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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Despair: key to Triumph?

Remember that post from a couple days ago bemoaning my lack of preparation for Optimization Analysis and futilely hoping I could sqeeze by with a C? Grades are in, and I got a B. I can hardly believe it, but I guess these last six caffiene fueled weeks of sleeplessness actually payed off much more handsomely than I would have imagined. And all I had to do was put myself in the mental state of hopeless struggle against the impossible. I guess I know something about mathematical programming and liner algebra after all, eh?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In the name of Liberalism, abandon Obama

The president's diplomatic outreach to a regime founded on religious laws that systematically oppress its subjects and prohibit free speech should ring a very sour note in the ears of anyone who lays claim to the label "Liberal." Liberalism is about liberty, freedom from oppression by powers beyond the individuals' control. While reasonable people may disagree about the scope of that principle, its beyond all doubt that jailing bloggers is not a liberal thing for a nation to do. Extending the olive branch to such a nation is not an exercise of liberal principle, its a ugly manifestation of realpolitik.

I therefore encourage people who do espouse the principles of liberty to view Obama's outreach to the Islamic Republic of Iran as a betrayal of those liberal principles. Expressing support for the oppressed people of Iran would be a liberal thing to do; expressing support for the religious elite that exercises the oppression is nothing more than an attempt to get them to be nice to us and hopefully stop trying to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.

On that last point: non-proliferation is a very worthy and important goal, and it could be argued that for the world's sake, it is better to ignore the human rights violations of Iran in order to not antagonize them into an arms race. But again, that's not liberalism, that's realpolitik. If you ascribe to the realpolitik view, at least have the chutzpa to come out and say it rather than hiding behind the veil of liberalism.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monetizing the Debt


I just read the treasury's plan. Details are murky, but my overall takeaway is that the treasury is committing between 500,000 million to 1,000,000 million to be given to investors, and those investors will act like everything is normal and buy the stuff that nobody wants. The idea is that only markets can set prices effectively, so they'll let the market do that part while they basically fund the whole thing. I can understand that logic, but I wonder what effect free money will have on the price that the market sets? Surely they can't expect investors to be as cautious as they would be if they were investing their own money, and that must lead to over priced assets. bah.

As I was reading Geitner's statement, i was looking for signs of fascism (eg, private ownership, public control). What came out sounds like exactly the opposite: public ownership and private control. Of course, the catch is that only they very wealthy and politically connected will get to share in that control... so what's the name for that? Plutarchy? Oligarchy? Its crazy.
On top of that, the fed announced over the weekend that it is directly committed to monetizing a substantial portion of all this spending-debt. That is: the Federal Reserve is buying treasury notes. The government is buying government promises to pay money later. With what? The money they print. What does that mean? Deliberate inflation. What can we do about it? Buy something with a finite supply that cannot be devalued, like gold.

In other news, the US mint has stopped issuing gold coins. You can still buy bullion elsewhere (for now), but I'm not exactly sure about the best ways of doing that and protecting it. Rest assured I'm going to find out very soon.

Friday, March 20, 2009

And the numbers are in!

At least one of them! I got a B in Regression Analysis! Hurray! I vow to get an A in Design of Experiment next quarter. No full time job, no excuses! Other than that its going to be really hard, but whats a little hardship, right?

Its come to this

"Sacramento to make its tent city permenant"

Wow, I remember reading about those sorts of slum villages in the thirties, I didn't realize we're already back to that. Wooo collapse!

Grad School: 2nd Quarter Finished

So I took my last exam last night, and turned in the paper for the class this morning. This one's been a real struggle, I took it before I was ready in terms of background, and I havn't been able to use the professor's office hours because I've been working full time.

Optimization Analysis is a very cool subject, and I jumped into it because I did fairly well in the previous class and it got me excited about the power and potential that the technique provides. Dr. Martin is a visiting University of Chicago professor at their graduate school of business, and he is the real deal in terms of expertize and knowledge. He's also an enthusiastic and effective instructor, and I'm glad to have been able to take a class with him. On the other hand, it really would have behooved me to have taken linear algebra and an actual programming class (like the program requirements require) before attempting to do Mathematical Programming. Chalk one up for overconfidence and painful lack of experience on my part. I think if I hadn't been working full time and had been able to devote some part of that ten hours a day to study and asking questions in his office, I would be in much better shape.

