4,
12, 36, 68, 76, 100,

108, 132, 140, 164, 172, 196, 204, 228, and 236
of Wolfram's binary

cellular automata all yield a straight-down pattern.
One could only

expect that chains of Carbon atoms would occasionally
do the same."

Note: each of these rules yield a vertical black line on a white

background. Replace the underlined space with the name of the
drink you

are holding.

/In reference to the electricity going out:/

"Hey- it's as dark as rule 183 in here!"

Note: rule 183 yields a completely black plane.

*Conclusion:*

I guess I'll read the rest of the book, and form some conclusions.
For

now, it's an easy enough read, he's an engaging enough writer, and
there

are lots of pictures. So I'll keep going for the moment.