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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Birthday

Its my birthday today. I celebrated with a linear algebra exam, calculus, and probability. Its a good thing I've got smart group-mates for that latter class; they're much smarter than me and I'd be lost otherwise. All the calls from family and friends wishing me a happy birthday helped make it a happy occasion, despite my busyness.

I had to miss a finance talk that Dr. Kim recommended I see today on campus, unfortunately. Guy was a nobel laureate, and has some research that Dr. Kim recommended that I read. I'll have to catch up later. Also in the category of things I urgently need to do: finish reading Jeff Hawkins new paper, apply to my phd programs, read the research from Rob Goldstone and Olaf Sporns, and collect my thoughts on the idea that Dr. Bickle inspired and make it into a research agenda.

Outside of academic stuff, Matt and I recorded a cool song tonight. The ever-problematic titling question was solved by this webcomic. Dresden Kodac is beautiful.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bladerunner

Lately I've been hearing a slew of references to Bladerunner as an excellent, groundbreaking scifi movie, so I decided to watch it. I saw it once as a kid, but I didn't remember much of it outside of the "test." I wonder what role that played in the development of my current enthusiasm for AI and cognitive science.

Its very noir, very Chinatown-esque. My favorite line was at the end, when the gotee-guy (who had previouly only spoken in Japanese says) "Its a shame she won't live. But then again, who does?"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Asimov

I decided, rather unwisely I'll admit, to read a novel this weekend. Asimov's Robots of Dawn. I was feeling swamped and in need of eloquence and adventure, and old Issac certainly provided.

A few comments, then.

"If the World of Dawn had a quite, sunlit Day, who on that world would clamor for a storm?"

This is a thought of Baley's to himself, reflecting on the peaceful, pleasant stagnation the extra-terrestrial human societies find themselves in. Specifically, he's speaking of the planet Aurora (ie: "Dawn"), the first human settlement. Simple enough statement, but it is a very eloquent summary of quite of bit of story-development. What amused me about this was that Asimov had seemingly been carrying about this little bit of poetry for a very long time; some of his earlier short stories contained references to "Aurora" and its clearly meant to be the same place. It made me wonder if he'd been waiting to use that turn of phrase for years and years, or if it fortuitously presented itself to him as he was writing this latter work.

More broadly, I continue to be impressed by how deeply human Asimov's writing is. The backdrop is technological, but the stories themselves are always much more about probing sensitive parts of human nature (though after all, we are really, really cool technology). His sense of humor and gravity both delight me. I laughed out loud and at length several times during the book, and several times I was impressed by its apparent (though subtle) profundity.

And unlike much of the sci-fi that has followed him, Asimov seems exuberantly hopeful about humanity's future, and confident that we can use technology for positive purposes.

But, now, I should really return to what I'm supposed to be doing; which is math.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wealth

Wealth is a place in the sun
and a warm jacket
Wealth is a full fridge
and a working toilet

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Linear Algebra: A

I got an A on a Linear Algebra quiz! The first two had been much harsher.
My Calculus professor remined me to look up the sylabus for the other, harder calculus series, and in the process I discovered that the math department offers minors in mathematics. I think I would actually really like to do this, and I think that I could get it done before next fall.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Status seeking behavior, an economic metaphor

When I was young, I read a book called the Celestine Prophesy. It's mostly mystical new-age pseudo-philosophy in a fiction-wrapper, but it does offer an interesting perspective on how people use tactics to manipulate their social status with regard to others. In the story, this was visualized by unconsciously stealing "energy" from people by being aloof, argumentative, needy, and a few other behaviors.

Mysticism aside, I think those behaviors can be recast in terms of tactics for stealing "status" from others. There's no "aura-energy" involved, just the regard of others towards ourselves and our perception of their regard. These unconscious practices are (rightly) derided in the book as negative-sum games, downward spirals where everyone ends up poorer. This is true of status-seeking behavior also: if the only source of social status one has is leeching it from others, eventually all the "energy" (or status) gets gets burned up.

The Celestine Prophecy's solution, naturally for an Age of Aquarius type book, is love. Just love people for what they are. Instead of leeching energy, people will exchange energy positively with each other and the total energy will grow rather than shrink. Very cozy imagery.

But in all seriousness, I'd like to make an analogy to economic processes. When people support themselves through predation, they can last only as long as there are productive non-predators in the population. These "doves" create value, and without them the "hawks" will end up consuming each other and finally themselves. When predation is suppressed, peaceful producers can multiply the value they produce through specialization and voluntary exchange.