As it stands, I may pass. Its up in the air. I feel like I did better on the exam than I expected, but worse on the project than I was hoping. I was able to use GAMS to build most of the model I was shooting for and get it to run without errors, but the algebraic formulation of a certain constraint elluded me to the bitter, bitter end. Even after geting some advice in his office (I took off work yesterday); either my translation into GAMS of his suggestion was incorrect, or the suggestion itself wasn't workable in GAMS. The former seems much more likely, and no matter how the grade works out I will talk with him next quarter to figure out how to get the formulation right, just cause its become slightly an obsession.

I did much better in Regression Analysis, I think. A B-grade is well within my reach, and if I did as well as I felt I did on the exam then I should have no problem.

Next quarter will be wonderful. I'll have my full time and attention to devote to study, and I'm finally on a path that I can be excited about in the very long run. Its kind of pathetic that all throughout my undergrad I had this expectation that once I got into the real business world, I'd be in the realm of great minds, problems, everyday challenging excitement... all in starck contrast to the actual experience I was getting in my Co-ops. To be fair, I was got a comparably huge share of those elements in the beginning of my Toyota co-ops, which was why I was excited to work here. If only they'd let me continue doing the same sort of work... It was never to be. Honestly, looking back I'm slightly appalled at my exuberant overconfidence with the naieve models I was creating. "Yeah, they're very predictive! Test it? Sure, I've sort of done that, I think." At least now I've got enough sense to recognize my folly.

I'll be looking forward to a more sensible sleep schedule. I'll have to confront my worsening caffine addiction soon here...

Out of Touch

Person A: "Hey man, did you watch the game last night?"

Person B: "No, I missed it. Did you notice that all the instutitions you take for granted to support your way of life are crumbling before your eyes?"

Person A: "No, I was watching the game."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

HUM

By the way, Hum's first album is good.

For example: the second song is about five minutes long, and here are the lyrics:

<<<

Hum Winder lyrics

It's a lonely, twisted world spinning sickly on it's side.
I'm fried, and I can't sleep.
No, I haven't enjoyed the ride.
I'm just a white guy from the future,
I'm completely out of touch.
I know that you're tired, but I never loved so much
>>>

They don't repeat. Just once through with lots of guitar and drums, exactly like the garage band the are.

I get a kick out of the "I'm just a white guy, from the future" line. It brings to mind the idea of the "relative future." If you're an acculturated member of a technological society and you visit with someone who's not, you might as well be from different time periods. Not really a new idea, but its song struck a strange relief.

Head for the hills

Hidden in an op-ed peice in today's WSJ:

"Production of gold Eagle coins "has been temporarily suspended because of unprecedented demand" for bullion."

Now, that... should make bigger news. The one safe store of value is not even available anymore. At least, not from the US mint. I imagine that's great news for those who hold the existing supply.

As I sit here, blogging at lunch, all the conversation around me is about basketball. It appears that people, in general, are just not paying attention. I suppose its more comforting than staring into the abyss.

Update:

As if to rub salt into my self/motorcycle-inflicted wounds, this appeared in my Digg feed:
President Obama Explains his Bracketology

UUpdate:
But then! As if to pull me back from the brink of despair for our collective conciousness, This appeared!

Taxpayers Gather To Protest Spending, Taxes, Growing Debt


There were protests in Cincinnati, nonetheless. I wish I had heard about it in advance, I would have been there.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"If you're not outraged...

...then you're not paying attention."

I wrote a while back on how people always seem to want to "pick sides," ie: choose between two opposite factions and put thier full faith and affiliance behind the one the pick... even when there are more that just two sides to choose from. Initially I was writing about the farse of our US political parties, but the phenomenon applies more broadly. I think that in general, people want to believe all descisions are boolean (either-or with just two options) simply because this worldview eliminates ambiguity.

