Vi Hart is probably the best

Vi Hart (who you may recall, I think is amazing) originally became known (to me) by her "doodling in math class" series of short films.

These started as innocuous doodles which accidentally ended up showing the beauty and fascination in mathematics, but eventually became more elaborate and specific.

Things like this:

In this series she describes hexaflexagons. Watch 'em.

Magic the gathering is Turing-complete

I just mentioned Conway's Game of Life as an example of a Turing-complete system.

Though it's called the "Game" of Life, and some people describe it as a zero-player game, it's not really a game in the traditional sense of the word.

For an unexpected example of an unambiguous game which is also Turing-complete, check out Magic: The Gathering. It has been shown that a Universal Turing machine can be constructed inside Magic, and hence that it is Turing-complete.

I played a lot of Magic in high school, though it's too expensive of a habit to keep up for long. If, like me, you remember Magic fondly, but don't play it so much any more, might I recommend Mark Rosewater's Drive to Work podcast?

Life in Life

Conway's Game of Life is a well-known cellular automaton in which, every tick, the state of each of the cells on a giant grid is determined only by the states of its immediate neighbours in the previous tick. Despite its extremely simple definition, it is famously Turing-complete, which is roughly to say that it can compute any computable function.

And so, of course, someone has written a Life emulator, in Life.

Perhaps it's Life all the way down...

Ed Brayton's new podcast

I was delighted yesterday to discover that Ed Brayton, who used to host one of my all-time favourite political podcasts, Declaring Independence Radio, has recently started hosting a new show: Culture Wars Radio.

Declaring Independence was a show predominantly about American law and politics. It was constantly fascinating, with episodes being mostly interview with experts in constitutional law, civil liberties, police misconduct and such; interspliced with commentary and lighthearted discussion of current events. What I liked most about it was that Ed Brayton never shied away from getting right down to the tiniest details of case law and history, discussing the minutiae of various cases with his guests and drawing on his huge knowledge of American civil liberties law to get the best out of his guests. Also his staunch non-partisanism, hatred of hypocrisy and demagoguery, and willingness to harshly criticise Obama and the Democrats (while still poking fun at right-wing loonies).

Ed Brayton is an American political journalist, editor and development director of the American Independent News Network, and seems to specialise in civil liberties law. He seems to get particularly fired up about education, separation of church and state, and transparency and accountability in government. He has a general left-libertarian viewpoint. I don't agree with him on everything, but he's very knowledgable about law, and hella smart. To quote erstwhile acquaintance of mine, Seth Manapio, he is "a goddam genius".

I looked hard for somewhere online for old episodes of Declaring Independence to link here, because they're all really worth a listen, but it seems to have evaporated. I've got 74 old episode as mp3s if anyone's really keen. [Edit: find them here.]

The new show, Culture Wars Radio, only has a few episodes out so far, and I've only listened to the first two of them, but it looks to be much along the same lines as Declaring Independence, which is fantastic as far as I'm concerned.

I strongly recommend checking it out, if you've any interest in civil liberties law, American politics or just deep and informed yet intelligible political discussion.

UK stop and search powers are illegal

The Guardian reports:

The Strasbourg court ruled it was unlawful for police to use the powers, under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, to stop and search people without needing any grounds for suspicion.

The widely-drawn ruling said that not only the use of the counter-terror powers, but also the way they were authorised, were "neither sufficiently circumscribed, nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse".

Vindicated!