I think a similar set of rules applies to individual-level interpersonal dynamics as well. People whose only source of status comes from robbing others of it can only last as high-status individuals as long as there are productive individuals around. What are "productive" individuals in terms of status? People who attain status through accomplishment, by improving themselves relative to their own former selves or creating new value for others to use.

An irony: a high-status predator may be able survive merely because of their high-status, since humans seek to affiliate themselves with other high-status individuals and rarely question the source of their status. Thus, a person could continuously roll through their attract and burn up new people in order to maintain themselves. I suspect this is what gossip is all about, though totally unconsciously.

But returning to the positive side of the economic metaphor: positive-sum status relationships can be built where each productive member supports the others by vouching for the validity of what the other members say. The support of legitimately high-status individuals for an idea gives it a much greater likelihood of consideration and acceptance, and thereby increasing the status of all involved. Think of this as voluntary association and trade, the result of which in the economic world is more wealth for all.

Snow Leopard

I've just finished installing Snow Leopard, and so far everything seems pretty much exactly the same. Which is good news, since it was already working nicely. It's as they said: painless install, nothing really visually different, but the geeky satisfaction of knowing that its now all 64 bit.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Photo post

Seems its been a while since I synced my phone, and I've got some interesting (imho) pictures to share.


My lips and hand incense burner sculpture:
I noticed an odd phenomenon about the lips: they look perfectly symmetrical when you hold them right-side-up, but totally asymmetrical upside down. Even knowing that they are asymmetrical, I still can't see the asymmetry right side up.


A while back I woke up before the sun rose (this was while I was reading A Neurocomputational Perspective), and went on a long bike ride. I found myself in this cemetary just after the sun came up, it was quite beautiful. Below is the picture of my first glimpse of the sun that morning.


Behold, a wall with interestingly peeling paint.

These are the results of my "shoot a bag of bleach in front of a black shirt with a rifle" experiment. An interesting diversity of results, I think.

Rick and I composed a pretty awesome (and hilarious) Pushkin sonnet in the back of my Philosophy and Neuroscience book. Its about science and mind, and how we're gonna revolutionize the field.


And finally, this totally sweet (if slightly overdramatic) picture I took of Rick for his website. Thats a Neverdie shirt he's wearing, you bes' b'leed it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

... and Fall Dog Bombs the Moon

This morning when I came into work, at 7am, there was a bunch of news about us bombing the moon.

I spent a while figuring out what that was all about and stumbled into some conspiracy-rants about how the Apollo astronauts saw alien ships and bases on the dark side of the moon, but were ordered to keep silent about it. I had a moment of groggily-thrilled belief, then started to notice the pattern of half baked conspiracy theorists (circular citing and untraceable references, glaring grammar errors...), and reluctantly decided to put on my skeptical disbelief-face.

It was in this mindset that I read the headline about Obama's peace prize. It took till the afternoon when a couple other people mentioned it for me to realize that it wasn't a hoax.

Crazy world.

The President wins the peace prize...

So President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

huh.

At first I thought I missed something; some major accomplishment that slid under my study-occluded radar. But no, no, it seems the prize has been awarded preemptively: the prize committee said they gave it to him to help him build momentum and credibility in arms reduction. I suppose its their prerogative to award it however they see fit (though I think Alfred had some preferences on that front) but it seems like such an action will do more to damage their own credibility than boost the president's.

In reading the Black Swan, one of its more cognitive-dissonance inducing eccentricities was Taleb's total contempt for everything and everyone (excluding Hayek) surrounding the Nobel prize. I had only ever heard it mentioned with reverence; the highest honor someone could hope to achieve. Taleb was of a very contrary opinion, and I'm beginning to see why.

It would seem that the Nobel committee has become so convinced of their own good judgment that they believe they can bring new good things to be merely by exercising their judgment. There must be a name for that fallacy.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Life is pretty good.

I've been thinking, I'm pretty outstandingly rich. Certainly not in monetary terms; that number is negative. But in terms of how I get to live even with that negative number... its pretty wonderful. Lets enumerate:

I can nourish myself on kiwis, mangos, eggs, milk, honey, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and Indian food.

I can get around on a bike. Cars, gas, and insurance are things of the past.

My biggest source of stress is studying the fundamental truths of the universe, and trying to uncover new ones.

I've got a healthy body, and the energy to do fun things with it.

My locus of control resides mostly within myself.