I'm thinking now of the split in "sides" reflected in this WSJ article. It gives some detail on both a corporation behaving very stupidly, and government behaving very stupidly. My observation is that I (as an ardent supported of the free market) have often defended corporations against government, with the unexamined assumption that the the government is always in the wrong and the private enterprise is therefore the aggreived party. While the former statement is still likely to be true, I (and other would-be defenders of private enterprise) need to recognize that the latter isn't always true. Supposed capitalists can be some of the worst enemies of free enterprise, especially when they weild political power.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Discontent

I get the tiniest bit of schadenfreund from the growing public discontent with Obama. The joy is small through, cause I'd much rather have been wrong. I applaud him for removing the obscene hurdles to science that the restrictions on stem cell research imposed, but that's no more than I would expect any even slightly rational president to do. So hurray for that, but lets now face the fact that every other expectation that's been set up for Obama is a pipe dream.

Bah! Better yet, lets face the fact that Presidents don't have the power to fix everything! Obama himself said that early in his campaign, but it doesn't seem to have stopped his followers from beleiving that he can, or he himself acting like he can.

The one way in which President Obama, or any president, can be useful, is to veto the atrocities coming out of congress. As a populace, we need to stop acting like the president has more authority than that. The president can suggest laws and budgets, provide leadership, and go to war, but thats it! Laws are written by congress, and if we focused more attention there than on the figure head, we might be able to affect the course of the dialog.

Ok, I recognize the irony; I'm commiting exactly the error I'm condemning and focusing on the president rather than my elected representatives. Ok, Lets remedy that. First I'll figure out who they are.
Jean Schmidt seems to be my congressional representitive, and Brown, Sherrod and Voinovich, George V. are my senetors.

Great.

Now lets send them some email.

Should I actually research their records and take them to task for their misdeeds , while fairly praising them for thier virtues? Or should I just swear at them for being a part of such an evidently corrupt institution? The former option certainly seems to be the more respectable one, but given the innefectuality of either I'm tempted to do the latter.

Maybe I'll take the congressional route and compromise, incorporating the worst of both ideas! I'll research their records, then obscenely berate them!

Are you fucking kidding me?

Today's news is of a caliber to break through the normally tough skin of my pessimistic cynicism and make me curse in the title of my blog post, where as I'd normally try to maintain at least a veneer of dignified respectability. Two outstandingly awful headlines:

First: the administration is negotiating a commercial treaty on copyrighting that is too sensitive for national security to be made public.

http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2009/03/fdic-collected-few-insurance-fees-for.html

From threatlevel:
" If ratified, leaked documents posted on WikiLeaks and other comments suggest the proposed trade accord would criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing, subject iPods to border searches and allow internet service providers to monitor their customers' communications."

Is this a joke? Isn't this the president who commited himself to a "responsive democracy"? Didn't Obama just propose posting every earmark piece of pork-barrel legislative favoritism online before its shafted into a bill? Was his sole purpose in that gesture to distract from the hundreds of billions of pet-projects that congress just awarded itself in the last "stimulus"? It defies belief! Even credulity! How can this really be the state of the world? I'm beginning to understand the position of those who flat reject it and refuse to be a part of it. We're responsible for fixing this? Fuck that. Let the responsible parties go down in flames, we'll start from scratch later. No point in burning away our lives futilely trying to rescue a doomed ship.

And, as an indication that that very scenario might play out sooner than you'd like, see this article:
http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2009/03/fdic-collected-few-insurance-fees-for.html

"Wait, so you're telling me that the government institution responsible for insuring individual savings accounts was denied the authority by congress to collect the insurance premiums they needed to be able to fulfill their purpose? Didn't congress mandate that purpose?"

Believe it! Before I was just glad that I didn't have any investments loosing money, now I'm just glad I don't have any savings to loose.

SO! If anything is becoming clear, it should be that congress is too inept and too corrupt to continue to exist. Lets start over. Seriously. How do we go about doing that? Can we rally three quarters of the state legislatures to pass an ammendment to the constitution that immediately abolishes congress and establishes a new constitution with stricter limits on government? Can we have a Plebicite? What would it take to remove the destructive elite that is the "Lawmakers?"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cities I've Visited

I was talking with someone at work about cool stuff I've done in Cincinnati, and they asked (cynically) "do you think every city is as cool as Cincinnati?" I replied that I didn't really have a whole lot to compare to, but immediately realized that that's not really true. Cincinnati's the only city I've lived in, but I've visited a few major ones. Below are a list of the cities that come most readily to mind, roughly in the order of which I'd be most eager to return to. Some I've spent very little time in, so this is a very subjective ranking.


