Thursday, September 24, 2009


I asked my calculus professor the following question earlier today:

"Is there a mathematical relationship between the inverses of different operations? "

He thought the question didn't really make sense, and I suppose it doesn't. I guess what I'm trying to get at was this: is there a common algorithm for taking the inverses using different operations?

For instance, say we start with the point (2,2).
Its additive inverse, the negative, is (-2,-2).
Its multiplicative inverse, the reciprocal, is (1/2, 1/2)
We could define other inverse operations, but these seem to be the ones that make most sense for the purpose of considering points on a plane (or hyperplane).

The question then is: is there some function or algorithm that you could pass "multiplicative" or "additive" to, and have it return the inverses? I'm looking for the same algorithm to be applied with different parameters, not just a look-up table that specifies different methods (though I suppose that might be the only solution). Specifically: I want to understand how these sorts of operations are possible with neural architecture alone. Is it the same algorithm? Does it use a "lookup table?"

This is all aimed at generalizing Dr. Bickle's result with the "negative echo" phenomenon in visual neural fields.

The following rekindles my faith in and love for technology: its the USPS tracking history for the derailleur hangers I ordered online earlier today.

Bullet Processed through Sort Facility, September 24, 2009, 6:31 pm, DENVER, CO 80266
Bullet Acceptance, September 24, 2009, 4:44 pm, LOUISVILLE, CO 80027

It's already on its way through priority mail. I can imagine it speeding towards me through the clouds now. (I actually ordered two in anticipation of breaking another one)

Broken bike, frustration

My bike broke today. The hanger on the rear derailleur snapped in half. I'm sure it had to do with shifting while going up hill, but I was moderately pissed. I had to walk a mile home, in the rain, in my bike shoes. I then discovered that the bike shop is closed till Saturday for a trade show, so I can't get the part replaced until at least then. So much for investing in a good bike as a reliable form of transportation, eh? Oh well, I didn't go that rout for the sake of facility and luxury.

This was after I got to my Survey of Neuroscience Research class (or the room where it was scheduled to be) and found nobody there. I had worked up the courage to go and try and get into this class that I really wasn't supposed to be in, and they weren't even meeting today. I think the new bearcat email system messed up my forwarding settings, 'cause I would have expected a message about that.

On top of that, the I seem to be having a post-virus allergic reaction like I did last year after being sick for a few days. Not at all cool.

A frustrating day, unfortunately. And yesterday went so nicely...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Idea for a story

It's a lasting trope of science fiction that when machines attain greater-than-human intelligence, humanity will be obsolete and machines will be hostile towards our existence. Some thoughtful authors have questioned this assumption. Notably (and outside of fiction) Kurzweil suggests that machine intelligence will be modeled on and an extension of biological human intelligence, and that there's therefore no fundamental incompatibility between the two.

It would be interesting to write a story from the perspective of benevolent non-biological humanity, directed towards hostile biological humanity. Imagine a situation where parts of the world advance to a primarily non-biological state and still view themselves as human. They may be regarded with suspicion and distrust by normal humans, if only because they are so far outside of normal human experience. I'm imagining a scenario where biological humans try to wage war against non-biological humans. But being of the benevolent sort, the non-biological humans don't want to do harm, and try to deflect and subvert the biological humans' anger and hostility without damaging either group.

With this background, there might be a short story with the following plot: A group of young men enter a transhuman city with the intent to destroy something important, driven by the ideology of their culture. They believe that transhumanity is evil, and they fully expect to die on their mission. However, they meet no resistance and are frustrated by the ineffectuality of their destruction and the lack of violent response to their actions. They meet other natural humans who try to talk with them, whom the crusaders regard with extreme hostility and suspicion. The crusaders believe the diplomats are some sort of trickery, "golems" in human form sent by the evil machines to deceive. In fact, the diplomats are the children of transhumans who have either opted to stay natural, or are waiting to become transhuman until they reach some level of development.