I can entertain myself by learning music, and listening to whatever music of the past half millenea I can think to look up (barring lost stuff).

I can talk with people around the world and read their thoughts as soon as they publish them, for free.

I can talk with people in my own neighborhood who are among the smartest people in the world in their field.

I have access to libraries and all of humanity's collected knowledge, for free.

I can use ingenious programs that allow great expression of creativity, for free (or nearly so).

I can (attempt to) write ingenious programs of my own.

I can afford some of the highest technology that has ever existed on earth.

I have good reason to have trust in other people; theft and fraud are sufficiently rare (I say this even though I carry a massive chain for my bike...).

The market is sufficiently developed to place value on my self-development and therefore allow me to get by on a negative number for the time being.

I live in a beautiful place.

I have good friends.

Plenty of reasons to be thankful, eh wot?


Retrofitted Autonomous vehicles become a reality

A while back, I wrote some stuff about a business plan around using vehicles retrofitted to be autonomous in a large-scale electronic auction marketplace.

The first prerequisite of that dream has become a reality: This company is selling retrofit kits that can be installed in under four hours. He notes that it will be a few years before our legal environment changes enough to make it legal for civilian use, and this is the last real barrier to reaping the benefits of getting people out from behind the wheel.

I wonder if that's true everywhere in the world? There's got to be some countries with less sever legal tangles to battle than in the US. I remember reading that Japan had an autonomous bus system in use for some high-profile event. I suspect their legal environment might be conducive to getting such a system implemented. Probably China too; given that they could command from on high that its allowable. I wonder about Brazil? thats a big huge country that I know almost nothing about.

I digress. Its exciting to see that we're significantly closer to autonomous vehicles. Remember: people in cars kill more than thirty thousand other people a year (in the US alone).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Triumph and Tradgedy

I got my official GRE score report back!

______Score___ Percentile
Quant __650______60
Verbal __640 _____92
Writing ___6______98

I'm pretty pleased with the 92 and 98 percentiles. I'm surprised that people seem to score so much better on the quant; my verbal score is lower than the quant, but much higher in terms of percentile. I suspect that could be attributed to a large number of test takers having English as a second language.

At any rate, I had decided that I would go ahead and apply with my current scores if I got a perfect score on the writing section, which I did. Therefore: I shall apply. All I need now is letters. I've got one from Professor Dalziel, and I think Professor Levy would be happy to write one for me... maybe Professor Yu also.

In the tradgedy section: my new battery wont arrive until tomorrow, and my current battery has swollen a full inch out of the case. I'm concerned that its going to break something or catch fire, though I hear that the swelling is an end-of-life protection against horrible explosions. Very frustrating.

The amount of homework I need to do has become vertiginous. I'm ordering Tika Masala again from Krishna 'cause I don't want to spend the time cooking. Time to buckle down!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

60 handwritten pages...

... of notes and assignments in the first eight days of classes. Thats 60 double-sided pages, so more like 120. Granted, linear algebra and calculus tend to take up a lot of space on paper when you do them properly, but I'm nevertheless pretty astounded at the magnitude of my paper-output.

Whats worse: Thus far I've really only done serious work for my two undergraduate math classes. My two graduate math classes are a bit starved for attention (though I'm writing during a break from reading about simulation in Arena).

Dr. Kelton said that there aren't any good open-source alternatives to Arena (which costs $20K) presently, simply because of the nature and complexity of simulation software. I'm naturally skeptical of this, and I wonder if Repast Simphony can do similar things. I suppose I'll need to learn more about both before I can make an assesment.

I was intending on riding my bicycle to West Chester last night, but given that I got only five hours of sleep the previous night, I wasn't feeling too enthusiastic about that prospect. Plus there was a really awesome music festival going on in my neighborhood (called the Heights festival), and I wanted to see a few of the bands. It was put together by Rome of Babas (he's as epic as that sounds), and apparently all his work on it payed off. All the venues were packed, and there was a great diversity of musical styles and people, as well as some fantastic musicianship (I missed the hip hop acts earlier in the evening; I was busy grinding out matrix multiplication).

Hopefully Dad will get my message and be willing to give me a ride up to West Chester. I'd like to impress upon Jack and Claire the importance of being good at math early on by actually studying some of mine in front of them. Also I want to take the head off my engine, open all the boxes that have arrived there, and start monkying with the parts. I also need to pick up my copy of the probability book, my new macbook battery (mine is swelling somthin' fierce), and my copy of Snow Leopard.