Tampere, Finland
Paris
San Jose
Cincinnati
Barcelona
Geneva
Queretaro
Montreal
New York
Vancouver
London
Munich
Amsterdam
Pittsburg
Chicago
.
.
.
(every other place I've ever been)
.
.
.
Detroit

Update: thanks Racahel, I had forgotten both Barcelona and Queretaro, both of which I enjoyed alot.

Transcendence

My friend, Matt, said to me "if you become transhuman, and I stay the same..." and I forget where he went from there. I've been wanting to make a point on that subject, and the point is that if the word "transhuman" has any meaning at all, then it already applies to us both. The idea of transhumanism is that to gain abilities beyond our genetic endowment and do things beyond our normal spatial and temporal grasp. We already have lots of such abilities, and they have nothing to do with electronics or nanotech (aside from the electronics of your nervous system, and the nanotech of your cells).

The first is language. The ability to communicate is within out genetic endowment, but the specific ideas that are communicated are technologies that are discovered, built, and passed on. To the extent that an individual devotes themselves to the construction of such a mental technology, one can say that it is a part of them. By passing that part of themselves on to others they spread themselves both in space (by distributing the ideas geographically) and in time (by causing them to be taken up by others in the future).

Thus, transhumanity is at least as old as language. Perhaps even older: music could be described to undergo similar development, and music occurs in species other than humans. Birds learn songs, and their songs are passed on and evolve. This is another example of a pattern being spread across time and space through biological mediums that are born and die, though in the case of birdsong there probably wasn't ever some 'genius inventor' who originated the idea of the song and passed it on. Come to think of it, how true is that even for humans? Specific humans get credit for ideas as having been the first to publish them, but their development and discovery undergoes a similar evolutionary process in the dialog of science and art.

What we're really talking about when we speak of transhumanity is this passing of essence from medium to medium; labling it "transhumanity" is a misnomer that makes it seem homo-chauvinistic. We might as well loose this awkward round-about description and just call the phenomenon memetic evolution, where patterns of memes that aggregate and are distributed spatially and temporally can be called "memetic organisms" (just as aggregations of genes that reinforce and support eachother's cooperation are genetic organisms).

I suspect that the driving need that some people feel to express themselves is analogous to the genetic urge to reproduce. Why do some feel so passionate about music, but indifferent to sex? Perhaps becasue a much greater portion of themselves is composed of the "memetic organism" than the genetic one. In such a case, the content of their minds is passed on at the expense of the genes.

And this, I think, hints at the dichotomy that underlies much of human experience. As individuals, we're composed of two very different types of organisms who's interests aren't always in synch. Balancing the demands of each leads inevitably to conflict. This has been expressed in the past as serving "God, Country, and Family," where "country" is yet another kind of organism that places demands on the individual, and could more generally be called "social group."

So when these interests are out of synch, we experience suffering. How do we choose which to appease? Asking the question in such a way may imply having more control over the situation than we really do.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Couplet of Sonnets


**************************************
When you've shed all illusion,
if you find only confusion,
where will you look to make sense
of a reality so dense?
Is it truly a hopeless cause?
Will we never delight in seeing
the core essence of our being
Laid out, bare, to logic's claws?
Take care, you may not want to see
exactly what it means: "to be"

But if you're truly a brave soul
and wont shrink from your goal
If you've grit, and persevere,
abandon all your hope and fear.
You'll find that everything's explained,
from the deepest trenches of your pain
to the ecstasy you find in gain,
without the self you've so maintained.
Do you have the honesty
to revise the thing called "me?"

**************************************

A couple of inspiring things: 44 at the CAC yesterday was amazing. Jim Swill is the most expressive individual, and probably the best writer I've ever been face to face with. He's got a scary depth of passion an energy. He pulls out genuine, strong emotions and shows them to the audience. I get the impression that he's not acting, that he feels it.

