December 31, 2009

You made me realise

We are on a sinking ship, but the only materials we have to build a ship that will float come from the ship itself.
The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, by Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, p161

December 30, 2009

Fuck everything

by leonard eisenberg, via evogeneo

A post a while back called sex in time, about speciation that ended with the line
...if all the 'species' ever extant where brought back to life there could be one unbroken chain of fucking going right back to the first creatures that invented sex...
Hence the nice picture above, click to enlage, then imagine the scene.

brooks too broad for leaping

I met a guy a a few months ago who had lived for three or four years in a famous Asian city. He worked in nightlife, and told me that he had slept with three or four hundred women in that time. It didn't surprise me, as he'd been quite open about paying for sex , and so a number two or three times that would have been reasonable too. But I must getting old, or sensible, or between mid-life crises, because there was no sense of shame, regret or envy that at sex partners he had me beat by an order of magnitude. It was an odd feeling, feeling nothing.

harland miller

More from Procopius, this time on Theodora, future wife of Justinian, emperor of Rome:
She used to tease her lovers by keeping them waiting, and by constantly playing about with novel methods of intercourse she could always bring the lascivious to her feet; so far from waiting to be invited by anyone she encountered, she herself by cracking dirty jokes and wiggling her hips suggestively would invite all who came her way, especially if they were still in their teens. Never was anyone so completely given up to unlimited self-indulgence. Often she would go to a bring-your-own-food dinner-party with ten young men or more, all at the peak of their physical powers and with fornication as their chief object in life, and would lie with all her fellow-diners in turn the whole night long: when she had reduced them all to a state of exhaustion she would go to their menials, as many as thirty on occasion, and copulate with every one of them; but not even so could she satisfy her lust.

One night she went into the house of a distinguished citizen during the drinking, and, it is said, before the eyes of all the guests she stood up on the end of the couch near their feet, pulled up her dress in the most disgusting manner as she stood there, and brazenly displayed her lasciviousness. And though she brought three openings into service, she often found fault with Nature, grumbling because Nature had not made the openings in her nipples wider than is normal, so that she could devise another variety of intercourse in that region.
Procopius, The Secret History, p82 [although I Googled, copy / pasted from here]
And on the same theme, Seutonius on Caligula [From The Lives of the Twelve Caesars - full text]:
He had not the slightest regard for chastity, either his own or others', and was accused of homosexual relations, both active and passive, with Marcus Lepidus, also Mnester the comedian, and various foreign hostages; moreover, a young man of a consular family, Valerius Catullus, revealed publicly that he had buggered the Emperor, and quite worn himself out in the process. Besides incest with his sisters, and a notorious passion for the prostitute Pyrallis, he made advances to almost every woman of rank in Rome; after inviting a selection of them to dinner with their husbands he would slowly and carefully examine each in turn while they passed his couch, as a purchaser might assess the value of a slave, and even stretch out his hand and lift up the chin of any woman who kept her eyes modestly cast down. Then, whenever he felt so inclined, he would send for whoever pleased him best and leave the banquet in her company. A little later he would return, showing obvious signs of what he had been about, and openly discuss his bed-fellow in detail, dwelling on her good and bad physical points and commenting on her sexual performance.

He was not conscious that he had once been a man

In the grip of this terror he went upstairs to his bedroom and sat down on the bed alone. There was no one honourable thought in his head; he was not conscious that he had once been a man. The sweat ran down his face unceasingly; his head swam; his whole body trembled in an agony of despair, tormented as he was by slavish fears and craven anxieties utterly unworthy of a man.
Procopius, The Secret History, p58
I haven't felt like that in a long time, but it'd be foolish to think that it'll never happen again.

The other day I was in Kanding / Kenting [see picture], beshroomed and a little drunk. I was with some friends and it was after 1am and the place was dead, which is an odd experience in Taiwan.

We walked to a beach and in the pavement someone spotted a jagged hole that went deep. One wrong step you'd be lucky if you just broke your leg, with a smashed jaw or slashed throat more likely.

On the way back we were all distracted, and nobody looked out for the hole. We noticed this soon after, and one of us could easily have fallen in. Absolute terror.

In bed I kept getting flash visions of terrible injuries, as if in all the multiverses nearby my life had taken a bloody and significant turn for the worse.

Sometimes it seems like after the bad joke of my youth the universe is conspiring on my behalf.

Procopius has a great story about an ultra-slut that I'll shoehorn into my next post, which ought to be about sex.

December 19, 2009

Emergent humanoid robotics

hanson einstein face [see below]

There are no doubt many patent hurdles and other impracticalities to hinder the following ideas. I just play with things and then move on, which is why I'm a dilettante proofreader rather than something more focused, but also why I'm [probably] happier this way.

Three different robot stories. The first is from Hanson Robotics, seen below in this recent TED clip. They try and make robots with human faces. It looks like animatronic / Disney stuff, but there seems to be more going on, or almost going on. The model shown in the video [Einstein, not the doll face in the frozen shot] can mirror what people are doing - you smile, it smiles. There seems to be a pretty fine level of control of the motorized musculature underneath the realistic looking skin, and although it obviously needs more work, the future has a lot of time.