The diplomats urge the crusaders to stay (after they've exhausted their capacity for violence and are safe to approach), they show them the pleasures that their life in the transhuman cities afford, they attempt to teach them the truths of the high civilization. They waiver, and distrustfully allow themselves to be led deeper. Perhaps some are persuaded, but for the protagonist, it ends in tradgedy. He sees something that reactivates his hatred and fear, and he kills his guide (with whom there had been a love affair), only to find that she is indeed human. With her last breath she forgives him, and before she expires is rescued by her parents and brought into transcendence.

I'm imagining some striking imagery here, both of the horrible and the beautiful kind. His inner conflict grows and grows, and he witnesses her do some technological thing that seems magical. He remembers the biblical verse "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," equates witches with machines, and seeks to dispel his inner conflict by proving that she is a machine. He snaps, takes his knife, and slashes her stomach open. To his horror, what spills out is not synthetic tubes and electronics, but blood and entrails. A machine swoops down on her dying body and treats it with tenderness that seems incongruous between metal and flesh. It lifts her gently into a gurney, settles her comfortably, staunches her bleeding, inserts IV's with care, brushes her hair from her face, grasps her hand, and flies away. Perhaps before it leaves, the machine turns on the protagonist with evident outrage and hostile intent, but is dissuaded from violence by some subtle, barely seen signal from the woman.

The machine will speak to him in a powerful, genderless, synthetic human voice. In will accuse him of killing its daughter, explain how its daughter had voluntarily sought to enlighten him, how she begged it to spare his life despite his horrible crime. "My daughter was good, and you have killed her. She's granted you a mercy that you don't deserve. You've killed her, but she will not die. I can save my child, but your child is already lost." (Implying that she had been pregnant, but neither had known it yet). It will be made clear somehow that the machine is being remotely operated by the parent, who is equally biological as the daughter but with synthetic enhancement.

The protagonist's revulsion shifts from the machines to himself. Maybe he tries to kill himself with the same knife, but as a compromise between its daughter's wishes and vengeance, the machine takes the knife from him and forbids him the release from remorse through death. He flees from the city and returns to his people. He's the only "survivor" of their little crusade, and he's too bitter to talk about the experience. He receives a mixed welcome; some think he was a coward and is ashamed of himself for not fighting, some attribute his recalcitrance to seeing horrible things in the city. He dies alone and misunderstood, thrown out of paradise by his own hand, and unable to be happy in normal life.


I took the GRE again yesterday and it was a smashing success!

Well, I should say more modestly that I got the improvement I was hoping for out of the quantitative section, moving from 560 to 650, bringing my overall score to 1290. I had commented earlier that I'd like to be above seven hundred on both sections, but considering that I only studied for the quantitative section, that goal was unlikely. I think I will take it again before the December deadlines and study for the 700+ goal. I've got the study books, and I'm confident that I can do it. Whether or not I actually need to do it is a separate question, but I'm motivated to do so because its one of the few concrete things that I know I can do to improve my standing.

I'm very interested to see how I did on the writing section; I got a question on the "express your views" part (the contents of which I'm agreement-bound to not disclose) that was able to write very enthusiastically and deeply about, bringing in lots of outside learning and subtlety.

I got to hang out with Erica Waters and some of her friends visiting from IU on Saturday night during Octoberfest. She's a blast, and I enjoyed the company of her friends a lot. We talked about electric submarines, Germany, brewing, grad school, the various and sundry virtues of bloomington... I'd very much like to be a part of their community.

All of my motorcycle parts have arrived in a deluge of boxes at my dads house, and I'm faced with the dual problems of starting classes (tomorrow) and having sold my car (last Saturday); thus I'm afraid it might be a mite difficult to get up there and do all the work on it I was so enthusiastically contemplating.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bizzare reproductive science

We do strange things in the interest of being humane. This article talks about research into non-surgical animal sterilization in the interest of preventing population explosions in animals like dogs, cats, and (to my surprise) horses. An individual has contributed $75 million to the cause.