I've not yet fully parsed his message though. A quote I really like and can relate to: "we are ships within ships, with no understanding of where the ocean ends," relating the the multitude of selves in each person. But then, He looses me when he talks about the Oneness of humanity. On the one hand he's asked us to recognize the fragmentaryness of "individuals," but he also wants us to accept the non-fragmentaryness of humanity as a whole. I'm not yet sure if I definately disagree, or if I'm missing a connection.

At any rate, he put on a phenomenal show. The CAC lobby has glass walls on two sides that look out on the street, so people on the outside could see it as well. Watching regular-folks' open-mouthed reaction to the bizzareness was entertaining as well as ironic, since part of the point was to expose and condem the very social norms that made their jaws drop.

So that show provided some of the conceptual juice for the sonnets above. The formal structure (the pith, if you will) was provided by Le Ton Beau De Marot. I find Hofstadter a great refresher during study breaks, and I was just reading his discussion of Eugene Onegin, the Russian novel in verse. I've never been especially enthusiastic about poetry, particularly not super-constrained forms like the sonnet. But with DRH's guide to EO, I get it. The english translations of Onegin are probably the first sonnets that I've understood well enough to be able to enjoy, and I've come to understand the joy that can be taken in the subtle interplay of form and content.

With those things in mind, I set aside my SAS printouts momentarily and wrote those lines in the back of my notebook. And, to my amazement, I think they're pretty good sonnets. I'm not sure about the meter, but I think its at least close. As I was finishing the first stanza, I realized that it could be construed as a letter from my current self, sent back in time to my self of four our five years ago.

Update: I should note that I was shooting for the Pushkin sonnet form. I didn't have an example on me at the time, so I ended up a quatrain short on each. Oh well; call this a Murphy verse.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The wisdom of Comedy

From the Colbert Report, apparently just recently:
http://ccinsider.comedycentral.com/2009/03/06/stephen-colbert-gives-jim-cramer-a-dose-of-liquid-sunshine/

A bit of interesting rhetoric near the beginning where the pol is saying that "people with cable TV shows have a responsibility to at least know what they're talking about" in response to some pundit criticising the government for offering relief to people who signed mortgage contracts they couldn't afford. Awfully high standard, since "knowing what you're talking about" is at the core of all debates. Have we abdicated the responsibility of judging for ourselves?

But more importantly, how far is that politician's assertion from saying that saying bad things about the economy meets the "crowded theater" test for limitations on free speech? In that original free speech case, it was ruled that the government could prohibit acts of free speech which endangered the public good, in this case the "public good" was the draft for World War I. Could not the same argument be applied exactly to the question of pundits making negative statements about the economy? I think its even easier to see: "saying something negative on TV causes the markets to decline, and everyone is poorer. Why wouldn't we ban that!"

The answer being, of course 1. that when the truth is negative, we should take it into account and not ignore it, and 2. no person, group, or party has absolute privileged access to "Truth," so a plurality of perspectives is important. Individuals must make sense of the disparate voices and come to their own conclusions about "Truth."

Granted, the original supreme court decision was later overturned. But just because a law exists doesn't prevent people from breaking it, sometimes even at the highest levels (eg: Nixon). Given that the FCC has the authority to revoke licenses to broadcast if the programming doesn't meet their standards, given that the FCC is a political entity that is subject to all the same pressures as the rest of the government, is there even a chance that there wont be behind-the-scenes pressure on television types to tone down the rhetoric? How long could that sort of pressure occure before it was brought before a court and (hopefully) struck down? How much bad news is not reported becasue of this? And how inflated are our expectations still, since we lack that information?

Ah, but we have the internet! That unadulterated medium where anyone can and will say anything, regardless of its claim to truth! We can ignore TV and get our raw news straight from the wicked source! Sadly, I think that the proportion of the voting populace that gets their news online (and is able to filter out the blatant falsehoods) is still relatively small. As a result, we can expect public policy to be formed by opinions that are increasingly isolated from bad news; the old "king whose advisors are afraid to tell him anything bad" syndrome.

I'll be excited when I start getting hits from the DC area on my blog. Doing battle with the government over censorship would be something I could get behind.