What caught my attention was this mirroring, which is based on being able to read faces, and so these machines should be able to read microexpressions and basically be loaded up with all of Paul Ekman's work.

The next video won't embed, but it's from an article at BotJunkie called Robots Learn to Look Shifty. Basically the robot, under certain conditions, can use eye movements to give cues that human subjects respond to but don't consciously pick up. The two projects are separate, but they could be easily be joined together.

And the third video, below, shows how motion capture can be used to create a more natural moving humanoid robot, with this one particularly good at swiveling its hips.

The point is that robotics seems to be full of seemingly isolated projects that aim to do one small thing very well, and usually one thing that on its own is cool but not that useful. But one day all of this technology could be integrated into one machine, which would obviously be connected to the Internet so that it could run many apps and access all data. Out of all of these projects something bigger will emerge.

I had a post about emergent AI a while ago, based on the idea that there's no center of consciousness in the brain, but that we emerge from the interaction of many simple processes [Minsky's society of the mind], so that the full complexity of their interactions undertakes a phase transition to another order of simplicity in consciousness, which can only hold a few bits of data at a time and is essentially creating useful half-truths out of a torrent of data that has been entirely reconstructed in the brain. The astonishing hypothesis is just how things are.

What's true of robotics is true in the field of AI - a lot of researchers working on small things that one day may come together and then something else occurs. But it struck me the other day that computers do not need an unconscious and perhaps therefore not a consciousness. In the small space required for cunning we don't act entirely on instinct, but we also need to filter all the data down to the essentials. A computer wouldn't need to do this - bandwidth isn't a problem, it can hold a lot of information in its working memory and access it all in practically an instant. So the nature of consciousness, if it emerged, would have to be different. I quoted Hofstader a little while ago, and I'll do it in full again, as it serves my purpose here:
When and only when such a loop arises in the brain or in any other substrate, is a person - a unique new "I" - brought into being. Moreover, the more self-referentially rich such a loop is, the more conscious is the self to which it gives rise. Yes, shocking though this might sound, consciousness is not an on/off phenomenon, but admits of degrees, grades, shades. To put it more bluntly, there are bigger souls and smaller souls.
Douglas Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach, P-6
The point being would such loops arising on a large, distributed computer connected to sensors, RFID tags and so on have access to a bigger soul? I don't see why not, and then that would be available everywhere, in all machines plugged into the mind.

Blade Runner - Voight-Kampff Test

December 13, 2009

Sense of achievement

Went to an open-air show that started in the afternoon and ended up a very long day, but out of it mostly unscathed.

A friend's band was playing. He's the guitarist and singer. The last show they had he kicked in a speaker and knocked over the drum kit [video, 01:50]. He was wandering around before the show with a bottle of beer. His drummer had written 'don't drunk' on his arm. No one has ever written instructions on my body.

He got drunk and put on a great show.

December 07, 2009

OMG (of limited interest)

Illustration from Listen, Little Man [full text]

This week is the one year anniversary of me quitting my job and going full time freelance. The year has gone very fast, in a blizzard of work and extremely late nights, with all kinds of systems tried and abandoned, essentially a series of mid-life crises that start in a quest for fun, seem to end with the joke being pushed too far, and then start up all over again. Somehow the center holds, I move between the poles of discipline and dissipation, and things do not fall apart.

At some point I'll buckle down and write a post about it, just to get my thoughts together, but right now I'm grateful that I've got no boss, the $ comes in every day and it looks like I'll get away with it for longer.

November 29, 2009

Repetitive behaviors

More from The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, by Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, [p212].

Limiting ourselves to the configuration of addiction that involves an inner battle about being addicted has the advantage of isolating the most elusive, controversial, and seemingly mysterious component - control. In focusing on the inner conflicts around control, including the ostensible loss of it, there are two related factors:
  1. Doing repetitive behaviors that one feels either incapable of stopping or that take great effort to try and stop - and should one succeed, their possible return is always lurking the background.
  2. These repetitive behaviors are judged by the person involved to be (or in fact are) interfering in a non-trivial way with one's well-being - in short, they are self-destructive.

November 27, 2009

The eyes have it

You can't sneak a peek, because of all the face we're most set up to spot the eyes. The importance of sunglasses in certain situations is thus beyond measure. Nobody knows what I see and nobody knows what I'm thinking.

I sit in public and watch what people show of themselves, amazed that any of us leave the house. Going naked would be only marginally more revealing.

Related paper: The eyes have it! Reflexive orienting is triggered by nonpredictive gaze.

November 26, 2009

Eleven characteristics of transcendental states

Since I decided to get a social life after quitting my job / going freelance a year ago, I keep finding myself walking out of bars at 5 or 6am, which means this year there's been more posts tagged drink than psychedelics, but a good description of transcendental states in The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, by Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, [p304].

1. One experiences being in the eternal, a place that always was and always will be.

2. There can be a great energy that breaks through boundaries to the extent of experiencing one's awareness expanding until it seems to (or could) include everything

3. The ordinary separations between what's me and not-me either momentary disappear of become really ambiguous.

4. There are often (though not always) deep feelings of identification - one might even call it love - with the cosmos.

5. One "knows" this place is always there to be tapped into.

6. The place feels foreign and yet familiar at the same time.

7. The is both awe and a feeling of personal insignificance, where the mundane concerns and emotions around self-enhancement and self-protection seem trivial and beside the point.

