Custom Paint Job

Took a nice bicycle ride out of Florence today up the Arno River and then left into the countryside and came upon these colorfully painted hives. Not sure what to make of the designs. Grade school project or science experiment, whadya figure?

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Sixty Bees of Separation

European Tour 3214Found this little beauty in the Piazza Santissima Annunziata in Florence, 60 bees surrounding their queen on the rear side of the statue  of Ferdinando I by Giambologna (at right). I’m including the pictures of the monkey fountain, which was in the same plaza, just because it was so cool looking. Bee Relevance: 0

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According to the plaque, the bees-around-queen design were chosen to “extol the generosity of the grand ducal government”. It’s a bit of a funny use of bee symbolism, if you ask me, as if the queen is providing for her subjects in some way, whereas my take on the hive dynamic is the opposite: the whole hive takes care of the queen.

The Mormons, I think, used the bee symbol a bit more accurately: productive and self-sufficient. According to Mormon theology, “Deseret” means “honeybee” in the language of the Jaredites, a group that came to the Americas when the Tower of Babel was being built, and Deseret was the name of the “state” led by Brigham Young before Utah was incorporated. The Freemasons have a similar take, regarding bees as a symbol of “industry and cooperation”.

Bees Make Good

Two recent news articles relevant to bees and the hive mind:

Bumblebee boogie analysis in webserver boost: The title has it wrong, as the algorithms are actually based on honey bee behavior, not bumblebee, but I’m not one to grudge a guy an alliteration. Noting that

Bees have no central command or leadership (the “queen” is mainly concerned with laying eggs rather than directing the nectar harvest). Rather, the cunning insect workers pass information to each other by doing complicated little dances in the hive.

collectintelligence Craig Tovey of Georgia Tech developed a similar “dancefloor” approach that allows servers to distribute load to one another, rather than relying on a central decision-maker.

Second, there’s an interesting interview with Toby Segaran, author of the recently published Programming Collective Intelligence. Definitely worth a read, if you’re in the field.

On another note, if you’re interested in Toby’s experimental approach to avoiding jet lag (simply continue to operate on your home time zone’s schedule), check out his blog.

(Bumblee Boogie link via rb.Trends)

Roach Clip

Another article on the Hive Mind, this one from Robots Infiltrate, Influence Cockroach Groups. In this one, scientists have somehow programmed tiny robots that interact with cockroaches in such a way that the cockroaches accept them as just another roach (with the help of scent, it sounds like). Then they demonstrate how individuals can influence the decision making of the hive (although roaches aren’t technically a hive, they engage in similar group decision-making processes).

Cool stuff, much better than previous article where humans were told to walk around according to robotic rules, I think.

(Thanks for the tip, Marc!)

PS I’ve got a load of beekeeping / honey stories built up from the European trip we’re on, coming soon…

NYT on the HM

Interesting article in Tuesday’s New York Times on s Swarm Intelligence, a favorite topic here: From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm.

Ito does a good job of explaining the basic concept of swarm intelligence and the hive mind, but, I think, falls a bit short on giving examples of the “harder problems” that swarm intelligence can solve, instead focusing on the group decision-making.

Yes, it’s true that, as the article discusses, a flock of birds can decide as a group which way to fly without discussing it and voting, and yes, it’s true that ants will naturally form into nested
columns with knowing that’s what they’re doing, but there’s so much more to the phenomenon. For example, what about the way that ants can decide on which is a superior food source without singe individuals visiting the options, or how bees can discern between different potential homes? To me, that’s the deeper question.

And the example given on human swarm behavior is just a cheat: handing a piece of paper to a human and telling him to act like a swarming robot isn’t an example of human swarming behavior. Come on, there are better examples of human swarming behaviors. Believe me, I’ve been to enough stadium concerts, I’ve watched the stock market, I’ve seen enough fashion trends come and go to know this, and so do you.

Still, the article does a really good job of explaining the basic mechanics of swarm intelligence, and there’s a nice hint at the end of some potential applications of the research. Definitely worth the read!

(Thanks Sean and Marc for sending the link!)

Hello Web 2.0 Expo Berlin

bg2 If you’re visiting this site because you saw my talk at the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin, Willkommen! As a bit of background, I’m taking a break from software (talk to me if you’re interested in mobile!) and beekeeping to backpacking Europe with my wife Michelle for three months (see our travel blog if you’re interested in what that’s like).

Some old posts you might be interested in:

Hope you stick around!