An amusing "historical" bit of television: from 2006, see SNL's take on the coming crisis:
http://www.hulu.com/watch/1389/saturday-night-live-dont-buy-stuff#s-p1-st-i0

oh how wise! And oh what a contrast to the official rhetoric: "Everything is fine! Just as long as you keep spending! Buy more new things, we need your demand to keep production running!"

Ack, I remember in my first year as an undergrad, Professor Earhardt strongly recommended that I (and everyone) read Brave New World. I did, and I was unimpressed. I found it alarmist in a misguided way; I didn't think that consumerism and conformity was the biggest threat to civilization (as it seemed to imply). Turns out... well maybe the book had more merit than I gave it credit.

Friday, March 6, 2009

"Runs like a charm...

...If you find dicks are charming. "

I was mentally laughing at this quip as I was riding my motorcycle last night. I was enjoying the warm wind in my face, as well as the backfires and rattleing, when suddenly for no reason at all it stalls and wont start again.
A stroke of mechanical karma?
My machine punishing me for thinking derrogatory thoughts about it?

No, just me forgetting that motorcyles run on gasoline and not fairy dandruff and unicorn farts. Luckily I was only a few blocks (and only one hill) away from a gas station, so I got it filled with only a modicum of inconveinience and exertion.

My "Cog Sci Idea" from a few posts back wasn't terribly well received by the professor I sent it to. He responded "I don't mean to discourage your creativity, but I have no idea what you just said." I was discouraged at first, but as I went back and read it, I thought to myself "... hmm yes, perhaps I should not send caffiene-fueled flashes of 'inspiration' to professors after midnight without first reading them over the next day."

In other words, I'm not sure it makes as much sense as I thought it did. I still think there's some merit to the idea, but I'm further away from the solution than I thought. Aside from that, I think I'm essentially re-creating Baum's argument.

I stopped by Highlands, had some conversations about Art and AI, and a freind suggested that I throw a tesla coil into my sculpture project. I'm not sure how that fits, but tesla coils are extremely awesome and I'm sure I can find something that seems reasonable.

XKCD

Oh, XKCD. How apropos.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Humane-ness

There's a very clever and effective billboard up in my neighborhood. Its a photo of a parent shaking their child by the arms in a super market and screaming at them. The parent's face is all twisted with rage and falling-apart-ness; and the child is cringing in fear (you can't see their face). You get the impression that whatever the kid did, it probably didn't warrant the reaction.

The tagline is: 'Be Human, be humane. Say something'

Its an effective public service announcement, and I think its worthy to combat the indignation of the ''Are you telling me how to raise my kid???'' response to somone interfereing in such a situation. ''Well yes,'' one might respond ''Thats exactly what I'm trying to do. I can't actually take your kid out of your inept hands, so for their sake the least I can do is socially censure you for being a bad parent.''

The impact is a little dampened by the subheading, though: ''Protect children and animals from abuse.'' *chuckle* Kids and animals are equivalent, eh? I'm all about protecting animals as well, but the choice of wording isn't the best. Might throw in a ''neuter and release kids and animals to prevent suffering'' bit. You wouln't be wrong, exactly, but clearly not right either.
At anyrate, my purpose in commenting on the billboard isn't to nit-pick the copywriting, its to commend it for encouraging the bravery of 'saying somthing.' I would suggest that the advice should be applied broadly, across all levels. You should object when you see a right being violated, whatever it is.

An appaling question now comes to mind: do people in general even know injustice when they see it? Just like how most people would look away from the supermarket scene and wrongly say 'its not my place;' how many other injustices have we become accustomed to overlooking? Shouldn't we object when we're cheated or stolen from? And worse, can we even tell? And is there anyone to cry out to?

Bipartisianship

One of those words that seems to get tossed in when politicians need something vauge and positive-sounding is bipartisian. The idea, I guess, beind an homage to that central idea of democracy: meeting in the middle and compromising.