8. There is no fear, because death feels quite unreal. Or in a slightly different vein, when you cease identifying with yourself and merge with the cosmos, it feels like you've already died, so there's nothing left to fear. This cessation of fear is one of the most marvelously unusual feelings, bringing deep relaxation on levels one didn't even know existed.

9. One feels immune from being affected by the judgments of others, and also free from such petty responses as vengeance and competitiveness. After all, we are all one. Along this line, all so-called negative emotions - anger, jealousy, etc. - can seem not only unnecessary, but silly and based on illusions.

10. There is a recognitions that one is (or we all are) and aspect of God.

11. Everything (oneself included), and the way the cosmos is unfolding, is seen as perfect.

November 17, 2009

Degrees, grades, shades

...humans are not magic animals different from all the others, but part of a spectrum...
Related post: Other substrates

November 14, 2009

Crossing the bridge

Probably last Scientology post for a while, but below is a good 2hr interview with Jason Beghe on his involvement and disillusionment with the cult. Like all other related materials, it's full of creepy thrills, and he's a great speaker on the topic.

Via XenuTV.

November 13, 2009

The golden age of madness

I've a free ticket to 2012 and the movie is only a 10 minute walk from my house, but I'm staying in and getting all my sci-fi / conspiracy / madness thrills from this 3hr Scientology summit from 2007 [links to Google video]. This is when Miscavige says "yeah, we've been doing it wrong all these years, but now we have the right tech." And the roomful of impoverished believers who've spent all their $$$ trying to master space / time eat it up and ask for more.

I can't enough of this crazy.


A page with lots of images from a preliminary investigation into a 3D rendering of the Mandelbrot set. Beauty abounds.

November 09, 2009

November 08, 2009

No discipline, just problems


[Karl Popper] wrote there there are no disciplines, just problems. So I always knew what my problem was: chance and misunderstanding of knowledge - I've had it for as long as I can remember. But I am still looking for a discipline.
The quote about appeals for the obvious omnivorous idea, but also because you can extract the phrase no discipline, just problems, which works for me.


I stayed out drinking on Wednesday night until the sun came up. I was drinking with a guy in one bar and we ended up at another place sharing a table with two women, the hours between 3am and 6 passing in a blur. Whatever happened was of no significance, but it took a long time just the same.

When the sun came up I stumbled out and rode my bicycle home. The streets were full of people starting their days, and if they saw me go by and gave it any thought they probably imagined I was a healthy early riser too, on my way to tai chi in a park.

It was a normal night for Osamu Dazai.


The incomprehensibility of society is the incomprehensibility of the individual. The ocean is not society; it is individuals. This is how I managed to gain a modicum of freedom from my terror at the illusion of the ocean called the world. I learned to behave rather aggressively, without the endless anxious worrying I knew before, responding as it were to the needs of the moment.
Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human, p125
This is the kind of book that I'd have been crazy for as a teenager, Notes from the Underground with more sex and drink. It begins: Mine has been a life of much shame. I can't even guess myself what it must be to live the life of a human being. It reminds that I should've died, been badly injured, arrested, had a career or become a father several times over by now, but somehow I escaped each time and ought to be more grateful for what I half chose and half fell into, one year without a boss on December 1st.

I don't think dissipation's so romantic now, and don't aspire to getting wasted every night on a rockstar bohemian trip. I want to be as healthy as possible, so that sometimes I can do unhealthy things.
Men's nature's are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart.
Mishima once met Dazai, and they had a confrontation. The gist of it was that Mishima (the younger man), although admiring Dazai's work, was disgusted by the weakness that he showed in throwing himself into drink, drugs and women, the general lack of masculine discipline. His friend and biographer suggests that he was really shocked by recognizing his own desire for death, quoting this passage from Mishima's account of their meeting:
Naturally I recognize Dazai's rare talent; and yet I know of no other writer who from my very first contract with him filled me with so violent a physiological revulsion. Possibly....this was due to my immediate sense that Dazai was a writer at pains to expose precisely that which I most wanted to conceal in myself.
Jonathan Nathan, Mishima, p93
Dazai killed himself at 38, while Mishima did so at 45, two paths to the same end.

Related posts:
Mishima's head on a plate [incl. picture]
All posts tagged Mishima Yukio

November 06, 2009

Breaking the clouds

Alejandro Selkirk Island, South Pacific Ocean
This small member of the Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of Chile measure just under a mile across. But its 5,000 feet of elevation is high enough to reach the layer of stratocumulus clouds pictured above. The result is a type of flow known as a von Karmen vortex street. This striking, curly pattern of eddies can also be seen in clouds, and fluids or air moving past rounded objects such as an airplane wing. This image was taken by the Landsat 7 satellite in 1999.