I can sympathize with the desire to reduce the amount of suffering in the world, in non-human animals included. But when there are people like Aubrey de Grey out there who have viable plans to dramatically reduce human suffering and who are struggling to find funding for their research, I question the importance of things like animal contraception.

Its also a bit interesting from the standpoint of the gene: we're certainly doing the species' no favors by sterilizing large numbers of their members. But of course, we sympathize with and anthropomorphize the individual cute cuddly animals, not the abstractions that are their genes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

National debt

Does it seem weird that the federal reserve owns 40% of the national debt? I'm trying to wrap my mind around the implications of that. Our government has borrowed ten trillion dollars (10,000,000,000,000) in the last few decades, and 40% percent of that (4,000,000,000,000) has been lent to the government by the government.

What I'm struggling to understand is when the money that must be created by the federal reserve in order to buy the debt gets spent. Is it when the debt is issued or paid off?
Lets walk through this.
1. Congress spends a bunch of money and issues debt in order to finance the payments.
2. The federal reserve buys 40% of it, which means that congress promises to pay the federal
reserve back later.
3. In order to give congress the money, the federal reserve has to make it. Since its the only entity that can legally do this, it doesn't have to produce value, just money.
So the new money (and the inflation) must be pushed into the economy at the time of the debt's issuance.
4. When the debt comes due, if congress has the money to spare it pays the federal reserve.
5. The federal reserve can then refrain from creating new dollars by re-issuing the dollars that congress paid it.

The problem with step four and five is that as long as congress continues to run deficits, it will not have the dollars to pay the federal reserve, and the federal reserve will not be able to remove the dollars it created from the market, so the inflation it causes will be permanent. In order to cover the old debt (40% of which are held by the federal reserve), congress will have to issue new debt (some 40% of which will be purchased by the federal reserve).

Its Kafkaesque. I'd say its Hoffstedterian, but its less a "strange" loop and more of a "clearly unstable feedback loop" (aka: stupid loop). The fact that the total national debt follows an exponential curve with this setup (with the interesting and notable exception of the Clinton years) should be the furthest thing from surprising, and the closest thing to absolutely horrifying. Remember that "government debt" means "money that every citizen has to pay later."

I imagine that Ray Kurzweil might jump in and suggest that the explosion in our future liabilities isn't such a big deal, because the amount of value we create will outpace our liabilities because technological progress is proceeding at a double exponential rate. I see the merit in that argument, but I worry that the damage done by inflation might derail the technological growth. The collapse of the economic system would be one of those catastrophes that could very well prevent the singularity from happening.

Though, I suppose, if the US collapses, another nation will become the central driver.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Conceptual slippages in typing

I've been noticing that typing errors can provide some interesting material for conceptual slippages, especially in very skilled typists (like myself, I daresay). When I'm typing quickly and trying to express a thought, not focusing so much on the mechanics of the typing, some interesting types of errors occur. Specifically, the substitution of symbols for similar looking or sounding ones. I have typed a zero on the number pad instead of an "o" on multiple occasions. The zero above the o on the keyboard would be unremarkable because of their proximity, but the zero on the number pad is quite distant!

Another interesting error is substituting the phonetic equivalent of a symbol. I just typed "vertue" instead of "virtue," presumably because that first 'i' in virtue is typically pronounced much more like an e, as in 'ver.'

Its an tiny bit of interesting insight into the subcognitive processes underlying the action. I wonder how this sort of approach could be formalized and tested (if it hasn't already been)? What clever things could you do online?

Blog traffic questions

Google Analytics is a wonderful tool, and the many dimensions of data seem to provide at least as many questions as answers. For instance, it seem that at least half of the traffic to this blog over the last month has come from Bellvue, KY, and surrounding areas. Who are you, oh noble viewers from Kentucky, and what brings you to my site? I suspect a good deal of that traffic is from my former colleagues in Erlanger, and some of it may be traffic coming from through KY for some mysterious routing reasons.