But, like most newspeak, bipartisian is a word to be feared. Again, look at the admirable bipartisian co-operation on the housing front going back at least twenty years. Conservatives wanted to promote home ownership becasue (for whatever reasons) they believed it promoted family values. Liberals wanted to increase the standard of living by giving people things. Imagine the flash of bipartisian insight! "Gentlemen, I think we can work together. We'll pretend to give people houses, both parties are satisfied, and nobody looses unless we run out of rungs on the pyramid, in which case we can blame it on the banks that own the houses."

I think its a Jefferson quote that says: "No citezen's life, liberty, or property are safe while congress is in session. "

Match that with Franklin's quip: "when the public realizes that they can vote themselves money, the republic is doomed."

... and we have cause for pessemism. Oh those insightful old fogies, if only they had been insightful enough to, ah... prevent all this. How? Well they certainly couldnt have forseen any of the specifics, but stronger restrictions on government power would have been nice. I understand that both those guys above advocated for exactly that, they just didn't fully with the argument. Oh compromise, you strumpet!

As far as where we're going from here, see this terse and un-hopeful analysis on Overcoming Bias.

And with regards to the comparison of Obama to FDR (and the negative consequences of government meddling in private affairs), this op-ed from the WSJ offers a take on what we've seen so far. You could state the obvious and object that the Wall Stree Journal has a distinct adgenda to promote, but that fact alone doesn't invalidate their logic. If you're brave enough to set aside your own bias (however temporarily) and investigate the validity of their claims, I think in most cases you'll find that the answer is "disturbingly so."

Maybe filling the blogosphere with discontent will have some tiny effect on the environment. Come on, everyone, do your part!

Change in Perspective


"My fellow Americans! We must unite in common purpose to keep housing expensive! Homeowners are suffering! Their property is loosing value through no fault of their own!"

That seems to be the prevailing perspective on the collapse of the real estate market. But consider: mortgage holders are not "homeowners." They are debtors, paying the owner of the property for the privilage of using it. The cause of their suffering is having taken on a risk with a downside for which they're not prepared in the form of a contract that obligates them to continue paying for their privilage for the majority of their useful lives.

Some of the upper crust have had to come to the realization that they have been the victims of a classic ponzi/pyramid-scheme in the Bernie Madoff case. Its as old as the "borrowing from Peter to pay Paul" cliche, though I can't honestly say I'm sure that the saying dates back as far as the actual Peter and Paul. Eventually, the general populace will have to come to the same realization about our housing situation. We've been signing contracts to work our entire lives for an asset on the assumption that it will get more valuable; and that assumption is based on... what? That other people will buy it for more later? Why would they? Unless there's scarcity of supply, there's no reason that the price of something should continue to rise. Land is relatively plentiful in the US outside the major urban centers. As the population becomes more distributed, there's less pressure even on those dense areas. And as the overall economic competetiveness of the nation declines relative to the other up-and-coming areas of the world, we can count less on immigration to increase the demand for housing.

The bottom line: the house as an ever-more-valuable peice of property was a trumpted-up dream, sold to the populace by an elite with a social adgenda.

So stepping back from the poorly-advised contracts that the unwitting have been encouraged to sign; shouldn't we be cheering decreasing home prices? More income for productive investments and leisure, right? Well, unfortunately for everyone with a mortgage the picture doesn't look so sunny; they're locked in to the inflated rate.

Moral of the story: as the future gets more uncertain, we should be scaling back the length of time over which we're confortable making binding commitments.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cog Sci Project Idea

An idea springs forth from my new learnings! An integration of several high-falutin' things!

It seems that the Traveling Salesperson Problem can be applied to many different domains; the idea of minimizing the "cost" of connecting some set of things has broad application. Included are artificial neural networks, graph coloring, and whad'ya know... touring a bunch of cities.

How can the concept of "time value of money" be integrated into the TSP framework?
Perhaps if we're solving TSPs iteratively, and the parameters are changing?
For instance the, costs between any given vertices could change stochasticly (perhaps with an identifiable pattern (eg: cycle), perhaps not). The goal would be to find the set of TSP solutions that minimizes cost over time, given the uncertainty inherent in the changing connection costs. Further, the cost associated with implementing a TSP solution could be matched against the reward it brings to make a profit function. This, in turn, could be used over a series of iterations of the TSP (with the stochastic costs) to find an net present value.