November 03, 2009

It can only be a matter of time

Rafael Silks, above and below

Another in a series of superficially depressing posts about giving up dreams that depend on artistic success in terms of recognition + career in the cause of overall liberation and improved mental health.
Your Inner Whining Artist (IWA) is the part of you that tells you you’re a genius waiting to be discovered. If only the big bad world would sit up and recognize your talent, the IWA tells you, all your problems would be over. Audiences and critics would bow at your feet, agents would queue up to represent you, and all the people who’d ever rejected your work would be gorging themselves on humble pie. You just need to get your break, to be discovered. It can only be a matter of time …
The oldest, deepest dreams may be the most distant and inapplicable now, in spirit and in practice. It's good to keep shedding skins.

Related posts:
A millionaire artist
Throw in the Towel
The myth of 1,000 true fans

November 02, 2009

My idea of fun

I'm only really interested in being interested.

October 31, 2009

Fun for amateurs

I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking — which is fun only for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling. Nothing is fun when you have to do it — over and over, again and again — or else you'll be evicted, and that gets old.
Sometime in the summer I had two women ask for test prep classes, one for TOEFL and the other for IELTS. On a whim I said I'd teach former for free and I charged the latter my normal fee. Both women were [are] attractive and smart, although the TOEFL one turned out to be more motivated and hard-working, but that may've been because she had to earn her class with homework.

What happened happened very quickly - I realized that I enjoyed teaching the free class far more than the paid one. Doing it for free was fun, there was no pressure, and I was happy when things went over time. It was an interesting experiment, which I continue now by doing some work for free if the person seems like they'll make it worthwhile. Otherwise, I take the money and do the work, but this is a tiny part of my income compared to the editing + reading, hardly enough to keep me in beer. I'd rather keep teaching as a hobby than a living.

Anyway, Isabella, the student in question, is taking her TOEFL this weekend, so an online thanks for the interesting classes and a wish of good luck for Sunday.

October 29, 2009

Patterns emerging from granular matter

Patterns emerge from a rotating tube filled with colored balls of different sizes. Very cool that there are still mysterious things happening with simple objects at the macroscopic scale.

It's just a coincidence, because they used white and orange balls in the video, but it reminded me of the Turing patterns [below] in this post [which is mostly Rudy Rucker].

I've been sick a few days and even slower / more stupid than usual, sweating heavily and dragging myself through dull files. But today the recovery is taking hold, and with the gathering strength other patterns are also emerging in my life, but that's all stuff for another time.

More from Wired on the above

October 24, 2009

A millionaire artist

hugh macleod, read the post

A post a little while back that was just a link to a piece by someone else called Throw in the Towel, about when to give up your dream of being a screenwriter, although it applies well to various other [but by no means all, or even the majority of] creative pursuits with the potential to become paying gigs.

A similar article from another, more hopeful angle, that runs through all the ways to lose again and notes that you can still find yourself if you're doing it for pleasure rather than success - i.e., don't quit the day job.

Hugh MacLeod, who runs a wine business and draws on business cards, has written 40 ideas on how to become more creative. Here's the bullet points for the first 10:
1. Ignore everybody.

2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours.

3. Put the hours in.

4. If your biz plan depends on you sud­denly being “dis­co­ve­red” by some big shot, your plan will pro­bably fail.

5. You are res­pon­si­ble for your own expe­rience.

6. Ever­yone is born crea­tive; ever­yone is given a box of cra­yons in kin­der­gar­ten.

7. Keep your day job.

8. Com­pa­nies that squelch crea­ti­vity can no lon­ger com­pete with com­pa­nies that cham­pion crea­ti­vity.

9. Every­body has their own pri­vate Mount Eve­rest they were put on this earth to climb.

10. The more talen­ted some­body is, the less they need the props.

A lot more here [actually 25% of the full book].

October 23, 2009

Dominance, Politics, and Physiology

monkey trouble
Via Boing Boing:
Political elections are dominance competitions. When men win a dominance competition, their testosterone levels rise or remain stable to resist a circadian decline; and when they lose, their testosterone levels fall. However, it is unknown whether this pattern of testosterone change extends beyond interpersonal competitions to the vicarious experience of winning or losing in the context of political elections. Women's testosterone responses to dominance competition outcomes are understudied, and to date, a clear pattern of testosterone changes in response to winning and losing dominance competitions has not emerged.

Methodology/Principal Findings
The present study investigated voters' testosterone responses to the outcome of the 2008 United States Presidential election. 183 participants provided multiple saliva samples before and after the winner was announced on Election Night. The results show that male Barack Obama voters (winners) had stable post-outcome testosterone levels, whereas testosterone levels dropped in male John McCain and Robert Barr voters (losers). There were no significant effects in female voters.

The findings indicate that male voters exhibit biological responses to the realignment of a country's dominance hierarchy as if they participated in an interpersonal dominance contest.
Dominance, Politics, and Physiology: Voters' Testosterone Changes on the Night of the 2008 United States Presidential Election [full paper]

October 22, 2009

Another post like this

I've got to stop starting drinking so early that by the time others show up I'm a mad dog full of bullshit and misplaced enthusiasms, wrong about almost everything. But when a void opens up it's hard not rush in there headfirst and reckless, because the movement is fun, and I like the taste of beer.

Still, it'd be great not to feel the need to write a post like this every few weeks.