Its also interesting to note some of the proper-name search keywords that have been used. I'm pleased to have attracted your attention to my blog!

Whoever you are, I appreciate your visits, and I hope you find some thoughts of interest!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The search for meaning...

... is a dangerous one. Because if you're smart and honest, you've got to realize that there's no final destination. Or rather, there's no single answer that can be agreed upon. There are infinitely many "local maximums" that might suit you just fine, but the ultimate goal lies always further off.

How far is far enough? How long do you trade toil for progress? When do you accept comfort and stagnation?

I wonder how many people have said the same thing, in different terms. I'd welcome commentary to that effect.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


So Rachael and I have broken up again. This time I was the initiator. The catalyst was a fight we had on Friday. She was upset that I hadn't contacted her since Monday, and just plain didn't believe that I was sick enough to warrant not thinking about her for four days. I was upset that she'd be upset about such a thing, and that she didn't believe me about being in fever-delirium/medicine-groggy for pretty much the duration. I was irritated that she needed so much attention from me, and I thought it boded poorly for our future. I tried to put it past me, but I couldn't. It brought to mind all the other unjustified (in my view) arguments we've ever been in, how she's been irritating me. The thought of that irritation carrying on indefinitely was too much.

I told her I need a break. I'm still not sure it was the best course of action, but I felt like I had to do it.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Classes are over, fall is beginning. I've been sick for the past week and a half, I lost a couple days to pure sleep.

I've decided to retake the GRE, and I'm aiming for above 1400. I don't have very far to go on the verbal part (60 points), and I'm perusing the GRE vocab for words I don't know or that have other meanings that don't readily spring to mind. I was caught off guard last time I took it by how many words I was unfamiliar with, as I usually think of myself as an expert-user of the English language. I've got a bit further to go on the quant part (140 points), and I'm finally putting the practice book I bought so long ago to use. I laughed when I realized that I've had it for five years, and I'm just now starting to use it. Nevermind that the math in it is all high-school level. I'm finding it exciting to solve puzzles that are based on simple concepts but are nonetheless challenging.

I'm going to register for a test just before classes start, so I'll be all set for phd applications. I need to figure out who I can get letters of recommendation from. It turns out I waited to long to talk to Dr. Bickle, he's moved to the University of Mississippi. I need to follow up with Dr. Minai!

My motorcycle is undergoing an overhaul. I brought it up to dads, and I'm in the process of disassembling it. Thus far I've succeeded in fixing the timing (which I'll probably have to do again later), cleaning random parts, and breaking off two easy-outs in incorrigible nuts. Hopefully I'll be able to grind those out with a carbide bit...

It's a fun opportunity to learn a mechanical system and to buy parts for it (which is somehow satisfying). I've ordered replacement engine bolts, a gasket set, a tune up kit, a carb overhaul kit, a tail light, and I'm bidding on some of the original mufflers. I need to get ignition coils (probably) figure out what I want to do with the seat and tank, and figure out how to install rear-sets. My dreams were filled with images of painting the engine all black and grinding the edges of the heat fins so that they're sharp and silvery. For some reason that idea really captivates me. I'm also thinking of getting the frame powder-coated either silver or black. That may be overkill, but might as well do it up right while I'm at it, eh?

Rick's motorcycle is languishing. I put a new clutch cable on it (my old one), and I've been trying to fix the master cylinder. Turns out I need special-special pliers: the clip ring that holds it all together is uncommonly deep in the part, and the clip-ring pliers dad has won't fit. The required pliers apparently cost $30. Its also refusing to start now, which is odd since it started effortlessly when we picked it up. The starter motor seems to have somehow died while it was sitting, but I don't know how that's possible. Seems more likely that the gasoline decayed and varnished the carburetors, but that doesn't explain the failiure of the starter motor to turn it over. The kickstarter turns the engine over, but to no avail.