I went further down the simulation road than I was intending there... ultimately I'm trying to tie the TSP framework back to forming abstractions (concepts) about the uncertain external world and strategies for acting on them. Here the TSP solution over time represents an uncertain (but hopefully useful) belief about the regular state of the domain. The NPV could then be interpreted as a measure of the value of that strategy, in other words how well the "concept" discovered captures the underlying structure of the environment.

I think that this idea may be generally applicable to agents on many levels; if so it would be a neat opportunity to integrate several feilds with some robust mathematical formalism.

whew!

I've been stressing hardcore because I thought I was way more crunched for time on my final projects than I am. As it turns out, the stress caused me to get ahead of the game, so my behind-ness isn't as awful as I momentarily thought it was. I got my extra credit for Regression analysis done just in time, and the presentation went well. Now I've got to get my proficiency up on the mathematical programming stuff, and try and learn Radiation Hybrid Mapping for the project there. Nose to the grindstone for the next three weeks!

Math, Sarcasm, Romance, and Language

[This somehow failed to get posted a week ago]


Dear Internet,

It seems I'm having the midlife crisis cliche twenty or so years ahead of schedule. I took up guitar, bought a motorcycle, left my girlfriend (for a while) to be a (mostly unsuccessful) philanderer, went back to school, realized how much I loved my X and Y'd her, quit my job, and am now trying to deliberately and purposefully design myself a lifestyle that I look forward to living.

Makes me wonder about the idea of a "midlife crisis" and the negative connotation it seems to have. It seems to be shorthand for "figuring out that your only obligations are the ones you choose to accept," and then acting on the realization. I suspect the reason that there's a negative connotation is that realization has negative consequences on those who depend on the realizer
An aside: I wonder what the root-similarity between the word Philanthropy and Philandery is? Are they related by the structure "giving x to everyone," where x a variable? I know I could look up the etymology instantly, but it makes me smile to let it hang. Maybe the relatively positive attitude towards male promiscuity is related linguistically to the idea of "giving" (it), which is viewed positively; while female promiscuity involves "taking" (it), which is viewed negatively.

Oh by the way I quit my job. My official reasons were: A) because I think the economy is headed for much worse times, and I think Toyota's no-layoff policy might be put to the test (since they're already abandoning it abroad), B) I want to focus on school, C) the buyout clears my debt, and unofficially D) I think I can find a more interesting thing to do with my waking hours and I don't feel like I need the money.

One thing I really do like about my job (and what I'm studying (Quantitative Analysis)) is the feeling of discovery and clarity that comes with finding insight and meaning in what first seems to be incomprehensible or inscrutable. I imagine walking into a room that's a tangle of brambles and thorns hiding gems; then blasting away a bunch of illusions, traps and obfuscations with carefully chosen words and symbols that are interpreted as instructions and executed by a powerful (but unintelligent) genie (the program). And in one fell swoop, meaning emerges from meaninglessness! Not usually "one fell swoop," though; that image belies all the experimentation and interpretation that underlies it. But the final swoop is singular and "fell," at any rate.
And... what's this? Ah, I think my sense of humor is returning. I've been observing that I've been unpleasantly humorless lately. Uncertainty must be stimulating.

Hmm! There's an interesting suggestion to reinterpret! Economy wonks talk about business being depressed because of uncertainty and lack of "consumer confidence..." but I think that there's a strong case to be made that there's no growth without uncertainty. Entreprenurialism is all about taking calculated risks, right? Perhaps the issue is with people's level of comfort with uncertainty. The risk-averse make no strides, just consume till they die.

With love,
NIX

Addendum: XKCD is one of the single greatest things to ever happen to me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE

For one minute and fifty-nine seconds!

Please enjoy this lil' bit-o music I've made. Click to play.

Anticipated criticisms: the middle part repeats one more time than it should, and the ending is abrupt.

The progression is G Cm Dm, with minor scales laced in. I put a bass line in the background, then went fer the solo.

tell me what you think!
Check out Ethan Philbrick's blog: http://ethandancesinpublic.blogspot.com/

The idea, as you might guess, is that Ethan dances in public. I love the idea of doing socially shocking, positive things. The coffee shop piece I especially like.