Waves trapped in maze-like grooves

The icons depict the shape of the energy-trapping ridges on the disc at the center and the edges - via

It's not really a pocket black hole, despite the headlines- it doesn't attract mass, and when it says light in the following quote what it really means is microwave frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, not actual visible light:
....this simple metal disc uses the geometry of 60 concentric rings of meta-materials to lock up light for good. The meta-material "resonators" that make up the rings affect the magnetic properties of passing light, bending the beams into the center of the disc, and trapping them in the etched maze-like grooves.

It is made of 60 annular strips of so-called "meta-materials", which have previously been used to make invisibility cloaks. Each strip takes the form of a circuit board etched with intricate structures whose characteristics change progressively from one strip to the next, so that the permittivity varies smoothly. The outer 40 strips make up the shell and the inner 20 strips make up the absorber.
Fabricating a device that captures optical wavelengths in the same way will not be easy, as visible light has a wavelength orders of magnitude smaller than that of microwave radiation. This will require the etched structures to be correspondingly smaller

Cui is confident that they can do it. "I expect that our demonstration of the optical black hole will be available by the end of 2009," he says.

Such a device could be used to harvest solar energy in places where the light is too diffuse for mirrors to concentrate it onto a solar cell. An optical black hole would suck it all in and direct it at a solar cell sitting at the core. "If that works, you will no longer require these huge parabolic mirrors to collect light," says Evgenii Narimanov [who, with Alexander Kildishev, both of Purdue University, came up with the idea behind the design].
It was made in China and looks like an old coin, nothing special, but to someone like me, who doesn't quite get the device or it's implications, it's full of ancient cool. Exactly what you'd want from a piece of alien tech.

October 21, 2009

Our partner in death

As AEG president Randy Phillips said after [Michael] Jackson's death: "He was our partner in life and now he's our partner in death."

October 20, 2009

Sex in time

So imagine the edge of a huge lake, where, for whatever reason, the original community of animals tended to move clockwise. Let's say there's a hill that ends in sharp drop just where the dark gray meets the bright white line, above. So, we have a species breeding at the bright white spot, and as it moves around the lake small, local changes occur. Longer / shorter legs, variations in coloration, and so on, but all [obviously] just a slight genetic difference on average from the animals next door. At every point in the circle, a community is basically indistinguishable from its immediate neighbors, and any individual could belong to either of its neighboring groups. Interbreeding is not a problem, and can extend in both directions some way beyond the neighbors. In practical terms, for creatures of a small size and with a lake of a large size - interbreeding occurs without limits.

But stepping back and looking at the image as a whole, by the time the circle is complete the last two neighboring communities, on either side of the hill / cliff, are quite distinct - different species, despite the fact they are connected by an unbroken chain of communities who can happily mix and breed with their neighbors. This is why the idea of 'species' is not as simple as it seems, either at a point in time, or, more to my purpose, over a very long period of time

My purpose is that if all the 'species' ever extant where brought back to life there could be one unbroken chain of fucking going right back to the first creatures that invented sex. I don't know what to do with this idea, but it seems to be a passion killer.

October 19, 2009

Reduced labor costs and improved productivity

Great video, part 1, of ABB robots doing precision tricks with soda cans. You see them doing 'human things' at ridiculous speeds.

Some time later, the same test, but with three robots rather than two.

ABB have a lot of great looking machines to replace human labor, all of which are very reliable and are ideal for operating in confined spaces and dangerous conditions. I like the pancake stacker, below, but there are many more to see if interested. Sooner or later the different strands of robots are going to become more integrated, and then things'll get really interesting.

Jamming skin enabled locomotion

No robot posts in a while.

Here's one called the first steps of a robot based on jamming skin enabled locomotion, with the tech clearly explained. It's a flexible shape-shifting robot.

A few more details / links here.

October 18, 2009

Traces of thought

A computer simulation of the upper layer of a rat brain neocortical column. Dr. Pablo de Heras Ciechomski/Visualbiotech

These images, and their captions, come from an article introducing a project to simulate part of a rat's brain, to be scaled up to a whole brain and later put into a robot with legs. Excerpts below, full link at the bottom.
In the basement of a university in Lausanne, Switzerland sit four black boxes, each about the size of a refrigerator, and filled with 2,000 IBM microchips stacked in repeating rows.
This is Blue Brain. The name of the supercomputer is literal: Each of its microchips has been programmed to act just like a real neuron in a real brain. The behavior of the computer replicates, with shocking precision, the cellular events unfolding inside a mind.
The first phase of the project—“the feasibility phase”—is coming to a close. The skeptics, for the most part, have been proven wrong. It took less than two years for the Blue Brain supercomputer to accurately simulate a neocortical column, which is a tiny slice of brain containing approximately 10,000 neurons, with about 30 million synaptic connections between them.
In fact, the model is so successful that its biggest restrictions are now technological. “We have already shown that the model can scale up,” Markram says. “What is holding us back now are the computers.” The numbers speak for themselves. Markram estimates that in order to accurately simulate the trillion synapses in the human brain, you’d need to be able to process about 500 petabytes of data (peta being a million billion, or 10 to the fifteenth power). That’s about 200 times more information than is stored on all of Google’s servers.
“There’s no reason why you can’t get inside Blue Brain,” Markram says. “Once we can model a brain, we should be able to model what every brain makes. We should be able to experience the experiences of another mind.”
“There is nothing inherently mysterious about the mind or anything it makes,” Markram says. “Consciousness is just a massive amount of information being exchanged by trillions of brain cells. If you can precisely model that information, then I don’t know why you wouldn’t be able to generate a conscious mind.”
Full article at

An entire neocortical column lights up with electrical activity. Modeled on a two-week-old rodent brain, this 0.5 mm by 2 mm slice is the basic computational unit of the brain and contains about 10,000 neurons. Visualbiotech.

