Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Exams are finished; and I've thus completed my first quarter of grad school. I was sweatin' it pretty hardcore over the weekend, but I think I've finished the quarter pretty successfully. I spent a total of probably 24 hours working on an ill-fated project for Optimization Modeling; I was trying to model Toyota's all-time buy descision process with binary descision variables (to ATB or not to ATB in a given year), and it turns out Excel's solver totally chokes on my formulation of the problem. I asked my professor: "If my project fails, but fails in an interesting way, am I in good shape for the purpose of the class?" His response was that its better to fail now than later when you're doing it for money, so as long as the write up is good and the failure is a product of having a complicated problem (and not lack of effort), it'll satisfy the assignment.

Anyway, it was an entertaining and instructive project, tieing together the mathematical programming I've learned this quarter with some VBA hackery I tought myself a while back. The lesson: good ideas can be unimplementable; the enabling technology is significant. Also: real problems are hard.

I'm reading What Is Thought, and its excellent. I wrote the head of UC's philosophy department an email today describing some of my interest in cognitive science, asked if I might be able to do some sort of joint degree, and if I could do the study semester in Budapest as a graduate student.

I had a supposedly brilliant idea for the "wear your ridiculous holiday sweater to work" day tomorrow; I was going to bleach half of my old black sweater (down the middle), and do some designs on it. I forgot how bad bleach smells in concentration, so now I've got bleach-soaked hands that I can't get to stop stinking, and half-orange sweater that I don't know if I'll be able to wear. I threw it in the washer in the hopes that that'll make it bearable without destroying it. Otherwise, I might end up wearing a ball of yarn to work tomorrow.

I ordered some clubman handlebars for my motorcycle. I didn't initially realize that the curve was supposed to go downward, but it makes alot more sense now that I realize it, and I'm excited to get them installed. The bike will be pretty effing badass; all low and sleek. I wish I had the tools, time, and expertize to really restore it, but for now I'll settle for dirty, low, and sleek. I've been trying to find a cafe-racer style seat (or the original), but it seems they're a bit rare. I've decided that taking a hacksaw to my current one and sewing the wounds carefully will accomplish what I want pretty well. Along with the giant dent in the tank, it will also contribute to the overal ethos of crappiness, which I find charming.

I discovered that I've accidentally mastered the CAGED chord system on the guitar. I figured out the barre-ing trick for those chords last week, and I realized I was on to something special. No suprise that it's allready discovered and given a neat name. I'm also bordering on the point where I can make interesting variations on scales that sound like "solos." In another year, I think I will be very good. The fingertips on my left hand have become unable to use touch-screens because of the calluses. I'm letting my right-hand fingernails grow a bit so that I can trying doing fingerpicking with them. It'll be interesting to see if I can pull that off without looking bad.

A fictional Idea

Touching on the intersection of crazy people and technology:

Recall that the larger portion of what we experience as vision is generated from internal stimulus; it is hallucinated to fill in the blanks in the actual perceptual stimuli we receive.

Now imagine that what a person experiences as vision is projected back into the world, maybe they've got a brain interface that reads everything coming out of the visual cortex and transmits it outside the body. The effect (for the purposes of this imaginary short-story) would be that people with similar brain-interfaces could receive the output of others' visual experience and add it to their own; in effect overlaying other people's perception with their own. Just imagine that's how it works for the moment.

So: if a person who experienced vivid hallucinations were thrown into the mix, those hallucinations would be shared with everyone they interacted with. They could imagine a person, interact with it, and treat it like an autonomous human being (I'm thinking "Beautiful Mind" here), being unable to tell the hallucination from reality. The catch is that other people would also be unable to distinguish the hallucinations' unreality; and they would treat the others as being real.

Here's a disturbing question: if everyone agrees these imagined people are real, are they?