Related post: Other substrates

October 16, 2009

You could have been quite another

Ken Mogi is a brain scientist and writer whose stated aim is to solve the mind-body problem. He's not that famous outside of Japan, but very famous inside, with many popular books and TV appearances. My wife loves him.

This year he began to blog regularly in English, and his English has improved a lot. I like his blog because the entries are short and often there are small mistakes or strange uses, but they don't obscure the meaning. The real talent lies in saying a difficult thing in a simple way.
I usually take a morning stroll to a convenience store nearby, and pick up some morning goods. For the last couple of days, I have walked on to the park, and dashed up the hill that flanks the woods.

It is just a little deviation, which makes all the difference. In life, you turn 90 degrees and run from your path of everyday, and then you discover a new scenery.

It is not that difficult. All you have to do is to identify an unsearched domain. And then you delve into it. Even for a very brief time.

Within a moment the storm of contingency would rage. The conviction that you are here for no reason. You taste the throbbing sensation of knowing you could have been quite another, while loving and embracing the here and now.
Ken Mogi, Deviation
This is also the thrill of being a dilettante – no real deep knowledge of anything, but a vast field of shallowness that’s able to warp at many points and achieve connection and communion – an interesting kind of ignorance, the best that I can hope for.

October 15, 2009

Out of my head on percodan and hate

Reading Nick Tosches' Dean Martin biography. I can't believe that Jerry Lewis is still alive. I'd love to ask him some questions.

A popular idea about Buddy Love [see clip above] is that he was Lewis' take on Martin - but far more credible to me (who knows almost nothing about it) is an idea I've read in a few places that Buddy = Jerry 'in real life', off stage, turned off and taken off the monkey suit.

October 14, 2009

Devil on a leash

david hockney, rainy night on bridlington promenade
David Hockney's iPhone Passion

Alcohol sedates the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain which decides if something is a good idea or not. This effect seems to be particularly pronounced in me, not aided by the fact that even when sober I have some of the worst ideas out there.

But this is good: a free eight-song preview download of Tom Waits' upcoming live album, Glitter & Doom.

October 12, 2009

Good trip

- sing sang sung [HD video won't embed, but much better, here]

Team DNA

Image of a fractal globule by Leonid A. Mirny and Maxim Imakaev
"We've long known that on a small scale, DNA is a double helix," says co-first author Erez Lieberman-Aiden, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology and a researcher at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and in the laboratory of Eric Lander at the Broad Institute. "But if the double helix didn't fold further, the genome in each cell would be two meters long. Scientists have not really understood how the double helix folds to fit into the nucleus of a human cell, which is only about a hundredth of a millimeter in diameter. This new approach enabled us to probe exactly that question."
3-D Structure Of Human Genome: Fractal Globule Architecture Packs Two Meters Of DNA Into Each Cell, ScienceDaily

Life is awesome.

October 10, 2009

Other substrates

Order-3 heptakis heptagonal tiling by Claudio Rocchini
When and only when such a loop arises in the brain or in any other substrate, is a person - a unique new "I" - brought into being. Moreover, the more self-referentially rich such a loop is, the more conscious is the self to which it gives rise. Yes, shocking though this might sound, consciousness is not an on/off phenomenon, but admits of degrees, grades, shades. To put it more bluntly, there are bigger souls and smaller souls.
Douglas Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach, P-6,

October 09, 2009

Other approaches to being alive

Reading Damned to Fame, on and off, a biography of Samuel Beckett, and BS Johnson is mentioned nowhere, although Beckett is a significant character is his story.

Writing and writers hold such a precious place in the imaginations of people who like to read fiction, so the idea that there's little actual spiritual comfort / joy in the process and the outcome, and that success, even in the limited terms of being published / recognized may not be enough is hard to swallow. In short, a fulfilling life can exist outside the production and consumption of fiction.

I've got too many books on the go, at least one in every space where I might want to read in the house. Beckett is in the little used dining room, while Dino, Nick Tosches' biography of Dean Martin, gets far more attention in the downstairs bathroom. Two men whose lives had little in common, except a fondness for drinking and bars. There are many approaches to being alive.

Return of the demon dog

Blood's a Rover has just been published, but I'll wait and order it for Xmas. I'm excited, as the first two parts blew things apart and created a world to inhabit.

I also like James Ellroy the man a lot, because he seems committed and delivers. Below is a great interview with him from earlier this year with a very game Sarah Weinman. It's available in one part at her site [link in name], bit she's suggested that it's up for a limited time only, so I'll host it here until cease and desist. Ellroy's sharing the stage with Colin Harrison, who I don't know, but they make a good study in contrasts. The audio is a little poor

I think I sometimes get like Ellroy when I go out and meet people and get drunk, a kind of lunatic intensity applied to broadly indefensible positions. I can't complain about this, as there's no arguing with their experience - How I appear to be is the reality of how I am to others.

This is how James Ellroy appears to be:

Finally, here's the demon dog himself doing a straight to camera promo for the book in hi-def.

October 08, 2009

Singularity summit '09

Good summary / impressions of the 2009 Singularity Summit by Razib Khan at Gene Expression.

Summit site here.

Confessions of a mask

The theory of self-deception was foreshadowed by the sociologist Erving Goffman in his 1959 book The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, which disputed the romantic notion that behind the masks we show other people is the one true self. No, said Goffman; it's masks all the way down. Many discoveries in the ensuing decades have borne him out.
Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p264

October 07, 2009

Human universals

A list of human universals, originally compiled by Donald E. Brown, and which is also the Appendix of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, which I'll be ripping off for the next few weeks.

Here's the first 20 items:
  • abstraction in speech & thought
  • actions under self-control distinguished from those not under control
  • aesthetics
  • affection expressed and felt
  • age grades
  • age statuses
  • age terms
  • ambivalence
  • anthropomorphization
  • anticipation
  • antonyms
  • attachment
  • baby talk
  • belief in supernatural/religion
  • beliefs, false
  • beliefs about death
  • beliefs about disease
  • beliefs about fortune and misfortune
  • binary cognitive distinctions
  • biological mother and social mother normally the same person

October 05, 2009

Children, foreigners and retarded adults

Speech addressed to different categories of listeners was examined in a study in which undergraduate women taught a block design task to either a 6-year-old child, a retarded adult, a peer who spoke English as a second language (foreigner), or a peer who was an unimpaired native speaker of English. The speech addressed to children differed from the speech addressed to native adults along every major dimension that emerged in this study: It was clearer, simpler, and more attention maintaining, and it included longer pauses. Speech addressed to retarded adults was similar in numerous ways to the speech addressed to 6-year-olds; in some ways (e.g., repetitiveness), it was even more babyish. However, speech to the retarded adults did differ in timing from the other styles of speaking in that it included fewer and somewhat shorter pauses. Speech addressed to foreigners was more repetitive than speech addressed to native speakers, but in all other ways it was very similar. There was some evidence that speakers fine-tuned their communications to the level of cognitive and linguistic sophistication of their particular listener; for example, speakers addressing the more sophisticated foreigners (relative to those addressing the less sophisticated foreigners) used speech that included fewer devices for clarifying, simplifying, and maintaining the listeners' attention. We discuss the hypothesis that baby talk (the speech addressed to children) is a prototypical special speech register from which other special registers are derived.
DePaulo. B., Coleman. L. (1986). Talking to Children, Foreigners, and Retarded Adults. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51 (5), 945-959.

Local optimum

All plans are contingent, and there's little point in striving for the global optimum and then brooding on failure when a local one will do.

I used to tell my (mostly female) students, Don't worry about Mr Right, look for Mr Right Now.

I no longer teach in any real capacity.

October 04, 2009

Rare post on Taiwan

my beautiful home [click for huge]

Have no idea how I take the passage below, but living in Taiwan, and with the shadow of China growing bigger by the day, these issues are starting to become more pressing. I start from the position that the China problem is intractable, which means there's no clear first or second step, other than a hope for federalism rather than outright conquest.
To affirm that humans thrive in many different ways is not to deny that there are universal human values. Nor is it to reject the claim that there should be universal human rights. It is to deny that universal values can only be fully realized in a universal regime. Human rights can be respected in a variety of regimes, liberal and otherwise. Universal human rights are not an ideal constitution for a single regime throughout the world, but a set of minimum standards for peaceful coexistence among regimes that will always remain different.
This can be rewritten as follows:
To affirm that Chinese people thrive in many different ways is not to deny that there are Chinese values or one Chinese nation. It is to deny that these values can only be fully realized in a universal regime. Chinese values are not an ideal constitution for a single regime, but a set of minimum standards for peaceful coexistence among regimes that will always remain different.
But that probably doesn't have much use in this context.

October 03, 2009

39.5 = 51%

In six months I'll be 40, which is exciting because it's a) better than the alternative, and b) I should be getting there in better condition - by all metrics - than I ever would have thought possible from the ages of 0 - 35, possibly even later. Life expectancy for a 40-yr old British male is 77.

Not having kids, and not hanging out with folk who do, it's easy to forget about aging. There are few external things of consequence that I see changing in anything other than a cyclical way. The seasons come and go, the years pass, but having dropped out of fashion and popular music, everything pretty much stays the same aside from the constant parade of techno-novelty that's now so ingrained as to just be how things are. The point is, I don't have a kid who not long ago was a mewling infant and is now autonomous and who'll soon be a little adult. In this way I've fallen slightly out of time.

So I was a little shocked the other night when I went for a bowl of ramen and sat across from a mother and her son, about 10 yrs old. Now I plan to live a long time. In all my accounting I aim for 90+, although looking at my family I'm only likely to get 80 or so. Still, I exercise and try and eat right, because good health is always good, and hard-living loses much of it's romance well before middle age, crisis binges notwithstanding. So, if I make it to 90 this kid will be 60, and he'll still have me beat, and I'll die first, while everyone else goes on living.

I looked at the kid and took it as a challenge.

September 27, 2009

Vistas of reality

The galaxy I Zwicky 18, originally thought to be a young galaxy, actually seems to have formed around the same time as most other galaxies. The bluish-white knots in the heart of the galaxy are two major star-forming regions.
Nasa / Hubble - image here, more here
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu [full text]

September 22, 2009

Casey's Island

Strong Coloring Sample by Claudio Rocchini
The goal of is to get people to pay to join a community and advertise on that community under the promise of being allowed to live on an island that Serin intends to purchase with proceeds from advertising. [Wikipedia]
It can't last, but Casey Serin resurfaced about a month ago with a plan to buy an island, and the last few days he's been doing podcasts / call-ins. The archive of the shows [three so far] can be found here, until he breaks down and tries to erase everything again. Streaming video here. The new blog, which is nothing much to look at yet, is here.

Steve Serin, Casey's brother, has his own blog on the saga.

September 21, 2009

Another law of nature

Poincare Halfplane by Claudio Rocchini

Rudy Rucker has a post on finishing his memoir.
...thanks to the chapter I wrote about society as a kind of computation in The Lifebox, the Seashell and the Soul, I’ve finally came to accept that writers’ sales obey a scaling law that’s technically known as an inverse power law distribution. You’re not getting lackluster book advances because someone is actively screwing you. It’s the scaling law.

The scaling law applies across the board—to the populations of cities, the number of hits on websites, the heights of mountains, the number of friends that people have, the areas of lakes, and the sales of books. There’s no getting around it. Thus, if you’re the hundredth-most popular writer, you earn a hundredth as much as the most popular one. Instead of a million dollars, you get ten thousand bucks. That’s how nature is. It’s not anyone’s fault. [more]

About the same time I read that I saw John Gray's review of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, by Alain de Botton [which I haven't read], and this passage jumped out:

One episode covers the time the author spent with a career counsellor, “a professional dedicated to finding ways of ensuring that work will be synonymous with fulfilment”. Describing a session with Carol, a private client, “37 years old, a tax lawyer, in charge of a department of 45 in an office near the Bank of England”, de Botton recounts how Carol suddenly stared to sob as the counsellor “watched her with his kindly eyes, and outside, the neighbour’s cat took a stroll round the carp pond”. The counsellor has dedicated his life to the belief that work is a quest for self-enactment, a way of becoming who we really are. The trouble is that, like many of his clients, Carol seems perplexingly diffuse in her interests, and it is not clear whether there is a self concealed somewhere within her that is waiting to be enacted. Worse, it is unclear whether, if such a self does emerge, anyone will have any interest in it. These uncertainties extend to the counsellor himself who, in return for allowing de Botton to sit in on the sessions, asks to be referred to a literary agent who could promote a book on which he has been working. Twelve agents are contacted, and each replies with polite enthusiasm. The book remains unpublished.

Commenting on this episode, de Botton writes: “For the rest of history, for most of us, our bright promise will always fall short of being actualised; it will never earn us bountiful sums of money or beget exemplary projects or organisations. It will remain no more than a hope carried over from childhood.” [more]

I don't have these anxieties anymore, but that might be due to a lack of imagination or effort. This week is the first for a long time [four weeks, more?] when too many deadlines to reasonably handle have not been trailing me. I spent today [Monday] sleeping in, worked a little, scootered around town, collected cash from some clients, came home, cooked, read, took out the trash, bought some coffee and settled down for an hour or two's work ahead of a swim, and then came home to this. I don't have a boss, and work in my study or anywhere else I set up my notebook. I know how lucky I am, but I also know my story, although I almost never think about it.

Power laws and the failures necessary for success were also explored in this earlier post: The myth of 1,000 true fans

September 20, 2009

My life as a test subject

Eigenfaces from Wikipedia

I volunteered to take part in an MRI-based study on face recognition / memory out of interest and for the $, which I immediately went to a cafe to spend on espresso and alcohol. I also hoped they'd let me know if they found a tumor or some other abnormality, like a massively enlarged pituitary gland, lit up like Las Vegas.

I worried slightly about claustraphobia, although I've never suffered from it before, so I took the last Xanax in my pill box and it kicked in just as they were explaining the procedure to me. I was relaaaaxed in the machine and even enjoyed the noise, which sounded like the intro to a Daft Punk show. Like an idiot, as I was led into the room I asked if 'the music' was part of the test.

I was in the machine for 30 minutes, and they stuck in a 6 minute 'rest period' between the practice and actual tests, during which I put myself into a trance and tripped out / fell asleep. I'm really interested in the results, which will be sent to me in a few weeks.

I ought to donate my whole body to science well before death, but I'm sure that I'm now on a university hospital blacklist.

But the summer / early fall mad rush is over, and I've lots of time for things that can't be easily explained.